By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 13 February 2021
All eyes are on Burgundy at this time of year, as they release their latest vintage. Whilst 2019 is being hailed as an ‘extraordinarily good vintage’, wine lovers will find it difficult this year to choose wines to buy.
With no tastings and no vine growers able to travel to show their 2019 vintage wines, merchants have resorted to zoom to publicise the vintage with growers. Added to this, there have been complications with Brexit, with a protracted ‘en primeur’ campaign as some growers still refusing to confirm allocations until red tape has been sorted.
Buying ‘en primeur’ means buying wines in advance, whilst still in cellars in France. The advantages are that you can access top producers’ wines, which might be 10-20% higher in price if bought the following year – but to buy effectively you need a plan and a good relationship with your winemerchant.
2019 is being hyped as a super vintage, so a good one to buy for home-drinking or investment, but the snag is volume. Small in quantity, with yields 25%-40% lower caused by frost in early April and fewer smaller berries on bunches, there is less wine - and higher prices.
There is no doubt that Burgundy is changing. In the past it struggled to ripen grapes, with two or three ripe vintages per decade, now it is more like eight out of ten.
“It’s glory time in Burgundy right now”, says buyer Giles Burke-Gaffney of Justerini & Brooks. “Growers don’t have to worry about ripeness and have not had to since 2013, the last cool vintage”.
2019 is another warm dry year, but with marked advantages over 2018’s relentless heat. The preceding winter was very dry, summer had fewer heat spikes with harvest in September, rather than August. 2019 whites and reds across the board have better acidity, freshness and balance in comparison to 2018, enabling good-to-great growers to produce wines at the top of their quality potential.
“My father has never seen anything like 2019”, says Mathilde Grivot (pictured) of Domaine Jean Grivot, who makes beautifully silky-textured Vosne Romanee. “Such perfect maturity with perfect acidity – everything is in the wine with lovely balance”, she says.
For Burgundy’s quality success, David Harvey of Raeburn Wines points to growers becoming adept at managing fungal disease, choosing picking dates, rejecting the latest presses and returning to venerable hydraulic basket. Another factor is reduced use of new oak – and more experimentation with concrete and larger demi-muid barrels.
2019 reds have generous red berry fruits, but with such ripeness growers had to be careful not to extract too much. According to buyer Guy Seddon of Corney & Barrow, Santenay is an appellation to watch with more sweet Pinot Noir character and ripeness in 2019; he also tips Cote de Beaune Premier Cru and Marsannay in Cote de Nuits. J&B’s Burke-Gaffney thinks Pommard was particularly successful, whilst Raeburn’s Harvey recommends Volnay (Thierry Glantenay and Henri Boillot).
2019 white burgundies have fabulous brightness of acidity, citric tension and classic fruit profile. In Cote de Beaune, look for Jean Noel Gagnard in Chassagne Montrachet, Genot-Boulanger in Meursault, Hubert Lamy in St Aubin – and in Chalonnaise, the Hasard family (pictured).
“Premier Cru vineyards with more clay like Les Folatieres in Puligny Montrachet fared best”, explains Guillaume Lavollee of Genot-Boulanger. “Limestone was more like an oven in the heat almost burning the vine, clay-based vineyards retained water reserves keeping the vine fresh”.
Interestingly Burgundy’s second white grape, Aligote, is also being hailed by Domaine Morey as benefiting from warmer vintages. Often planted on cooler marginal sites, Aligote now gets enough warmth to ripen and balance its shrill high acidity.
If you are interested in buying 2019 Burgundies, I would recommend: Raeburn Wines, Justerini & Brooks, Corney & Barrow, Bancroft Wines, Flint Wines, Berry Bros, The Wine Society and Lea & Sandeman. There are plenty of other merchants, but it is essential to buy from a reputable one.
While we wait for 2019s to mature, here is a selection of current drinking Burgundy:
BOURGOGNE BLANC 2016 Chateau de Meursault
£25.62 Justerini & Brooks
Chateau de Meursault’s Bourgogne Blanc from their east-facing clos is much improved and 2016 shows this transition to quality. Transparent in its beauty with crystalline citric fruits, vibrant acid, silky creamy texture with long finish.
POUILLY FUISSE, LA MARECHAUDE 2016 Saumaize-Michelin ***STAR BUY***
£29.99 Raeburn Wines
A future premier cru in Maconnais; brioche smoky notes, ripe cantoloupe melon fruit, very elegant, soft buttery texture, fine acid line with salty notes made by biodynamic winemakers Christine and Roger Saumaize in Vergisson.
RULLY BLANC CLOS DE LA FOLIE 2017 Domaine de la Folie
£22.68 Justerini & Brooks
Another exciting estate re-born. The Dubrulle family’s 2017 from north-east facing monopole old vine vineyard is sleek elegant crisp; a superb example of unoaked cool-climate Chardonnay.
BOURGOGNE PINOT FIN 2016 Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux
£35 Corney & Barrow
Charles Lachaux has revitalised his family estate from vineyard to cellar, but 2016 was a challenge with 60% of his vines lost to frost. Bright pure red fruits, black pepper, creamy texture and rich fruit density from old vines.
MERCUREY EN SAZENAY 2017 Domaine Genot Boulanger ***STAR BUY***
£27.68 Justerini & Brooks
Gorgeous voluptuous cherry-fruited Mercurey with a silky soft texture, almost smoky with long finish; so much more polish than you standard Mercurey; made by one of the my favourite Burgundy winemakers, Guillaume Lavollee.
MARSANNAY LONGEROIES 2017 Domaine Bruno Clair
£34.68 Justerini & Brooks
New generation Artur & Edouard Clair are helping to improve wine quality here focusing on non-intervention winemaking. Longeroies is a lieu-dit (named site) which should be a premier cru; vibrant red fruits, salty character, chewy texture and minerally length.
Join Rose’s virtual tasting focusing on South America in association with Corney & Barrow: Fridays 5 & 12 March 2021 www.rosemurraybrown.com