Two weeks ago I descended into Burgland. July is the month where we first set an official foot in all regions of Burgundy to taste the fruits of the previous vintage. Arriving in Beaujolais, I ascend the Côte through the Maconnais and Chalonnais tasting my way through Fleurie, Brouilly, St Véran, Pouilly Fuissé, Macon, Montagny and Mercurey before heading up the Côte d’Or and finishing in Chablis.
Depending on the state of the wines, one can get an earnest glimpse into what the vintage holds. In fruit driven vintages such as 2005 and 2006, it can be enlightening early on as those wines showed brilliantly well despite their youthfulness. This time around was a bit trickier than usual. The 2008 vintage was a late starting growing season which did not begin flowering until the start of June and hence pushed back the harvest until late September to early October – reminiscent of the picking dates of yesteryear. Many growers also purposely waited to ensure the best ripening possible. This is always a risk as rain tends to set in in early autumn. But in the last 3-4 weeks before harvest in 2008, the sun came out accelerating ripeness and the wind picked up naturally concentrating grapes in both sugar and acidity.
The one thing that all the 2008s generally share is a high level of malic acid. This is the acid that is mainly found in apples and to a lesser extent in grapes. It is transformed into the softer lactic acid in all reds and most whites through the naturally present lactic bacteria. It is a natural phenomenon which takes place every vintage unless it is purposely blocked. I don’t want to get too technical, but all of this is to say that many of the malolactic transformations were still taking place on many of the wines during my visit making them a bit tricky to taste.
Domaine de Robert in Beaujolais will not be bottling their 2008 Fleurie until the autumn (“˜not until it’s ready’). It is unusual for them to have to wait this late. In Chablis, the Pommiers have not even blended their wines yet due to some still going through ML (malolactic fermentation). This is yet another rarity as they tend to bottle earlier than most other domaines. The one excellent thing about all of this is that the wines will become even richer than what I tasted due to their extended lees contact while aging.
There is an old saying in Burgundy that vintages which produce lots of malic acid are also good “˜vins de garde’ requiring a bit more time in the dusty cellar. It is being said that for this reason, they will be longer lived than the upfront and friendly 2007s. Many feel that in terms of style and quality, it is a vintage in between 2006 and 2007. For the whites, most will have more fruit than 2007 (while retaining their minerality) while the reds seem to have more structure and density than their 2007s counterparts – all pointing back to the “˜sagesse’ of the older regime.
So unfortunately, patience is required before a more solid verdict on the 2008s can be had. We will descend into Burgundy once again in November to assess the reds and whites of the Côte d’Or (and revisiting some of the Chablis domaines). With any luck, 2008 will be a very pleasant surprise.