By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 1 February 2020
Vine growers from across Burgundy flocked to the UK last month to show off their ‘heatwave’ vintage – and every grower I spoke to had the same story to tell.
2018 was extremely hot. Grapes were super-ripe, berries small and it was a very early harvest - but it produced a surprising result – a high quality vintage across the board.
“We picked in 40 degrees heat in August and it wasn’t easy”, says Nathalie Tollot of Domaine Tollot Beaut in Chorey-les-Beaune. “We had to pick really quickly to ensure that the grapes did not get hydric stress”, she says.
“It was a challenge not to pick too late, we started on 24 August which is incredibly early for Burgundy”, agreed Arthur Clair of Domaine Bruno Clair in Marsannay in Cote de Nuits. “We have never seen anything like it”.
What is interesting is that all growers agreed it was a homogenous vintage. “It was good for whites and reds with healthy yields across the board – every grape did well provided you picked early”, explained Guillaume Lavollee of Domaine Genot-Boulanger in Meursault in Cote de Beaune.
As record temperatures were recorded in 2018, it has naturally been compared with the other heatwave super-ripe vintage of 2003. However – from my own tasting of cask samples and new bottlings of 2018, I can see that the 2018 wines are much better balanced wines with better structure to age compared to 2003 wines which had ripe fruit, but crucially lacked acidity.
The reason why 2018 was so much better than 2003 was due partly to the previous wet winter of 2017/2018, which ensured ample water reserves. The flowering in May 2018 (a full three weeks earlier than usual) was very successful and very early giving the vines a big yield - another key mitigating factor. Although the summer was extremely hot with a drought – it was a year of ‘sunshine and freshness’, rather like 2015.
“Oddly in such a hot year – pH levels were beautiful, alcohol levels not too high, we had very good natural yeast and we did not even need to use any sulphites until bottling”, says Clemence Dubrulle of Domaine de la Folie in Rully in Cote Chalonnaise.
One of the key challenges for the growers picking in extreme heat, was that they needed to cool down the grapes once they arrived in the winery - with a cold pre-soak to slow down fermentation.
The 2018 whites were the big surprise of the vintage. Many have beautiful ripe fruits, vibrant freshness, lovely acid and complexity across the board. My particular favourites were from Puligny Montrachet and Chassagne Montrachet in Cote de Beaune - and at a more modest price level Vire Clesse in Maconnais. The only whites which disappointed were from Ch de Meursault’s rather over-oaked styles.
It was also fascinating to taste the richness and fleshiness of 2018 in comparison to the sleeker tighter 2017 whites from the cooler previous vintage.
The 2018 reds I tasted were very good, but mixed. It had been particularly tricky for vintners as the juice and extract came off the tannin-rich skins of the Pinot Noir extremely quickly, so the best winemakers were the ones who did not over-extract their reds. Balance of fruit, tannin and acid was the key – and there were some highlights in well-known appellations like Pommard, Chambolle Musigny, Beaune and Aloxe Corton – and crucially for those on a lesser budget: Marsannay, Santenay or the Hautes-Cotes.
My advice to anyone thinking of buying this latest Burgundy release – is to choose carefully. If I had to pick one Domaine worth buying from in this vintage, it would be the superb Domaine Genot-Boulanger (pictured above right) made by the humble talented winemaker Guillaume Lavollee - who excelled in both their white and reds wines in 2018.
RECOMMENDED WHITE BURGUNDY
Macon Chardonnay, Clos de la Crochette 2018 Comte Lafon (£19.68)
Charming fragrance, rich fleshy fruits – good balance between ripeness and fresh acidity
Vire Clesse 2018 Comte Lafon (£22.68) ***STAR VALUE***
From older vines giving rich concentrated flavours, more complexity, minerally notes. Very good.
Puligny Montrachet, Les Nosroyes 2017 Genot-Boulanger (£46.68)
Sleek elegant example of cool 2017 vintage: perfumed, citric, taut with lovely complexity, fabulous wine from fine Puligny village vineyard.
Puligny Montrachet, 1er Cru Folatieres 2018 Genot-Boulanger (£70) ***STAR BUY***
This will be superb – so stylish, peachy, rich with layers of flavour – give it time and this could be the humdinger of the vintage.
Chassagne Montrachet, 1er Cru Les Chenevottes 2018 Jean Noel Gagnard (£40)
Loved all Gagnard’s Chassagnes, but this was particularly appealing – rich dense fruits with ample acid to give it freshness.
RECOMMENDED RED BURGUNDY
Bourgogne Rouge 2018 Robert Groffier (£30)
Crunchy, earthy, juicy and herby, lovely fruit and firm tannins.
Rully Rouge, Cuvee Marey 2018 (£26.68)
Crunchy sappy fruits, intense dark, powerful with a savoury edge – still youthful – but will be very good for the price.
Chambolle Musigny, Les Veroilles 2018 Bruno Clair (£50)
This will be gorgeous in 5 years – scented berry fruits, crunchy plummy flavours, so elegant and charming - from one of Bruno Clair’s highest vineyards.
Chambolle Musigny, Les Hauts Doix 1er Cru 2018 Robert Groffier (£130) ***STAR BUY***
One of my favourite reds of the tasting – lovely cherried fruit, smooth tannins, subtle, elegant and complex. Very good.
Beaune Greves, 1er Cru 2018 Genot-Boulanger (£40)
Rich cherry damson fruits, very elegant, classy with fine soft tannins.
Beaune Greves, 1er Cru 2018 Tollot-Beaut (£49)
Vivid clear clean example with lovely richness and depth. Very fine.
Aloxe Corton, 1er Cru Les Fournieres 2017 Tollot-Beaut (£49)
Very rich intense cherried fruits, intense crunchy fruit palate, juicy and elegant – from cooler 2017 vintage.
All above wines available from Justerini & Brooks 0131 226 4202 www.justerinis.com
2018 white and red Burgundies are currently available from many other UK retailers including Lea & Sandeman, Corney & Barrow and Raeburn Wines.
Join Rose’s French Classics Dinner in Rhubarb, Prestonfield on Thursday 7 May £96 (4 courses & 8 fine wines) www.rosemurraybrown.com