It was November 2012, a few days before the annual Hospices de Beaune celebration, and I was sampling the new wines fresh from the barrel in some of the small cellars in the villages up and down the fabled Côte d’Or. The whites and reds were very good in spite of weather problems, especially early in the year. But, then, when was the last time you tasted a bad Burgundy from a reputable producer? Winemakers have become magicians in modern times, regularly pulling white rabbits out of black hats.
Quantity is another matter. If winemakers have learned to outsmart the weather in producing good-to-great wines, weather always wins when it comes to how much new juice goes into the barrel. That November five years ago, one winemaker, who owned some plots but also bought grapes from prominent cru vineyards, told me, ”Normally, I bottle a Clos de Vougeot, but not this year. There was none left over.” In many small cellars, it is routine after tasting to offer the glass back to the winemaker to pour any leftover wine back into the barrel. In 2012, every winemaker accepted my glass and appreciated the gesture. Save every precious drop.
Several Burgundy producers were in New York City last week to show barrel samples of the 2015 vintage, and I thought of this incident when I was having a long talk with Maison Louis Jadot’s head winemaker, Frédéric Barnier. “In most of our premier cru and grand cru vineyards, we have not had a normal harvest since 2009,” he said. “We had another challenge with 2016, but we are confident of the quality. I like what we have in the cellar; there’s just not as much of it.”
Barnier also says he is very happy with his 2015’s now in the barrel or, in the case of some of regional whites, just put into the bottle. Later, after I had tasted several of his 2015 Jadots along with another selection at a tasting of Frederick Wildman’s producers, I certainly agreed with him. “The whites are fresh and have good color,” Barnier said. “The reds have good ripeness, good color, good extraction.” He paused. “But because of the low volumes, the prices of Burgundies keep going up. People who love Burgundy should buy the 2015 while they can.”
The increase in prices cannot totally be laid to quantity. The other pricing factor is quality, and Burgundy’s recent quality has been phenomenal. With the exception of 2013, which just missed the mark, every vintage in the Côte d’Or since 2009 has been rated in the 90’s. In fact – again with the exception of 2013 – white cru Burgundies have rated 95 or higher during the same period.
After attending that same Hospices back in 2009, I wrote in a posting for iSante about another worry Burgundy producers and négociants had and still have:
“I have a concern that we don’t have enough entry-level wines at under-€10, $10 or ₤10,” says Louis-Fabrice Latour, who heads the famous Louis Latour wine house. The point is that Burgundy needs new customers who either don’t have, or aren’t willing to spend, a lot to try their wines.
As do other producers of both estate and négociant wines, Barnier oversees the production of literally dozens of Burgundy labels from specific vineyards, villages and regions from Chablis to the Côtes d’Or to the Mâconnais and Chalonaise to Beaujolais. The wines from the satellite regions may not cost under $10 or €10, but they can still be good bargains.
For example, Jadot's 2015 Domaine J.A. Ferret “Le Clos” Pouilly-Fuissé Tête de Cru has beautiful floral aromas and flavors mixed with those of freshly cut apples and a hint of smokiness – great fruit, great texture and a lot of tart freshness in the finish. At $40, it is a bargain.
The great estates of Bordeaux can easily produce 10 times the amount of wines as a great Burgundy vineyard of equal quality, one shared by a dozen or more growers. So these wines will never be cheap. And while we may never be able to afford the greatest of red and white Burgundies, perhaps we can occasionally spring for a very good one. It’s a shame not to enjoy these great vintages now flowing through Burgundy, even if our budgets will allow us to do so only a few times a year.