Burgundy 2020 | Vintage Report

Introduction

Tasting the 2020 Burgundy Vintage over three weeks in October and November 2021 was an absolute joy and a timely reminder of the many delights of the Côte d’Or and Chablis.

It was such a pleasure to finally taste straight from barrel with our growers, face-to-face rather than on screen, amid glorious sunshine and the autumnal scarlet-gold leaves of the vines. Whatever the tensions between our political leaders, we were welcomed with open arms into cellars the length and breadth of Burgundy.

We were seriously impressed with the quality. With such a dry and warm year in this ‘lockdown vintage’, ripeness and concentration of fruit was never going to be a problem. The excitement has been the overall balance of the wines. The brightness and energy of the high-quality acidity is breath-taking in both red and white wines, the perfect counterpoint to their richness and intensity.

The whites are sensationally appealing: they have the richness of 2019 with a line of zip and freshness reminiscent of 2017. Quantity was happily good, however, as the 2021 vintage is catastrophically small I would strongly suggest buying a few extra cases this year.

The reds have rich fruit and pitch perfect natural acidity. The quality of the tannins is remarkable and will allow excellent ageing. Sadly, the Pinot Noir yields are again well below average. While we will be packing in sixes, threes and even some single bottle cases, there will inevitably be some disappointment – so this is a perfect moment to look further afield, whether to new domaines, new appellations or new cuvees.

The Growing Season & Harvest


  • A mild winter and early budburst in March were followed by an early flowering in mid-May.
  • A very warm summer with warm days but, crucially, cool nights, which protected the grapes from excessive ripeness.
  • An extremely dry year, contributing to the concentration of fruit and, importantly, protecting the acidity levels in the berries.
  • The Côte d’Or’s earliest harvest since 2003, starting for some on 16th August.
  • The harvest took place exactly 100 days after flowering, a respected tradition in Burgundy, guaranteeing full phenolic maturity of the grapes.
  • Whilst hot, the vintage conditions were thankfully dry, ensuring fruit arrived at the winery in perfect condition.
  • An excellent Chardonnay crop, with yields close to an average year.
  • A high-quality Pinot Noir crop, in perfect health but with very small berries giving low yields.

White Wines

In 2020 the white wines really have excelled. I loved Didier Séguier’s commen at William Fèvre in Chablis: “2020? Yes, a little bit of magic.” This really couldn’t be more apt.

Bruno Colin in Chassagne Montrachet commented on the richness of fruit, similar to 2019, but with greater brightness and freshness, which Benoît Droin likened to the 2017 vintage. It is this superb level of acidity that provides backbone and intensity in the wines. Jean-Philippe Fichet explained that this is characteristic of a dry year, with concentrated berries contributing an enduring acidity that persists in the final wine.

They have a delicious intensity and, whilst ripe, the fruit flavours tend to be more white fruits and floral notes, and less exotic. Although the yields were healthy, there is excellent concentration, and the vitality and freshness provide both balance and excitement. It really is difficult to find fault in these lovely wines.

Red Wines

Pinot Noir is a little more sensitive to heat and drought so, whilst the red vineyards enjoyed the same wonderful sanitary conditions, some areas did feel the effects of the drought a little more than the sturdier Chardonnay grapes. In particular this has impacted the yields and volumes are significantly down on 2019. A consistent comment, echoed by Cyril Audoin in Marsannay, was that they had wonderful bunches with plenty of berries and, although they were small, everyone was really surprised by how little juice there was inside them.

As with the whites the harvest was early, but it varied so much domaine by domaine. Many growers picked in August, such as Domaines Barthod and Boillot, where they like to pick early to keep freshness and purity in their wines and lower alcohol levels closer to 13%. Other equally impressive estates such as Domaine Grivot preferred to wait and didn’t start until 3rd September (still an early year!).

Tasting the reds, it is obvious the fruit came into the wineries in wonderful condition. The common theme from all our red wine growers was to practice slower cooler fermentations in 2020: minimal maceration, infusion rather than extraction, and sparing use of pigeage. The grapes already had a great density of colour, natural tannin levels were high, sugars and potential alcohol were spot on. As with the whites, they have superb acidity levels refreshing the palate. By following these practices and handling their fruit carefully, our producers have made stunning, high-quality wines.

The style of the vintage is relatively rich; the fruit flavours are deeper fruits of the forest characters than in cooler years. The best domaines have still achieved appellational personality and individuality. The red wines are intense, with a tannic core which will enable longevity. They also have a charm and brightness which will appeal to those Burgundy lovers who like to drink Pinot Noir young.

What’s New?

Despite the travel restrictions of the past year, we are delighted to launch a number of new estates to our list which we hope will capture your interest.

  • William Fèvre in Chablis has a long-standing reputation for making exceptional wines. Chablis still offers both value and quality. The finesse of the 2020 Chablis and the scope of Fèvre’s 72 hectares of vineyards gives us the perfect opportunity to launch these high-class wines so emblematic of their fine terroir.
  • Henri Rebourseau in Gevrey Chambertin has a great historical reputation for its 12 hectare holdings, and the new generation in the family are fine-tuning the winemaking approach. An injection of investment from new partners, the Bouygues brothers, makes the 2020 vintage an opportune moment to start a new relationship. Exciting times lie ahead for this famous estate.
  • François Legros in Nuits St Georges is run by the delightful François and his two daughters Charlotte and Laure. In 2019 we bought a very small quantity of their wines, and 2020 is the first vintage we have launched in our En Primeur offer. This small 7 hectare estate has 21 different appellations. The quantities of each are small, but the quality is commendable, and all come highly recommended.
  • Nicolas Rossignol is based in Beaune, with vineyards across the Côte de Beaune. To introduce his range, we have chosen a set of wines from his home village, Volnay. Nicolas’ wines are beautifully flamboyant, with pleasing richness and depth.
  • Elodie Roy is a particularly exciting addition as it is our first venture into the southerly appellation of Maranges. Elodie returned to the family vineyards following 11 years working with Anne Gros in Vosne Romanée. 2020 is her third vintage at the domaine and these wines are amongst the best bargains of our list.

Conclusion

The 2020 vintage is full of opportunity, offering high quality at all levels. However, there is pressure on volumes; yields for reds are down on 2019, which will further restrict allocations, with many Grands Crus packed in threes or smaller. On top of this, the frost of last spring had a catastrophic impact on the 2021 harvest. Yields are down as much as 90% in some vineyards, particularly in the white wine appellations.

The consequences are twofold. Many growers are holding back more stock than usual from 2020, ensuring they have some wine to sell next year. The other is on price. Each estate has had to account for the loss of production in 2021. Some estates are staggering increases over a two-year period, whilst others have taken immediate action, increasing prices this year with the intention to maintain them next year. Without wishing to be the bearer of bad tidings, the 2021s will not be cheaper and there will be almost no wine to sell.

Considering this and the fine quality of the 2020 vintage, these excellent wines are not to be missed.