The two weeks we spend tasting the new vintage in Burgundy are among the most important for our business, but also the most exciting, each year. Our thoughts and expectations from preview tasting trips over the summer and the chatter in the media will crystallise over the next 14 days and inform our Burgundy En Primeur campaign in January 2019. We are unashamed Burgundy geeks and we watch the twists and turns of every vintage with bated breath.
There has already been good news, apparent throughout the growing season and at harvest last year, that very few vineyards were affected by frost or other climatic depredations. So the quantity is mercifully up on the past few vintages, but what of the quality? The signs are good so far.
Some vintage reviews and tasting notes on the white wines are already available in the press. On vinous.com Stephen Tanzer has commented, “The largest white Burgundy crop since 2009 has yielded pliant, elegant, pure wines with considerable aromatic appeal and early accessibility, along with the balance and stuffing for at least mid-term aging.” While Neal Martin has also written that 2017 “ is not a vintage that offered every producer a royal flush of great Chablis, but overall it is a vintage that may end up being the best since 2014.”
There is less early coverage of the reds, but our Buying Director, David Roberts MW, is quietly optimistic after tasting at a couple of Côte de Nuits domaines in October: “Very pure, defined Pinot fruit. They are not powerful wines but have good levels of concentration. They have all the hallmarks of beautifully balanced, elegant red Burgundy. ”
So spirits and hopes are high as we set out to spend the first part of the morning at Roche de Bellène in Beaune, hosted by the ever-charming Nicolas Potel. This is an ideal first tasting and overview of the vintage – as we work our way through over 30 different cuvées from the length and breadth of the Côte d’Or. Nicolas was really happy with his 2017s – although it was a complicated vintage with a fair bit of rain, his vineyards remained healthy and free from disease. His picking teams brought in really good quality clean fruit and there was very little to do on the sorting table. He described his reds as “dreamy”, comparing them to 2002, but a little bigger with more mature tannins, while he says it is a “top top vintage for white – the best ever for me!”
The wines are quite simply a pleasure to taste. Notes such as pure, pretty, precise, bright and balanced crop up again and again – not just here but throughout the day. Tannins are present but fine-grained giving the wines plenty of structure, layered complexity and ageing potential, but a seductively suave texture. A judicious restraint in the use of oak seems to be particularly important – a heavy hand could easily overpower the elegant charm and vibrant life which abounds in so many of these 2017s, but Nicolas’ deft approach to élévage has served him well.
We headed up to Nuits St Georges to meet Pascal Marchand, something of a Burgundy legend, at Marchand-Tawse. We are in the throes of negotiating availability with what would be a new addition to our list – and what a great addition it would be. All Pascal’s wines had such pretty, pure fruit, bright acidity and suave tannins. A pair of distinctive Morey St Denis premiers crus stood out for me, with their big brother Clos de la Roche a superb finale to the tasting. Watch out for these wines…
Back to Beaune for our first afternoon tasting at Domaine Anne-Francoise Gros wines with Caroline Parent-Gros and her brother Matthias. Gros is one the great names of Vosne Romanée, but the domaine’s vineyards are scattered through the Cote d’Or including Savigny, Pommard, Chambolle Musigny and Vosne Romanée, as a result of an “inter-dynastic” marriage with the Parent family of Pommard. While the oak was more apparent on some of the wines at this domaine, many were characterised by the gorgeous sweet fruit that is starting to be a recurring theme of the vintage so far. Their Echezeaux and Richebourg were, unsurprisingly, epic – finely balancing purity and power, with laser-like focus and extraordinary length.
Some of the Goedhuis team (Catherine Petrie MW, Jamie Strutt & David Roberts MW) and Matthias and Caroline Parent-Gros
Domaine de l’Arlot in Premeaux-Prissey is one of the prettiest domaines we visit, the blue-shuttered chateau surrounded by immaculately tended vines. The heavy fog lifted for the first time as we drove north from Beaune and we were in fine fettle as we drove through the autumnal vines. Arlot’s portfolio of reds is typically a benchmark of classic Nuits complexity and power. In 2017 they are also spectacularly poised and pretty – certainly a highlight of the day. Géraldine Godot, the winemaker, talked us through their 2017s – she compared the vintage to 2014 for both whites and reds for their bright fruit, purity and finesse. All three of their red Nuits St Georges, while each unique and distinct, were all elegant and pure, with great finesse and freshness. The whites also lived up to the hype – they were exceptionally good.
Our dinner host tonight is Nicolas Potel – we may have to resist his renowned generosity if we are to be on form for another series of back-to-back tastings tomorrow. After such a superb first day, I for one, cannot wait.