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THE 2018 VINTAGE—The Worst Lack All Conviction; the Best are Full of Passionate Intensity

January 3, 2020

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Burgundy Vintages - A History from 1845, which Allen Meadows and I have co-authored, is available for purchase through Burghound books; pleas visit http://burghoundbooks.com/burgundy-vintages/ for further information and to read excerpts from the book.

Vintage Overview:

2018 was yet another vintage marked by extreme heat. But though average temperatures for the growing season exceeded even those of the bakingly-hot summer of 2003, several factors combined to make the 2018s much more successful than the ‘03s. That success, however, was not uniform; as the title of this article indicates (with apologies to W.B. Yeats), results varied widely, from great wines to great disappointments.

The winter of ’17-’18 was wet and humid, and the retained water in the soil helped the vines to cope with the hot dry summer that was to come. Cold weather in March resulted in a slow start to the growing season, but budbreak occurred around April 10th, and growth exploded in the second half of April, as temperatures reached 33°C. Flowering began early, around May 19th, and was completed rapidly, but the berries were quite small. Conditions were unsettled in late May and early June, and intermittently heavy but localized storms created mildew pressure in some areas (including Vosne-Romanée), while other parts of the Côte d’Or, especially the Côte de Beaune, reported little or no disease pressure. From mid-June, dry and very hot weather set in and lasted through August (apart from a hailstorm that affected the southern part of Nuits in mid-July), with temperatures at some points reaching 40°C. However, beneficial if somewhat localized rain in August swelled the grapes and produced a surprisingly abundant harvest, particularly for the chardonnay.

Veraison had begun in mid-July, and by mid-August, sugar levels were approaching maturity, but phenolic ripeness had not yet been achieved. Ripening accelerated in the days after August 20th, and (despite a little rain on August 23rd) growers were soon to be faced with a critical decision: whether to pick early, when alcohol and acidity levels were still reasonable, or to wait for greater phenolic maturity, and risk high-alcohol, low-acid wines. The earliest picking (of which we heard) began August 25th, with more (particularly white-wine producers) joining in the following week, and most picking in the Côte de Nuits beginning in early September. The window turned out to be relatively short, as Jean-Louis Trapet reported that potential alcohols shot up 1.5% over a five-day period.

Because of the high sugars and high natural extraction, some producers increased the use of whole clusters, while others limited or even eliminated punch-downs and relied on gentler pump-overs. Nonetheless, the fermentations were often extended, and had difficulty finishing, because of the high potential alcohol levels. In the typical way Burgundians discuss problems, several growers referred to neighbors who experienced stuck fermentations. Also, although malic acidity was low, some of the malolactic fermentations were extended (and in one instance it was still going when we visited in November) while others reported malos starting during the alcoholic fermentation, which can promote volatile acidity. Several growers also mentioned that they were extending the normal time for élevage in barrel in order to help refine the wines.

As to the wines themselves, in the words of one producer, the standard deviation is very high. Almost everyone agreed on the importance of picking dates. While we saw few producers whose wines exceeded 14% alcohol, we heard reliable reports of wines with much higher alcohols, some up to nearly 16%! But alcoholic degree is hardly the end of the story. Among the many dangers of this vintage (all of which we saw at one place or another) were under-ripeness (picking early to avoid over-ripeness but producing wines that were tart and not phenolically mature); over-ripeness (not just a matter of extended hang time but also of failure to eliminate sunburned grapes), over-extraction (there was more than enough natural extraction, and those who continued aggressive extractive regimes in the cellar produced monsters), unbalanced wines (mostly lacking in acidity, but also including some acidified wines—though no one was willing to own up to this); and volatile acidity (always a danger in hot vintages where the fermentations lag or stop, and lower acidities allow for more development of bacteria). VA was detectable in some samples even at some of the better producers we visited, and it’s difficult to know if this was affecting only the barrel we tasted, or the wine as a whole. A few producers were even willing to admit having had to eliminate barrels that were tainted.

The resulting reds are thus quite heterogeneous, but the best are potentially great wines. Early on, I was reminded of the 1990 vintage, which was much praised at the time, after a hot and dry summer produced an abundant crop and wines that—as Allen Meadows and I described the initial reaction in Burgundy Vintages—seemed “to be bursting with ripe fruit and to have a depth and intensity that had not been seen for many years.” With time, however, many of the wines began to display baked aromas and flavors, and showed slightly greenish tannins, even though the best (from DRC, Rousseau, Dujac and others) are still superb as they approach age 30. There are differences, to be sure, between ’90 and ‘18—including a hotter summer and a much more precocious harvest, as well as differences in yields. Plus, there are many more technically proficient producers today than there were in 1990, and, as one (Charles van Canneyt) said, they have learned a great deal since 2003 about how to manage hot vintages. So clearly there will be a far higher proportion of successes in 2018 than 1990. Additionally, as Aubert de Villaine among others remarked, the vines themselves seem to be adjusting to the new climate realities.

Stylistically, the best reds have pure fruit flavors (Michel Lafarge compared them in this respect to 1959, though he too sees parallels to 1990), great density and concentration, silky textures and ripe tannins. This is not a classic vintage, in that terroir differences can sometimes be a bit obscured, but the best have excellent balance and should age well. Guillaume d’Angerville said he particularly admired their density and texture, which he found unique, and this may well be the signature of the best wines of this vintage.

The whites are also quite successful at the highest levels—again, depending to a high degree on when they were picked. As with all hot vintages, there are plenty of fat, blowsy and tropical wines, but the best are fresh, pure and retain a good level of acidity—the result of the high yields, it would seem, as abundance held back sugar ripeness to some degree—though this is not a vintage to compare with such high-yield, exceptional quality years for chardonnay as 1982 or 1979. With rare exception, they are not at the level of the ’17 whites either, but the wines that were picked at the right time (and picking too early could be a danger as well as picking too late) will provide excellent medium-term drinking.

A note on barrel tasting: as I have written before, this is at best an art, and a difficult one, not a science. Yet if the overall outlines of the vintage seemed relatively clear in 2018, the results at specific producers did not necessarily yield the same degree of confidence. Some usually reliable producers did not produce particularly successful wines in this vintage, or else the wines were not showing well and should be revisited before a definitive judgment is made (a few are not reviewed here, for this reason). To some degree, this can always be the case. But this year, there were an unusual number of disconcerting reports from other experienced tasters who had quite different impressions, both positive and negative, from the ones our group had. So one has to be aware that these wines are still evolving, probably more so than is usual at this point in the élevage, and that could make it even more important than usual to sample the wines after they’ve been bottled and had a chance to settle down.

 

RED BURGUNDIES

The Côte de Nuits

The Domaines:

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Not surprisingly, the domaine made some of the best wines of the vintage. (Aubert de Villaine likened the ‘18s and ‘19s to 1864 and 1865, respectively. Given my interest in ancient vintages I greatly enjoyed the comparison, though 1864 was not as copious—nor, obviously, as hot—as 2018. However, since 1865 was the best year of the 19th century, I can’t wait to try the domaine’s ‘19s!) The harvest began on August 31st and alcohol levels were around 13.5%.  The Corton and Echézeaux were both excellent, if of the vintage: the Corton, with an intense, classic Corton nose, was quite dense on the palate but avoided ponderousness, while the Echézeaux showed a deep black fruit nose with chocolate and licorice notes and was remarkably dense and intense on the palate, and spicy, if with a distinct chocolate note. With the Grands Echézeaux, we entered another realm; as Aubert remarked, the remaining wines all demonstrated a combination of concentration and purity that is only rarely achieved. The Grands Echézeaux had a complex nose that was massive without being ponderous; the palate showed great balance and was pure and fine-grained, leading to a long, citric and minerally finish of great refinement.  Spice was immediately evident on the nose of the Romanée St.-Vivant, as were stems, though on the palate there was great transparency, and the wine seemed to have even more mineral purity than spice. Here, though, the oak was still in evidence, as was the alcohol, and as Perrine Fenal (the new co-gerant and one of our guides for the tasting) remarked, it currently seemed a little aggressive on the palate. The Richebourg had an intriguing nose, revealing multiple layers, while the palate showed pure sweet black fruit, perfect balance and a mineral touch, along with a floral note; it was powerful and concentrated, spicy and extremely long, but the tannins were completely buried in the ripe fruit. The touch of stems was prominent on the nose of La Tâche, with its mix of Asian spice, dark cherries and licorice, and it had a floral component; on the palate, this was simply an amazing wine, with perfect balance, energy, structure and tension but also purity, and it had an elegant, silky texture developing, along with very refined tannins—a very great La Tâche in the making. By comparison, the Romanée-Conti seemed even more reticent than usual, though eventually the nose revealed complex refined black fruit, spice, violets and olive notes, and it just kept adding new dimensions as it warmed a bit in the glass; on the palate, it had a lot of power for young RC, extremely refined tannins, and a pure finish that lasted for many minutes. While at this stage, it hadn’t settled in to the same extent as La Tâche, it’s hard to doubt that it will in time also be a benchmark Romanée-Conti.

Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair. Picking began here on September 2nd, and Louis-Michel Liger-Belair said that the alcohol levels ranged from 12.5 to 13.5%. Things began a little slowly, but picked up considerable steam as we climbed the appellation ladder, with a very nice Vosne Suchots that showed ripe, pure black fruit and a touch of licorice, a Vosne Petits Monts that was dense and almost chocolatey but had excellent intensity and richness, if still some oak to integrate, and a very fine Vosne Brulées, made with 20% whole clusters, that had wonderful purity and was quite balanced, with a long, pure finish and polished tannins. The Nuits Cras, despite a little reduction, had beautiful, clear fruit, a sense of terroir and a spicy, extremely long finish with fine tannins, while the Nuits Clos des Grands Vignes, also a little reduced, was pure and bright, with citrus notes on the nose and ripe fruit on the palate, as well as a lively finish—brighter if not quite as deep as Cras. The Vosne Reignots was quite special—a brilliant nose with deep black fruit, mocha and just a touch of oak; this wine had great purity of fruit and was beautifully integrated, with excellent lift, very fine tannins and a super-long finish. The Clos de Vougeot had a fair amount of reduction and thus was harder to read, but the grand cru weight was there, and it had excellent balance and mellow tannins. Echézeaux, as always, had an elegant, complex nose, a dense palate and, despite some reduction, showed enormous potential. But if one wine suggested the full potential of this vintage, it was La Romanée, with a subtle and complex nose that draws you in, great purity of fruit, a delicate rose note, a pure, elegant palate of great class (what the old-time English wine writers liked to call “breed”) and a finish that went on for more than a few minutes–brilliant wine!

Domaine Georges Mugneret-Gibourg. Even though alcohol levels here were slightly elevated (13.7-14.3%), these wines were extremely successful. The Bourgogne was remarkable for the appellation, with deep black fruit, good minerality and some real depth of character, with only a bit of rusticity to remind one of its origins. This year, the Vosne La Colombière is being bottled separately from the Village, and it was a noticeably denser wine, with delicious sweet fruit–a large, bold wine that needs time, albeit with slightly grainy tannins. The Nuits Au Bas de Combe, a Village wine, was heavy and earthy. The 1er cru Nuits Chaignots was pure, citric, with earthy, mocha notes and, while it had a bit more material than the Nuits Vignes Rondes that preceded it, I slightly preferred the brightness and balance of the Vignes Rondes, with its spice notes, touch of earth and buried tannins on the long finish. The Echézeaux showed deep blackberry notes, citrus and mocha on the nose, and was powerful and rich on the palate; while it was balanced, it didn’t quite achieve the elegance of the best Echézeaux in this vintage. The Ruchottes-Chambertin was, however, quite fine, with excellent bright acidity setting off the deep, rich black fruit; this had great equilibrium and presence and to my mind slightly exceeded the Clos Vougeot, though the latter had good purity of fruit, medium weight and a sneakily persistent and elegant finish–which goes on for several minutes, promising more than the palate currently delivers—though I’m guessing the palate will fulfill that promise with time.

Domaine Hudelot-Noëllat. Charles van Canneyt has crafted some of the most compelling wines of the ’18 vintage. Picking commenced on September 5th and reported alcohol levels were between 13.3 and 14.2%. Charles commented that he thought that producers had learned over the years how to better manage hot vintages and that in general the ’18s were more precise than not only the ’09s, but also the ’05s. The Chambolle Village was quite attractive, showing some chocolate cherries on the nose, and was quite spicy, with a hint of game; this was bright, minerally and saline, with mild tannins. The Vosne Village had a complex nose of Asian spice, red and black fruit; it was more austere on the palate than the nose suggested and was probably in need of a racking, but there was a lot of material here and excellent density and tension. The Nuits Village completed this terroir-driven trio, with the earthy character of Nuits but also excellent transparency and even a silky texture developing. The Nuits Murgers had a very dense nose and was minerally and pure on the attack, building in complexity, along with saline notes and a silky texture. The Chambolle Charmes was even better, with complex fruit on the nose and a silky, pure and transparent palate giving way to a long, barely tannic finish. However, the standouts among the 1er crus were the Vosne Beaumonts, with a remarkable mid-palate that was transparent, silky, energetic and complex; and a Vosne Malconsorts that had a subdued, complex nose of spice, cherry fruit, cocoa and soy—this was pure, balanced, complex and gracious, growing on the palate and extending through a long finish with supple tannins. The Romanée St.-Vivant was dense on the nose and showing a little reduction, but this had a lot of power for RSV as well as density and concentration. Best of all was the Richebourg, with some rose petal notes along with typical spice, black fruit and soy on the nose; this was elegant, balanced, full of ripe fruit, concentrated and silky, with a floral quality emerging on the finish and extremely refined tannins. Great wines!

Domaine Sylvain Cathiard. Picking began on September 8th and Sebastian Cathiard said his alcohol levels were between 12.8 and 13.5%. These wines were quite successful in 2018, as it seems that Sebastian continues to modulate the oak treatment, beginning with a surprisingly nice Côteaux Bourguignons “Les Croix Blanches”, a mix of 60% pinot and 40% Gamay–not a combination I usually enjoy. The Vosne Village, while somewhat reduced, showed promise, and the Chambolle-Musigny Clos de l’Orme was better still, with lots of red and black fruit, a silky texture and good balance and clarity. Also very fine were the Nuits Aux Murgers, with deep, complex ripe fruit flavors and an earthy note, plus excellent balancing acidity and a persistent finish; and the Vosne Reignots, with good balance and purity, a lovely texture underneath the reduction and a long finish. Vosne Suchots was also excellent, with a black cherry nose hinting at great depth; this had energy, clarity and refinement, the only nit being that it seemed very slightly on the light side. The Vosne Malconsorts was first-rate, with an incredibly deep nose of cherry fruit, soy, spice, citrus and an almost gamy touch, while the palate was firm, concentrated and intense, finishing with very refined if slightly dry tannins. The Romanée St.-Vivant was deep and spicy, with an elegant nose and a delicate, pure palate; like the Malconsorts, this needs more time to absorb the oak, but the tannins are so refined as to be almost imperceptible.

Domaine Emmanuel Rouget. This was our second visit to the domaine, and as it had last year, the visit began with Emmanuel Rouget looking us over quizzically, as if to say “who are you and why are you bothering me?” and ended with him relaxed and telling stories (in French) in the cellar, seemingly reluctant to let us go even when we had to tell him we were late for our next appointment. The domaine began harvesting on September 9th and average alcohols were around 14%. Rouget made very fine wines in ’18. I quite liked the Savigny Les Lavières, with its deep fruit and light creamy texture, a big ripe wine but with plenty of acidity and some earthy tannins; and the Vosne Village, which despite some reduction (we tasted from a new oak barrel; the final blend will be 30% new oak) showed very pure fruit, a mocha note, lots of energy and great length, plus ripe tannins. Even better was the Nuits Village (from four parcels on the north side of the village), with beautiful fresh fruit and a nice spicy note; this was ripe but pure, balanced and with power, 1er cru weight and density, yet it was quite refined for Nuits St.-Georges. The Vosne Beaumonts was dense and the 100% new oak had not yet fully integrated, but it had a mineral spine and was intense and wonderfully spicy; the tannins were ripe and the finish remarkably persistent. The Echézeaux was slightly reduced on the nose, but on the palate, it displayed remarkable precision and balance; it was dense but not at all heavy and the fruit was pure and fresh, and it had refined tannins and a finish that lasted several minutes. The Vosne Cros Parantoux displayed a stunning nose of great purity, with a perfumed note, dark cherries, mocha and spice; on the palate, it was more delicate and refined than the Echézeaux (though, as Emmanuel remarked, also more reserved and, in my view, not yet as well-knit), with a spicy, energetic finish that went on for several minutes.

Domaine Méo-Camuzet. The harvest began here in Corton on August 29th and after a short hiatus restarted in earnest on September 4th. Alcohols were between 12.9 and 14%. Because this was a crowded week, the domaine had decided to prepare bottled barrel samples and to use a Coravin to pour them for visitors. This sounded innocuous, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t wholly successful, as some of the samples seemed slightly dull, and a comparison with examples taken directly from barrel showed much more vitality and energy in the latter. That said, I liked a number of the wines here, especially the Corton Clos Rognet (the first to be harvested), with a spicy, intense nose, lots of body, excellent ripe fruit and good concentration; Echézeaux, which showed good purity and was multi-layered, growing in the glass, with moderate tannins and good finesse; and a particularly fine Vosne Brulées (always a favorite of mine here), with a velvety texture, spice, mocha, black cherry and soy notes, and fine tannins at the end. And of course, as always, there were terrific examples of Vosne Cros Parantoux, with a bright, complex nose, a silky texture, excellent balance and terroir inflection and a finish of great finesse; and Richebourg, in a soft and elegant style, with good transparency and hidden depths that needed to be teased out of the glass, showing great density and refined tannins on the finish.

Ch. de la Tour. The harvest started on September 6th and extended over two weeks. Alcohol levels here were between 13.5-13.9% and, as usual, 100% whole clusters were used. Among the Domaine Pierre et Francois Labet wines, I particularly liked the Beaune Coucherias, which had a spicy, earthy nose, good clarity, lovely bright fruit and excellent typicity. The Ch. de la Tour Clos de Vougeot (Cuvée Classique) was quite ripe and dense, a good wine if still a bit marked by the oak on the nose, while the Clos de Vougeot Vieilles Vignes had a massive black fruit nose, a pure middle and excellent weight and density that were balanced by good lift and tension, with ripe tannins. (Both of these wines had tiny hints of VA in the samples we tasted but I don’t know if these were necessarily representative.) The Clos de Vougeot Hommage à Jean Morin is a brilliant wine, potentially among the top wines of the vintage, with incredibly complex fruit on the nose, minerals, mocha, citrus and soy; there is great purity in the mid-palate despite the incredible density and a powerful finish that is full of fruit, with extremely refined tannins and tremendous length.

Domaine Georges Roumier. Christophe Roumier said that while ’18 was not a classic vintage, he really likes it: the wines, though slightly heavy in style and with pHs that are a little high, have nicely textured tannins, and he said they remind him a bit of ’03 but are fresher, though he also sees parallels to the ’90 vintage. Alcohol levels in some vineyards were slightly high (14.2% in Les Cras and 13.9% in Bonnes Mares, with the rest ranging down to 13.1%). Picking started September 5th and was completed in 5 days and Christophe said there were no problems with the fermentation, though he mentioned that the skins were strong and often resisted pressure from the cap. He also said that the slow fermentation that often comes with higher levels of potential alcohol increases extraction, and that one therefore had to be even more careful in this vintage to avoid over-extraction. He felt that the use of whole cluster was important to retain freshness and balance, and he also largely avoided punch-downs and did not rack the wines during the élevage, which he felt suited this vintage.

There are, as one might expect, marvelous wines here. The Chambolle Village had a complex nose of black fruit, earth, minerals and soy that jumped out of the glass; on the palate, it was pure, with great balance and soft tannins. The Morey Clos de la Bussière was silky and quite pure in the mid-palate, with a long finish and perhaps just slightly rustic tannins. The Chambolle Combottes had more depth and tension than the Village, though just a touch of heat on the finish. The Chambolle Cras was superb: starting with a pure, complex and intense nose, it was silky and transparent on the palate as well as concentrated and balanced, with refined tannins. Although the Echézeaux was a bit reduced it had excellent texture but was not as generous as it might be (while made from 65+ year old vines, the clones are high-producers). The Charmes-Chambertin, made with 65% whole cluster, was meaty and spicy, a very good wine if a trifle heavy in the middle. The Ruchottes-Chambertin had a deep, refined nose and was silky and suave on the palate, with good intensity and precision and ripe tannins on the powerful finish. The nose of the Chambolle Amoureuses was pure and complex, with great depth, and the purity of fruit was evident too on the palate, which had good energy and a refined, spicy finish where the tannins were almost completely buried. The Bonnes Mares had a powerful and brooding nose but opened to great purity and silk in the middle–a ripe, balanced and refined wine, with remarkable transparency in the center and on the finish, which went on for minutes. As terrific as these last two wines were, the Musigny was even better: a super-dense nose, the essence of Musigny; on the palate, this had excellent weight and balance; it was an extremely elegant wine, yet still powerful, with very refined tannins and an almost endless finish.

Domaine Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier. Picking began August 28th in Bonnes Mares, and the rest of the Chambolle vineyards were picked between the 1st and 3rd of September, with alcohol levels around 13.5%. The Clos de la Maréchale was damaged by hail twice in early July but turned out quite well despite it. The Chambolle Fuées had a deep, dark fruit nose, lovely balance and purity on the palate and some silk developing, and it was quite dense for Fuées. The Bonnes Mares had power and intensity, if not quite the refinement one hopes for in the very best examples from this vineyard. The Chambolle Amoureuses was complex, spicy and elegant, with great charm and potential, but there were VA hints throughout that I found concerning—though whether this was the particular barrel, or the cuvée, I couldn’t say. I had no cavils about the Musigny, though, which had a classic nose of dark cherries, spice and a Seville orange top note; it was achingly pure on the palate, with deep ripe fruit in the background—an elegant wine, with extremely refined tannins and an exceptionally long, transparent finish. This is a classic Mugnier wine (a term he would hate, as it suggests a house style, and he is adamant that it is the terroir that speaks; nonetheless, you can pick the Mugnier Musigny out of a lineup, just as you can the Roumier or the Drouhin, all wines in which the terroir speaks—but I digress!), back in top form.

Domaine Dujac. Picking began September 4th. Alec Seysses said the key to success in ’18 was flexibility, and among other things the domaine is moving to more pump-overs rather than punch-downs, as well as slightly reducing the use of whole cluster (though they’re still at around 90%). The wines had been racked about three weeks before we saw them. The Gevrey Combottes was excellent, an earthy, intense but very balanced wine that had power but also transparency. The Charmes-Chambertin was also quite fine, with a nice spiced meat quality, good balance and transparency and some still-firm tannins in back. The Vosne Malconsorts was, for whatever reason, not showing well, but the Clos de la Roche and Clos St. Denis were both extremely good, with much of the group preferring the latter, a classic CSD with a deep nose, ripe fruit and excellent balance, though I leaned toward the Clos de la Roche, which was deeply minerally, still a bit coiled and unforthcoming but with hints of great depth; where it excelled to me was in the ripeness and fineness of the tannins, while those of the CSD seemed a bit harder and drier. Nonetheless, both wines were very successful, and it will be interesting to see how they develop with age.

Clos de Tart. It was interesting to visit Clos de Tart and Clos des Lambrays back-to-back; at the latter, Jacques Devauges is now in charge, having left Clos de Tart, and at both, we were tasting ‘18s made by the former winemakers, with the current incumbents talking as much about the changes they intended as about their predecessors’ wines. In any event, the Clos de Tart, which for the first time was blended a year before bottling, showed a pure nose that was very characteristic of the vineyard, though the mid-palate seemed a bit plush, but then the finish reverted to the purity of the nose, with ripe tannins and great persistence. This is a very nice wine, but whether it fully justifies the increasingly aggressive pricing of the new owners remains to be seen.

Domaine des Lambrays. While Jacques Devauges has taken over from Boris Champy, it was Boris who made the ‘18s. The reds were harvested between August 25th and September 3rd. The alcohol level was 13.7% for the Clos des Lambrays, which showed too much oak for my taste but had decent structure and clarity and good persistence.

Domaine Ponsot. The reds were harvested beginning September 5th. Rose-Marie Ponsot said that while they were making some adjustments (fewer punch-downs, for example), there were no major changes at the domaine from the prior regime. Alcohol levels were around 13.5%, though 14.1% for the Clos de la Roche. The Corton showed quite ripe fruit and balancing acidity; it was less extracted than in some prior years, though not, at least at this stage, especially complex. The Clos de Vougeot had deep, dark fruit on the nose and, while reductive, there was some very ripe fruit on the palate. The Chapelle-Chambertin was quite nice, with lots of ripe red and black fruit notes, but also good balance and equilibrium and a long, spicy finish. Best, as usual, was the Clos de la Roche, which despite a little reduction showed pure fruit on the nose and a touch of champignons; on the palate, it had pure fruit, nice balance, good typicity and a creamy note, with the tannins evident but fine and a very persistent finish.

Domaine Duroché.  Pierre Duroché said the harvest began on September 3rd, and alcohols were between 12.5 and 13.5%; there was minimal new oak. The quality was evident here, as Duroché has now become one of the top addresses in Gevrey. The Gevrey Jeunes Rois had beautiful pure fruit on the nose and was bright and charming on the palate, with good energy, and was precise and well-delineated. The Gevrey Aux Etelois showcased the small berry fruit and a meaty, spice-rub touch; this was a very nice wine if not as sharply cut as the Jeunes Rois. The Charmes-Chambertin was particularly good, with ripe fruit and excellent clarity, minerality and drive, as well as fine length. The Latricières-Chambertin was also showing extremely well and was even more complex than the Charmes, with raspberries, blackberries and a mocha touch; it was coiled, with excellent mineral tones and a pure and complex finish, the tannins still evident but refined. Finally, the Clos de Bèze had a superb nose and great depth on the palate, as well as a powerful, pure and almost endless finish—this could well be the best of these wines, but it didn’t initially seem totally settled in, though it was improving as it sat (all too briefly) in the glass.

Domaine Trapet. The harvest started here on September 5th.  The Bourgogne Rouge was meaty, with a nice mouthfeel, if still showing a bit of wood in back; the Gevrey Village was classic Gevrey and classic ‘18, with a lot of sweet fruit and a grilled meat note, while the Gevrey Ostrea, though slightly reduced, showed deep cherry fruit and just enough acidity to balance it. The Gevrey Petit Chapelle had excellent clarity and balance, with a nice floral note, a citric touch and good spice; it also had a sneaky length to it. The Gevrey 1er Cru Capita also had good clarity and balance, and the 100% whole cluster used here gave it good lift and presence, though the oak still needs time to integrate. The Chapelle-Chambertin, while showing some reduction, had good purity up front and power after; this too needs some time. The Latricières-Chambertin was quite fine, with excellent minerality; this was silky and suave, with notes of cocoa, grilled meat and agrumes, a touch of oak and a delicate, minerally finish. The Chambertin had a real sense of density and complexity on the nose and was silky, with pure, sweet, ripe fruit, the stems keeping it from being too heavy, and a brilliant finish with suave tannins; this was pure, driven and exceptionally persistent.

Domaine Henri Rebourseau. This was our first visit to this domaine, which has been in the same family, and cultivated significant holdings of Gevrey grands crus, since the mid-19th century. The domaine has recently received significant infusions both of money, from a major investment by the Bouyges family, and energy, from the younger generation, Louis and Bénigne de Surrel. The domaine has been farmed organically for a decade, but other major changes are in the works, including in the regimen of new oak. Currently, the grands crus are aged in about 30% new oak, but the brothers (under the watchful eye of Bernard Hervet) are experimenting with different coopers, and we had an interesting and instructive comparison of the ‘18s from different barrels. At the same time, though, because we were only tasting from the new barrels, it made it a bit difficult to get an accurate picture of what the final blend will be. Nonetheless, there was quite a lot of ripe and rich fruit but still good clarity to the Charmes-Chambertin, and some good soil tones, though both the oak and extraction levels were prominent. The same was true for the Mazis-Chambertin, which had a savory quality and excellent purity to the fruit, along with a licorice touch. The Chambertin, from a François Frères barrel, was clear and elegant, the extraction more muted, and it had more finesse, with a lovely spicy finish. There is still much to be done here, particularly in toning down the extraction levels, but the pride and commitment are evident and the raw materials remarkable. It will be interesting to watch the progress of this estate.

 

The Côte de Beaune

The Domaines:

Domaine Marquis d’Angerville. Guillaume d’Angerville said that the density and texture of the ‘18s was different from most prior vintages, making comparisons difficult. Picking began September 1 and was completed in under 6 days. Alcohol levels were mostly between 13.5-13.8%. Guillaume also said he is not in a rush to bottle, as he believes further élevage will refine the wines. That said, these are already superb from barrel. The Volnay 1er Cru, despite some reduction, was quite transparent in the middle and developing well. The Volnay Clos des Angles, which still showed very primary fruit, had excellent freshness and a bit of tannin at the finish, and was quite attractive, as was the Volnay Fremiets, also primary, but with excellent structure and drive and fine balance, while the Volnay Caillerets was dense, almost chewy, its tannins evident, but with a pure mineral core. All three showed clearly the terroir differences. The Volnay Taillepieds was a further step up; with a silky mouthfeel, this showed real elegance and purity and had a spicy, very long minerally finish with refined tannins. The Volnay Champans had a deep, pure nose of black fruit and minerals; it was large-framed and powerful, but kept its balance; there is a lot here and I expect this will be exceptional, but it could use a bit more time in cask to soften the edges. The Volnay Clos des Ducs, notwithstanding a fair amount of reduction, was very pure, with enormous refinement and power and a super-long finish; I expect with time this will take its place among the great vintages of Clos des Ducs.

Domaine Michel Lafarge. Frédéric Lafarge said his father saw some parallels between 2018 and 1990, with a similar potential for aging, and 1959, for its purity of fruit. The wines are, as one would expect, excellent, although for me they didn’t have quite the same emotional impact as the ‘15s did here. This year, they made a special cuvee for Michel’s 90th birthday, a Bourgogne Passetoutgrain Anthologie, made from 90-year old vines, to be bottled only in magnums. For lovers of Passetoutgrain, I doubt you will find a better one—it is intense, ripe and ebullient—but I confess that the mixture of pinot noir and gamay always leaves me a bit unconvinced. I much preferred the Bourgogne Pinot Noir, with its lovely ripe fruit and remarkable complexity for this appellation, très gourmand but also with good balance. I particularly liked the Volnay Village, with ripe, pure fruit, good intensity and a nice silky touch (in fact I preferred it to the Volnay Vendages Sélectionnées, which was denser but perhaps too much so). The Pommard Pezerolles was typically earthy but nicely balanced and with good clarity, while the Volnay Pitures was ripe but well balanced, with significant power for Volnay and a lovely pure finish; it will be bottled only in magnum. The Volnay Caillerets showed massive ripe fruit on the nose backed by lots of minerally acidity—the fruit was elegant, ripe and pure, with refined tannins. Of course, the Volnay Clos des Chênes was outstanding, a subtle, refined wine with a creamy texture and a great deal of depth, but this year it seemed slightly outshone by the Volnay Clos du Château des Ducs, a delicate, elegant wine with perfect balance, a spicy finish and highly refined tannins.

Comte Armand. Paul Zinetti is crafting excellent wines here, and not merely the Clos des Epeneaux. There is a particularly fine Auxey-Duresses 1er Cru, with nice strawberry fruit, excellent minerality, a silky texture and ripe tannins; in this era of hot vintages, the wines of this village are now getting ripe and can be a good alternative to other more well-known, overpriced Village appellations. The Volnay Fremiets had a charming, almost plummy note yet managed to stay perfectly balanced, with a creamy texture; this was a particularly fine Fremiets. After an interesting tasting of different blocks of the Clos des Epeneaux, we tasted the blend. Despite a little reduction, the nose was deeply minerally, with spice and earth notes, and the palate was quite structured, pure and very reflective of the terroir; this is a very fine Clos des Epeneaux.

Domaine Jean-Marc et Thomas Bouley. Thomas Bouley said while ’18 was warm and sunny, the wines were fresher than ’03 and not overripe, and that despite having generally high alcohols and low acidity, they didn’t feel that way. He also believes that longer barrel aging is important for ripe vintages such as ‘18. The wines here were very much on form. The Bourgogne Rouge was quite attractive despite showing some reduction, with rich sweet fruit. The Volnay Clos de la Cave, made with 50% whole clusters, had a complex nose, with cherries, blackberries and a brambly quality and was easy, fresh and long, with ripe tannins. The Beaune Reversées was quite perfumed, light-bodied and charming, while the Volnay Caillerets showed dark fruit and mineral notes on the nose and plenty of ripe fruit on the palate. The Volnay Clos des Chênes was still slightly reduced but complex, deep and minerally on the nose and extremely well balanced, with refined tannins and just a little heat at the finish. Both Pommards were excellent, with the Rugiens (from Rugiens Haut) being pure, in a lighter style, stony and a bit saline, if perhaps just a bit rustic as well, while the Pommard Fremiets was pure, transparent, showing some of the Pommard earthiness but more refined than the Rugiens and with excellent body and lift. Overall, this was a very fine range of wines from this talented producer.

Domaine Y. Clerget. Thibault Clerget is another of the dynamic young winemakers who are energizing Burgundy today. He began picking on September 2nd and alcohol levels were between 13.2 and 13.7%. These are somewhat old-style Burgundies, with significant levels of tannin for the vintage, made for long keeping, but while a few tended towards somewhat more extraction than I prefer, I really liked the style of the best wines here. Among those were a very fine Volnay Santenots, which had a lot of power for Volnay, but carried its weight with ease, while the tannins were quite refined; and an excellent Pommard Rugiens, with lots of ripe fruit, a creamy texture and less rusticity than one usually sees from Rugiens Haut. Best of all was the Volnay Caillerets, an intense and energetic wine with great balance, purity and lift and very refined tannins. (By contrast, the Clos de Vougeot, the only Côte de Nuits wine here, struck me as a bit extracted, but certainly it needs more time.)

Domaine Michel Gaunoux. As usual, we tasted the ‘17s from bottle rather than the ‘18s, as the domaine only shows the finished wines. The Pommard Grands Epenots was dense, earthy and ripe on the nose, though soft and attractive on the palate; this should be drinkable relatively early though it is not without a good minerally clarity that gives it more interest. This reflects what Fred Mugnier called the “joyful” aspect of ’17, as opposed to the more serious vintages on either side of it. The Corton Renardes was particularly fine, with spices, black fruit, a bacon note and a mocha touch, as well as good minerality and plenty of sweet fruit—this is an accessible Corton that seems delicious right now, though it certainly has a good future ahead of it.

Among the older wines we tasted were an ’06 Pommard Grands Epenots, which avoided the hardness and ungainliness of many wines of this vintage and showed a very long, pure finish (92), and a particularly delightful ’97 Pommard Grands Epenots, a surprise from this usually overripe, stolid vintage, with a nose that almost jumped from the glass. This was très gourmand, with ripe fruit but also remarkable freshness (93+). We finished with the ’62 Pommard Grands Epenots, showing the silkiness of this brilliant vintage (95).

Domaine Chandon de Briailles. There have been some positive adjustments here, as the wines seemed more approachable and less bitingly tannic than in prior years. Some of that may be the vintage, but also perhaps a lighter touch is also being applied; if so, it is certainly a change for the better. Picking began September 1st for the reds. The first wine we tasted was an attractive Savigny Village, which while seeming a bit dense and extracted on the nose was quite pure and minerally on the palate and had a spicy finish (the premier cru Savigny Lavières which followed was denser if seemingly a little clumsy at the moment but it could well improve). The Corton Maréchaudes was creamy, with excellent lift–perhaps a bit sauvage still but powerful, with an excellent pure finish; while the Corton Bressandes was dense and intense on the nose, with notes of earth, bacon and truffles, a dense, classic Corton that became even purer as it lengthened out. The Corton Clos du Roi, remarkably (though perhaps not, for this vintage) was still undergoing its malolactic fermentation, so not in condition to taste. Given the quality of the other grands crus here, it will certainly merit revisiting.

The Negociants:

 Bouchard Père et Fils. The pinot harvest began early, on August 30th. Average alcohols ranged from 13.5 to a bit over 14% according to Luc Bouchard, and average yields were 38-40 hl/ha. The maison used 20-50% whole cluster, higher than normal. In general, these wines express the ripeness of the vintage, to better effect in some wines than others, with the best being wines that will give a lot of pleasure early on but that should last reasonably well; in a few wines in the range, though, I did detect notes of volatile acidity, which, as noted earlier, is a danger in extended fermentations. Among the reds I enjoyed were a fruity, earthy Beaune Clos de la Mousse; a spicy and also earthy Beaune Grèves Enfant Jesus, which was dense and had very plummy fruit, a Volnay Caillerets Ancien Cuvée Carnot that was also quite ripe and plummy, rich and likely to be enjoyable from an early age; and a darkly colored Echézeaux that had good density and balance and a creamy note. I also found the Bonnes Mares, Chapelle-Chambertin and Clos de Bèze all quite ripe and attractive, if not exactly the style of wine I prefer. My favorite in the range was the Clos de Vougeot, which had a nose of pure black fruit, a little wood, a creamy note and excellent balance, while the finish was clear and long.

Joseph Drouhin. The harvest began August 29th in the Côte de Beaune. Veronique Drouhin said that phenolic maturities were excellent as the maison had made the choice to wait for them, even if it meant somewhat higher sugars (though their highest alcohol was 14%, in Montrachet); they also chose as a result to use more whole cluster than normal. Veronique did say that because of the slow fermentations, a few barrels had showed some VA, but that these were all eliminated. By and large, the reds were very successful, beginning with a Beaune Clos des Mouches that was quite ripe but avoided overripeness, as the whole clusters gave it some good lift on the palate, and there was excellent clarity on the finish. The Beaune Grèves was even better, with a more sophisticated nose than the Clos des Mouches—there was more structure here, with the terroir nicely articulated. The Vosne Petits Monts had a deep, pure color and a complex, characteristically spicy nose; on the palate, it seemed soft and ripe up front, but had good balance and refined tannins—an elegant wine that will need time in bottle. The Corton seemed primary at first but expanded in the glass and began showing a silky texture; it was quite attractive. The Griotte-Chambertin, so often reduced at this time of year, was gratifyingly accessible: it had a beautiful nose of complex, pure fruit, minerals and a touch of spiced meat, excellent balance, and the tannins were soft and completely ripe–an unusually charming Griottes, but also with plenty in reserve. The Musigny had a superb, elegant and complex nose with the characteristic bitter orange top note and a nice crispness; on the palate, it was soft and elegant, albeit with great balance and density, while the tannins were highly refined and the finish, which was quite elegant, went on for several minutes.

Joseph Faiveley.  Erwan Faiveley was quite frank about the difficulties of fermenting the ‘18s, with many being slow to finish, and a few barrels had to be eliminated. I mention this because you know that if fastidious producers are experiencing issues with VA or brett, and have to eliminate barrels, there are others who will say nothing and do nothing. (Erwan also mentioned that these problems affected many regions in ’18, perhaps none more than the Rhône.) The wines here were quite plummy and rich, but with more tannin than most, as the house is looking to make wines that will evolve slowly and last a very long time. The Nuits Chaignots had very ripe fruit but also a lot of bracing acidity, which is unusual for this vintage but welcome, while the Nuits Les St.-Georges, made from three different cuvées, was ultra-ripe yet retained good acidity–a powerful, structured wine that didn’t seem quite settled down.  The Gevrey Combe Aux Moines, like many of these wines, was on the extracted side, but it nonetheless managed to avoid heaviness, with some ripe tannins at the finish. The Gevrey Cazetiers had huge fruit, density and power—it was too extracted for me, but still had good energy. The Charmes-Chambertin, still evolving, had a good texture and balance on the finish, while the Clos de Bèze had super-ripe berry fruit, chocolate and plums on the nose, but showed some good balance on the finish. The best, though, of the Gevrey grands crus were the Mazis-Chambertin, which had a brambly note on the nose and good clarity, with some strong tannins, but overall expressed the Mazis terroir well in the setting of a warm vintage; and the Clos de Bèze Ouvrées Rodin, which had great density but excellent lift, and if the fruit leaned toward the plummy side there was nonetheless a sense of refinement here, with an exceptionally long, elegant finish. It did not, however, necessarily overshadow the Echézeaux, Erwan’s favorite wine in the range and with reason: a spicy and complex nose showed the effect of stems (25-30%, used here for the first time), and the wine was extremely well balanced, the most transparent wine of the range. It had excellent weight and somehow it achieved density yet delicacy, all leading to a pure, vibrant  mineral finish with refined tannins.

Louis Jadot. While the reds here are certainly well-made, these are clearly fruit-driven wines; in this vintage the expression of the house style was such that, even if the terroir differences were not invisible, the dominant impressions were of the intense ripe fruit. Also, while not discussed, clearly fermentation issues had affected some of the wines, which showed noticeable VA. All that said, there were a number of wines that stood out from the pack, including a very nice Beaune Theurons, with bright red fruit, an earthy wine that showed its Beaune origins and had a strong mineral finish; an excellent Volnay Santenots, with lovely balance and purity and some evident tannins that should mellow with time; a ripe and accessible Corton Pougets, with lots of volume and a bright, long finish; an easy, crowd-pleasing Vosne Suchots; a Gevrey Clos St. Jacques that had charm but also depth, and was quite appealing even if not the most terroir-driven of CSJs; a Chapelle-Chambertin with pure black fruit, good density and just enough acidity to balance; a Clos St. Denis with a very interesting and seductively complex nose, even if the palate hadn’t quite caught up with it yet; and a particularly good Echézeaux, with excellent density and structure as well as an interesting persimmon note on the nose and with tannins that, if not exactly invisible, were refined. Best was the Musigny, with an elegant, characteristic nose; on the palate, this was ripe without being plush, the fruit dense but relatively weightless, the tannins very refined and the finish pure, subtle and elegant.

Laurent Ponsot. Although Laurent continues to operate as a negociant, he did buy some vineyards in the past year, which will be folded into the negociant operations. Laurent commented that wine tasting has become too “intellectual”—too much about information (alcoholic degree, pHs, punch-downs vs. pump-overs, yields, etc.)—and not enough focused on how the wine tastes; it was a comment echoed, in a somewhat different manner, by Thomas Bouley, who in response to a question about alcohol levels, asked “how do they taste? Do they seem alcoholic?” The Clos de Vougeot stood out for its pure fruit nose and its density and intensity on the palate, allied with a fine fruit/mineral finish, while the Griotte-Chambertin seemed powerful on the nose but more delicate on the palate (though not light) and had excellent transparency; it had a long, spicy finish, if also a slight sense of the alcohol (this was the only one in the range over 14%). The Chambertin had great balance and was spicy on the nose with intense, ripe black fruit notes; it was very balanced and even elegant, with some fine tannins and a long finish. The Clos St. Denis was the standout, as usual, with a complex nose that included notes of black cherry, spice, champignons, flowers and licorice; on the palate, it was complex and balanced, with a very fine texture and refined tannins as well as a quite extended finish.

Maison Henri Boillot. I had not visited this producer in a few years, and despite hearing that there had been significant changes in the reds, the ones we tasted (a Volnay Caillerets from the domaine as well as a Pommard Rugiens and an alcoholic, extracted Clos de Vougeot from the maison) struck me as much the same as I had remembered: deeply colored, plummy fruit, highly concentrated—in short, attractive wines that will drink well early, but which are not particularly evocative of their respective terroirs.

 

WHITE BURGUNDIES:

 The Domaines:

Domaine Leflaive. It is heartening to see that the genial but determined Brice de la Morandière is succeeding in his effort to restore this estate to its former position as one of best white wine producers in Burgundy. The ‘18s are winemaker (and director-general) Pierre Vincent’s second full vintage, and they are worthy successors to the excellent ‘17s. The domaine began the harvest on August 26th and completed it on September 1st, and the pHs and alcohol levels are lower than most in this vintage. There have been a number of subtle changes in vinification and élevage, but Pierre cited as a key to success in ’18 a massive green harvest in July, which resulted in yields of about 40 hl/ha in the grands crus, well below what many others saw. The Puligny 1er crus began with one of the nicest Puligny Clavoillons I have had in years—charming and balanced, with a soft texture but an excellent mineral underpinning. The Puligny Combettes was much more powerful, dense and coiled but had good texture and fine equilibrium. Although the Puligny Pucelles was quite reduced on the nose, the palate seemed elegant, and this was a balanced wine with a fine-grained, extremely long finish. The Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet had a harmonious floral-dominated nose with licorice, lime and peach notes; it was minerally and driven on the palate but still quite well balanced, with good energy and also a long finish. The Bâtard had a calm, self-assured nose; it was large-framed and well structured, with a lovely texture and a subtle, saline finish. The Chevalier-Montrachet, which had been racked a few weeks earlier, was still slightly cloudy and not fully recovered, but as it sat in the glass, it showed great delicacy, a minerally middle, lots of sweet fruit and a juicy, saline, minerally finish that persisted for several minutes; this should be very fine in time.

Domaine Paul Pillot. The top premier crus here were among the best ’18 whites we tasted, and Thierry Pillot believes that some of his ‘18s may even be better than their brilliant ’17 counterparts. The harvest began August 26th and was spread over 12 days. Yields were generous (53hl/ha in La Romanée, from 70-year-old vines), but Thierry believes that it was those generous yields that preserved freshness. The Bourgogne Chardonnay was crisp and energetic, if perhaps slightly lean, and the word “crisp” recurs in my note as well on the St. Aubin Charmois, with apple and pear notes, spice and excellent freshness. I did find a slight tart note in the Chassagne Village and the Chassagne Mazures, a note that Thierry says he likes but acknowledges some people don’t. The Chassagne Clos St. Jean did have more sweet fruit to balance it and was spicy, bright and lively on the palate—a puppy dog full of energy and eager to please. The Chassagne Caillerets was characterized by an almost raspy minerality, but there was considerable sweet fruit balancing it and great depth. With the Chassagne Grandes Ruchottes, we reached another level, a remarkably pure wine of great tension, with flowers, pears, minerals and citrus all in harmony and a saline, spicy finish. The Chassagne Grand Montagne had a layered nose with more sweet fruit on the palate, a silky texture that distinguished it from the Ruchottes and a very long, stony finish. Best of all was Chassagne La Romanée, with a nose that had the purity, nuance and elegance of a fine Chevalier, while on the palate it showed remarkable finesse, transparency and a delicate floral quality–a calm, elegant wine with a very long finish.

Domaine Latour-Giraud. It was great to see Jean-Pierre Latour back en forme, after suffering a serious heart attack just before our planned visit last year. Jean-Pierre began the harvest on August 29th, and remarked that the size of the harvest, which was substantial, came as a surprise, since the berries had been quite small after the flowering. He also commented that the ‘18s needed more time to evolve, and that in time he expected them to display greater precision than they were showing just now. That said, the premiers crus were already showing well. The Meursault Charmes had an excellent nose of lime, pear and floral scents, lively acidity, good clarity and a long, saline finish. The Meursault Genevrières was more tightly knit than the Charmes, with a lot more power and volume, if showing a bit heavier and more acidic than the Charmes, while the Genevrières Cuvée des Pierre was a large-framed wine that needs to calm a bit, with a sweet fruit finish that was distinct from the regular Genevrières. The Meursault Perrières was the best we tasted on this day, intensely stony but with a creamy texture, very full but fresher than the Genevrières, with an orange and lemon piquance. (We also tasted the ‘17s, which we had missed last year, but which are generally superb; Jean-Pierre described it as a model vintage, with balance, precision and concentration.)

Domaine Bernard Moreau et Fils. Alex Moreau said the harvest at the domaine began on August 30th, the same date as in 2017. As had Jean-Pierre Latour, Alex said the volume came as a surprise, but the wines were balanced, and the alcohol levels quite reasonable at 12.5-13.2%. Overall, the domaine made very successful, fine wines in this vintage, though there was some variability between those that read as a little tropical and those that were more linear and pure. They are not the equal of the ’17s but will provide very nice drinking. We began with a Bourgogne Chardonnay, already bottled, which was quite pleasant, light and clean. The premiers crus were consistently fine, while showing their terroir differences. Among my favorites were the Chassagne Champgains, a wine with a lot of sweet fruit and flowers that nonetheless kept its balance; a Chassagne Caillerets, with a stony nose, again some sweet fruit, good drive and an excellent finish, if slightly lighter in weight than the best of the range; an extremely fine Chassagne Maltroie, combining lively acidity with a creamy texture and excellent drive and energy; and Chassagne Morgeot, which was complex, elegant and superbly balanced, with a lively minerally finish. Best of all was the Chassagne Grandes Ruchottes, beautifully balanced and floral with light spice and mineral touches and subtle tree fruit, still with some development ahead. The Bâtard was the first vintage after the replantation, and was floral and creamy, delicious though without the power of more mature Bâtard. The Chevalier was pure, floral, large-framed, well balanced, medium weight, a touch on the sweet side but not inelegant.

Domaine Roulot. The domaine was one of the earliest to begin picking, on August 25th. The harvest was a robust 60 hl/ha, with alcohol levels ranging between 12.7-13.5%. Jean-Marc said that the vintage reminded him of ’82 (a copious vintage that produced superb whites, many of which are still drinking beautifully). The Bourgogne Blanc was floral, minerally and juicy, and the Meursault Village, while slightly bready on the nose, had pear notes and was nicely round, with a mineral core. The Meursault Vireuils had a mineral core as well, though with plenty of sweet fruit to give this excellent balance, a floral touch and a strong mineral finish—this is a very fine Vireuils. The Meursault Meix Chavaux seemed a bit heavy to me compared to the clarity of the Vireuils, and the Meursault Tessons, despite its core of acidity, was dancing on the edge of flabbiness; however, the Meursault Luchets was exceptional: with a bright, coiled mineral/floral nose, it had drive and energy but plenty of fruit and an exceptionally tense mineral finish. Among the 1er crus, the Meursault Charmes was a little understated but had good tension, while the Meursault Poruzots had more power and density, and was well-balanced, with a linear finish. The Meursault Clos des Bouchères had great depth and purity and was strongly floral, with sweet fruit backed by a stony quality—a complete wine, and I even preferred it slightly to the Meursault Perrières, which had a lot of sweet fruit and, while quite nice, seemed a bit fatter and less linear than a top-vintage Perrières would be.

Domaine Chavy-Chouet. I was tipped by Marco Pelletier (the former head sommelier at the Bristol in Paris, who now owns Vantre) that there had been a sea-change here in the last few years. The wines did not disappoint. Romaric Chavy began picking August 27th, with the harvest extending over 10 days; he reported alcohol levels in the range of 11.7 to 13.4%. We began with a lively and bracing Bourgogne Blanc Les Femelottes, followed by a St. Aubin Les Murgers des Dents de Chien that was quite floral and had good complexity, a mineral core and a pure fruit finish. A Puligny Enseignères showed lime and quince notes on the nose and was fresh, dense and direct, with a lovely floral component and a saline finish—I like this somewhat severe style, but others might prefer a little more flesh on the bones. The flesh was there, if balanced, in the Puligny Champs-Gain, which was quite subtle, but minerally, pure and with an excellent texture and long finish, and in the Meursault Clos de Corvées de Citeau, a monopole and flagship of the domaine, which was floral, with a butterfat component on the nose, sweet ripe fruit but also excellent balance—an extremely attractive Meursault Village. (A Meursault Genevrières, tasted during a scouting visit this past summer, was also quite fine.)

Domaine Henri Boillot. The domaine whites were, as usual, delicious, including a peppery, minerally Meursault Genevrières with good drive and a touch of sweetness at the end; a Puligny Pucelles that was powerful, tightly wound and dense, with a saline, spicy finish and 14% alcohol; and a Puligny Clos de la Mouchère, always a crowd favorite, that was floral,  slightly oaky, but with an excellent crystalline minerality–this was also slightly high in alcohol but not unpleasantly so.

Notable whites from primarily red-wine domaines in both Côtes: from Domaine Chandon de Briailles, the Corton-Charlemagne, while reduced, had a lot of richness and brightness and excellent mineral purity, especially on the finish. It will need some time to come together but could be very fine. The whites from Domaine des Lambrays (Puligny Folatières and Puligny Clos du Cailleret) were harvested August 27th. They are soft and creamy, with just enough acidity to keep them from being unbalanced, and likely to be crowd-pleasers. Domaine Michel Lafarge produced a very good Meursault Vendages Selectionées, with a complex nose, a rich middle palate and good acidity, and a pleasant Beaune Clos des Aigrots, pressed with the old vertical press, which Frédéric felt gave it more drive. Domaine Hudelot-Noëllot produced a very nice Meursault Clos des Ecoles (a Village wine)—despite still carrying a lot of SO2, this was quite pleasant and developing well. Domaine Pierre et Francois Labet produced three very nice whites, including a structured Bourgogne Blanc, a lean and linear Meursault Tillets and a Beaune Clos du Dessus du Marconnets that had a strong mineral core wrapped with flowers and tree fruit and a beguiling, complex finish.

The Negociants:

Bouchard Père et Fils. Like the reds, the whites were enticing if in a somewhat riper style than I tend to prefer. The Meursault Perrières had a lovely floral stony nose, with very sweet fruit on the palate and some acidity, but the finish felt almost as if the wine had not quite vinified dry. The Corton Charlemagne showed more tension and was stonier and drier if still with plenty of sweet fruit in the mid-palate. The Chevalier Montrachet had more acidity in evidence, and was nicely balanced, delicate and very spicy, with a persistent, creamy finish, while the nose on the Chevalier La Cabotte was intensely minerally, promising a bit more tension than the palate, with its ripe fruit, delivered–though the minerality came back on the finish. Best was the Montrachet, with a complex, elegant nose, while on the palate the sweetness was perfectly balanced by the acidity; there were characteristic notes of peach, white flowers and honey, and also spicecake, leading to a very pure mineral finish.

William Fevre. We didn’t see enough Chablis this trip to discern whether the more northerly location mitigated some of the heat of the vintage, but overall, I found this range to be quite nice, clearly reflecting the ripeness of the vintage but without entirely losing the flinty character of Chablis. The Chablis Vaulorent was very floral, with a light mineral touch and good clarity, while the Chablis Bougros had more peachy fruit on the palate but still some penetrating minerality. The Chablis Bougros Côte de Bouguerots was a step up in intensity, and though the fruit was sweet it had a pure, spicy, chalky finish that was quite nice. The Chablis Vaudésir was lighter-bodied, but all the elements seemed to be in place for a pleasant, if not profound, wine. The Clos was softer than usual, but it had a nose that showed the flintiness of the terroir as well as gingerbread and white flower notes, and the finish was coiled and powerful—it will be interesting to see how this develops. For now, though, the Chablis Preuses was the star, with characteristic oyster shell and gunflint; it had plenty of fruit but good vibrancy and a very long, crystalline finish.

Joseph Drouhin. If the whites don’t necessarily transcend the vintage, they nonetheless show the better side of it. The Puligny Folatières looks to develop into a real crowd-pleaser, with plenty of fruit but a nice freshness to it and a spicy finish, while the Puligny Clos de la Garenne is also soft and pretty, but there’s enough acidity to balance it. I liked the Chassagne Embazées as well, which had already been bottled; it had a clean, crisp nose and was lemony, minerally and juicy on the palate, getting even better with some air. The Beaune Clos des Mouches, despite some reduction on the nose, showed really well on the palate, with great balance, soft peachy fruit, a floral touch and good acidity on the finish. I also quite liked the Chassagne Morgeot Marquis de Laguiche, with a positive minerally nose, remarkably good cut on the palate for an ’18, and excellent balance. The Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche showed real delicacy and finesse, with a nose of white flowers, peaches, spice cake and minerals, and on the palate, it was refined, with a creamy texture and hints of honey—neither big nor light but just perfectly balanced.

Joseph Faiveley. As has been the case at the time of our visit the last few years, most of these wines had recently undergone battonage, and so were hazy and in several cases hard to evaluate. I did think that the Chassagne Morgeots showed good balance and intensity, while the Puligny Champ Gains, from very old vines, had a terrific nose but hadn’t quite come together yet on the palate (by contrast, the Puligny Folatières showed bright crisp acidity on the palate but the nose was subdued). The Bâtard had a lot of power and nice floral notes but hasn’t completely resolved as yet. The Corton-Charlemagne had a lovely pure minerality on the nose, along with a floral touch; on the palate, it seemed large-framed with a lot of minerality but plenty of sweet fruit, maybe still a little clumsy in the middle but much better on the long, pure, spicy finish. Again, this needs time to resolve but my guess is it will turn out well.

Laurent Ponsot. Nearly all the whites are blends of wines acquired (mostly as must) from different growers. Among the whites, I particularly enjoyed the Meursault Charmes, which was quite floral, with a lot of sweet, ripe fruit but still some good acidity and a creamy finish; an appealing Corton-Charlemagne that showed the ripeness of the vintage but had a nice mineral finish; and a Bâtard-Montrachet that showed some positive acidity to balance its rich, ripe fruit.

Louis Jadot. Picking started for the whites on August 29th, and alcohol levels were generally between 13.5-13.8%. Winemaker Frédéric Barnier said that there had been very little malic acidity in the wines, and so the malolactic fermentation was blocked, as is frequently the case here. Among the whites, I thought the Meursault Charmes, with its rich ripe fruit and buttery style but just enough acidity to hold, will be a popular wine for early drinking, while the Chassagne Morgeot Clos de la Chapelle was also showing plenty of ripe fruit and some puppy fat but also some good energy. The Puligny Combettes, the first vineyard to be picked, had nice citrus notes and was juicy, creamy and dense, though at least at the moment it seems a little heavy—the components are in place if this balances out with time. The Bâtard-Montrachet was easy to drink, with ripe, soft fruit, but it still had some presence. The Chevalier Demoiselles showed some slight reduction on the nose but then a lovely floral, minerally quality; if the palate doesn’t quite deliver on the promise, it is still a good wine, balanced and beginning to show refinement. The Corton-Charlemagne, by contrast, seemed a bit disjointed on the nose but very put-together on the palate, with its fruit and mineral components held in excellent tension, and a spicy floral finish. Better still was the Montrachet, with a fine nose of spiced pears, white flowers, honey and a mineral edge; while ripe and rich on the palate, this had an excellent mineral spine as well as power and length.

 

© Douglas E. Barzelay 2020

 

From → Tastings

2 Comments
  1. Antoine permalink

    Thanks a lot for your annual review which is always excellent reading and has guided me for many years.
    As often, the range of producers varies and I noted you did not taste this year at Grivot, Barthod and Fourrier (to only name a few…)… or did you decide not to report on these producers as the quality was questionable because of the character of the vintage?…

    • Each was a different reason: I had a conflict and couldn’t go to the tasting at Grivot (though the group reported it was excellent); we weren’t able to connect with Ghislaine Barthod on this trip; while the Fourrier wines weren’t showing particularly well the day we were there–and I have too much respect for Jean-Marie Fourrier’s incredible talent not to want to retaste them before passing judgment.

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