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2020–An Unprecedented Vintage

February 21, 2022

Vintage Overview

After a forced year off from barrel tasting due to Covid, it felt good to be back in the cold dank cellars of Burgundy in November 2021. Tasting the 2020s was a treat, but demanding: as François Labet aptly commented, 2020 is an intellectually challenging vintage. The reds in particular defy easy categorization, as despite a growing season that is relatively straightforward to describe, the impact of that season varied considerably by terroir, and producers had several key decisions to make, especially when to pick, that significantly affected both the style and quality of the resulting wines. And since predicting how a vintage in barrel will develop over decades typically relies on precedents–how did vintages with similar growing seasons, and similar tasting profiles, evolve?–it doesn’t help that 2020 is in many ways unprecedented. The good news, however, is that the best wines are excellent, perhaps even superb. Indeed, several producers we visited said they preferred their ‘20s to their ‘19s, though as one candidly admitted, the ‘20s required more from the winemaker, so being successful was more satisfying. 

To begin with the most notable feature of this vintage: it is among the earliest ever recorded (so far!). Many domaines began picking the week of August 17th (though we heard reports of picking beginning as early as August 12th). And while August harvests have been frequent in the 21st century (there were none in the prior century), this was for many domaines the first time they had not only started, but completed, a harvest before the end of August. 

This early picking was the result of a uniformly hot and dry summer. The winter of 2019-20 was generally mild and wet (which helped many vines survive the exceptional drought that followed). Budbreak occurred early, at the end of March, and the flowering began in May and reached its midpoint at the end of May/beginning of June, presaging another early harvest. The flowering, though, was not without its issues, and there was considerable millerandage (shot berries), reducing quantity but enhancing concentration in the remaining crop. There was little significant disease pressure, but the summer heat and lack of rain (about half the normal seasonal rainfall) led to considerable hydric stress, which particularly affected younger vines and those on soils that lacked water reserves. (There was a little rainfall in late August, but it was light, and by that time picking was already well underway.)

June and July were quite warm, and a heat wave during the week of August 6th caused sugar levels (i.e. potential alcohol) to shoot up. By Friday the 14th, more than a few producers had gotten panicked messages recalling them from vacation, even as the domaines scrambled to assemble teams of pickers.

The difficulty was that, although by mid-month most vineyards had high levels of sugar ripeness, the grapes were not yet phenolically mature. In addition, there were often significant differences in maturity levels between vineyards. Thus, the first and most consequential decision was when to pick: picking on the early side would keep the alcohol levels reasonable and preserve acidity (which, remarkably, had remained at relatively high levels), but risk more severe and even potentially underripe tannins, as in 2003. Waiting, on the other hand, could result in better resolved tannins, but risked high alcohol and overripe, even baked, flavors. Compounding the problem, some producers reported that maturities in their holdings differed by up to three weeks, often making it necessary to change picking teams. And in this Covid year, pickers were not easy to come by—there were several reports of less-than-scrupulous agents poaching pickers as they arrived in Burgundy. 

Ultimately, different camps developed, as some domaines began picking the week of August 17th, or early the following week, and finished before the end of the month. Others opted to wait into September to pick, and of course some chose to split the difference. The results are stylistically different—making this vintage very hard to categorize, at least for reds—but there are successes and failures in both camps. And while late picked wines are generally riper, generalizations are imperfect because the vineyards tended to ripen very differently depending on their reactions to the hydric stress; thus, it would be too facile to say a wine picked on Sept 1st was necessarily riper than one picked a week earlier.

Nor did the divergences end there. There was generally little malic acid, and many domaines reported malolactic fermentations that had finished by November 2020; in some other cases, though, the malos were still in process in November 2021! And while many producers, including Comte Liger-Belair and Georges Mugneret-Gibourg, told us that they would bottle later than usual, because their ‘20s required extended elevage, other top domaines (including DRC and Dujac) had already begun transferring wines to tank by November, in anticipation of early bottling.

The combination of millerandage, heat, drought, and an unusually high amount of sunshine (luminosity) throughout the growing season produced concentrated, thick-skinned berries, and the resulting reds are almost uniformly deeply and intensely colored and highly concentrated. Indeed, the deep colors are one of the signatures of this vintage (as was also true in ‘19), and in former days would have signaled over-extraction. Yet the opposite was the case, and many producers we talked to emphasized the importance of soft vinifications and avoiding over-extraction, including far more use of pump overs (or “infusions,” to use a current term) rather than traditional punch downs. Also, it seems as though more vignerons are using some proportion of stems, which help to give freshness and lift to the wines (this was true as well in 2019). Without getting into the whole cluster debate, I do think that there is increasing sophistication about how and when to use whole clusters, and that their (judicious) use often made a positive contribution in both 2020 and 2019, giving added lift and complexity to the wines.

Of all the anomalies of this vintage, however, perhaps the greatest is the acidity levels, which remained surprisingly high, providing a remarkable degree of freshness in this warm and ripe vintage–even for the later-picked wines—and which has given a wonderful lift to the whites, helping to make this a potentially outstanding white wine vintage. At least to some extent, this was likely a result of the fact that within the small berries, maturation was happening by evaporation and concentration, thus tending to preserve the acidity levels. 

The downside of the millerandage was that quantities were small for many reds–a problem that would be exacerbated by the tiny 2021 crop . While there was considerable variation, probably on average production was down about 20% for the pinot noir in 2020. With quantities also down considerably in 2019, and the demand for Burgundy continuing to grow substantially, expect considerably higher prices for most top 2020s.

We had many discussions during our visits about the effects of climate change on Burgundy. At first there might have been a tendency–in this region for which ripeness used to come only a few times a decade, and August harvests once every century–to look on the run of great vintages since 2000 as a blessing. However, the last decade has also revealed the downsides. These have included more frequent and severe hailstorms, which particularly affected the Côte de Beaune, as well as spring frosts that have become increasingly harmful as mild winters have led to early bud break. And the calculus of when to pick has shifted as well, as more domaines (especially white wine producers) pick early to preserve acidity and freshness, even at the expense of some maturity, while traditional late pickers, who used to risk rain and rot in search of greater ripeness, now need to worry more about over-ripeness, high alcohol/low acid wines, and volatile acidity (which was present in more than a few 2020s, not reviewed below). Very quickly, the growers’ concern has shifted from how to encourage maturity to how to retard it. And while several prominent growers see evidence that the vines are adapting to the changing conditions, there is also increasing concern that the widely used 161-49 rootstock is faring poorly and that large-scale replanting may need to take place. 

These are early days in the discussion, but at least, unlike premature oxidation, this problem is not being ignored or denied.

Turning back to the ‘20s, what should you expect from these wines? The answer for the whites is relatively easy: the best whites, of which there are many, display excellent tension and fine balance, with lots of bright fruit. They were most often compared with the ‘17s, without quite the tautness of the ‘14s, but clearly this is a white wine vintage to buy and savor.

As for the reds, while the summer’s heat, drought and early harvest engendered some superficial comparisons with the immensely hot and dry 2003 growing season, and while the 2020 harvest began even earlier than in 2003, the outcomes of the two vintages are markedly different. Indeed, few vignerons could think of a parallel vintage. The one most often mentioned—2010—has a decidedly cool character, and while there are more superficial resemblances than one might expect (concentration; good acidity and balance; a certain aloofness and reserve), the two growing seasons could scarcely have been more different. The 2020s are also, despite some superficial similarities, a stark stylistic contrast to the silky and elegant 2019s. Although I am particularly wary of generalizations about the 2020s, I do think that the differences between this and the prior two vintages were summed up pithily, and well, by Guillaume d’Angerville, who described the 2020s as “classic,” the 2019s as “refined,” and the 2018s as “exuberant.” And while I think the ‘19s may ultimately be the greater wines (a review of those wines, mostly from bottle, will be forthcoming), this is a distance race, and a lot can happen over decades. In sum, 2020 is an anomalous vintage, with differing styles encompassed within it, but it should produce many excellent, and perhaps even great, wines. That said, the ‘20s are likely to shut down in bottle, and what emerges after a decade or more could easily surprise us in either direction.

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REDS:

The Domaines:

Côte de Nuits

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti:

Aubert de Villaine felt it was more important to pick early in ’20 to preserve freshness than to wait for full phenolic maturity, and (apart from some young vines picked earlier) harvesting for the reds began in Richebourg on August 23rdand ended in La Tache on September 2nd. Alcohol levels were moderate, averaging about 13.5%. I was struck that a number of the wines (including Echézeaux, Richebourg and Romanée-Conti) were already racked and being assembled for early bottling (and consequently we were not able to taste them), but Aubert said that, as the malos had largely finished by November 2020, the wines had had sufficient time in barrel, and given the somewhat high pHs, he did not want to leave them too long. (As precedents, he cited 1966 and 1978, which also had very early malos.) From what we were able to taste, it seems that the ‘20s here are potentially great wines that could need considerable time to evolve. 

We were able to taste the wines that were still in barrel, beginning with the Grands Echézeaux, which had a remarkable, high-toned nose with black cherry, green olive, cocoa, Asian spice, black pepper, and a touch of salinity; this was quite structured, and very minerally, perhaps without the usual power and density of GE, but that is not to say it’s light, and the tannins are very supple. This will be a very interesting wine to watch. The Romanée St-Vivant was, as one would expect, full of spice, with a stem touch and red fruit; on the palate there was an almost achingly pure minerality, a silky texture, and yet more spice, and the wine was incredibly balanced; though I felt the finish was still a little rough, it will resolve in time. La Tâche, despite being racked two weeks earlier, was extraordinary, with a brilliant nose of complex spice, a touch of soy, and roast duck aromas; this was silky-textured, transparent, with a great sense of presence, and the tannins were extremely refined while the finish just kept rolling along. When Aubert said he thought this would become one of the great LTs of the last 20 years, I was not surprised.

Comte Liger-Belair:

Harvest here began on August 24th. Alcohol levels were generally between 12.5 and 14% and quantities were down 40% from normal. Many of the wines were still somewhat reduced when we tasted them.

The wines in this range stood out for their balance and purity. The village Vosne had great fruit and presence on the palate, and excellent acidity and transparency–a very fine village wine. The Vosne La Colombière was quite pure, with lovely black cherry fruit and excellent balance, and without the chunkiness that can sometimes characterize this cuvée, while the Vosne Clos du Château had a touch of green fruit on the nose, strong acidity, and a beautifully long, balanced and minerally finish. The Vosne Petits Monts was among my favorite premiers crus here, with complex and intriguing spice, a silky texture, perfect balance, and supple tannins, plus a very long finish. The Vosne Reignots seemed closed and a bit reticent by comparison but has excellent potential. The Clos de Vougeot had deep black fruit on the nose and a crystalline minerality such as one rarely finds in CV, though this is clearly a wine that will need many years to reach its apogee. I wrote “dense” for the Echézeaux multiple times, and also noted its brightness, deep minerality, pure fruit expression, salinity and refined tannins—another great example here. La Romanée was an utterly brilliant wine: pure, refined, elegant, dense but with lift and drive, a silky texture developing, extremely refined tannins and a finish of great finesse and persistence. This wine was not finished with its elevage and will only gain in complexity.

Georges Mugneret-Gibourg:

The harvest here took place between August 25th and 30th.  Their best yields were in Chambolle (39 hl/ha), while alcohol levels were about 13.5% for the Chambolle Feusselottes and grands crus, and the others ranged up to about 14%. Colors were even deeper in ’20 than ’19. Pigeages were soft. There was perhaps a little more inconsistency here than usual (which means that only some of the wines were extraordinary!), but most wines showed a lovely silky textural quality that was much rarer in this vintage than in ‘19. The lower-level wines (Bourgogne Rouge and village Vosne) showed the somewhat higher levels of alcohol, as did the Vosne La Colombière, though the latter also had a strong mineral underpinning. The Nuits Aux Bas de Combe and Nuits Les Vignes Rondes were both excellent, the former dense and spicy, with a silky touch, ripe fruit and good balance, along with some Nuits earthiness on the finish, while the Vignes Rondes was quite ripe, almost plummy, but had a sharp minerality balancing the fruit, and rounded tannins. I was less certain about the Nuits Chaignots, with a deep intense nose of earth, soy, licorice, and decaf (why decaf and not Kenya AA? who knows what prompts me, as I scribble down impressions), but a bit dry in back. The Chambolle Feusselottes was stunning, with dark cherries and a soft floral element on the nose; again, there was a gorgeous silky texture, along with soft tannins and a seductive charm. The Echézeaux, made with 15% whole cluster (unique in the range), was very dense and possibly a bit overripe and slightly disjointed, but the Ruchottes-Chambertin, with much lower yields (23hl/ha), had pure cherry fruit on the nose, along with a touch of grilled meat, cocoa, cream, and pepper, and was well balanced, with rounded tannins and a juicy and slightly saline finish. The Clos de Vougeot, which never seems to get all the respect as it deserves, had a deep minerally nose with pure dark fruit, and on the palate an extraordinary velvety quality, more like a top ’19, but the balancing acidity was clearly very ’20. The tannins were completely refined, and this had a long, fruit-driven finish.  

Méo-Camuzet:

Picking here began on August 23rd. While this was the earliest vintage ever for the domaine, Jean-Nicolas noted that the season did not suffer from the same immense heat as in 2003, except for one week at the beginning of August, when potential alcohols began to shoot up. He views this as a great vintage, but far from homogeneous, noting that the wines can vary considerably in their degree of ripeness. As an example, he said that the first vineyards they picked came in around 14% alcohol, while several others picked later were not as high (ultimately, the range was 12.5-14.5% overall). Jean-Nicolas reported that they had experienced a few stuck malos within their copious range; he also told us that the vintage would be bottled later than usual. 

Many of the wines here were in an awkward stage—while, as Jean-Nicolas noted, the benefit of tasting at this time (November) is that the malos are (mostly) long done, the wines were tight, the levels of SO2 relatively high, and the wines probably wouldn’t fully settle until after they were racked and put in tank. 

The village Vosne was ripe and nicely balanced, though the oak was fairly prominent, while the Vosne Chaumes had deep black fruit along with good acidity. I particularly liked the Nuits Meurgers, which was dense, bursting with ripe black fruit and added spicy overtones, and with a mineral spine, though here too the oak was not shy. The Chambolle Charmes, a negociant wine, showed good promise, while the Clos de Vougeot, though slightly reduced, combined blackberry fruit, great intensity, and power with a ripe finish, but there was just a touch of heat, which was even more evident on the Corton Clos Rognet. The Echézeaux was quite promising, with great depth and very pure fruit, along with citrus and saline notes, and tannins that are not shy but stopped well short of being aggressive. The Vosne Cros Parantoux managed to combine dense fruit with purity, and was very structured, with strong acidity and a long finish—this wine will clearly benefit from a racking and although it will require significant cellaring to reveal all its qualities, it should be remarkable in time. The Richebourg also needed racking, but the richness of the fruit and the intensity in this large-framed and powerful wine was remarkable, while the finish had great purity and length.

Sylvain Cathiard:

Sébastien Cathiard was at the far end of the picking spectrum in 2020: he did not begin until September 8th, opting to wait for full phenolic maturity. In consequence, alcohol levels were mostly between 13.9-15%. The malos here were heterogeneous, finishing at very different times, and Sébastien was also among those who felt this vintage needed more time in barrel than usual. While some wines were reduced and difficult to read clearly, there is no denying the superb quality of the best wines here, which serve to illustrate the point that while the picking date may have determined the style of wine, it did not necessarily determine success or failure. Among the successes here were the Chambolle Clos de L’Orme, ripe, pure and dense, though showing some effects of the oak (which is gradually being modulated at this domaine); two really fine wines from Nuits, an Aux Thorey that displayed both dense and ripe black fruit and a surprising mineral focus, with tannins that were quite refined for this commune, and a Meurgers with remarkable purity and freshness complementing the deep fruit and dry extract—remarkably, this wine, despite its 15% level, did not feel particularly alcoholic. The Vosne Reignots perhaps got away (it showed a lot of prunes and heat), and the Vosne En Orveaux had a slight touch of the same–though with much more drive and intensity–but the Vosne Suchots was balanced and intense, with wild cherries and blackberries, enough acidity to balance, and some wood tannins that will resolve in time. The Vosne Malconsorts was even more promising, with excellent tension, deep spice, coffee and licorice notes, and a combination of very soft and refined seed tannins and a touch of wood tannin—this was the last wine to finish malo, and clearly will improve with extended elevage. The Romanée St.-Vivant was massive, with a complex nose and the typical deep spice, a brilliant middle, and silky tannins; this is a wine of elegance and finesse.

Jean Grivot:

Etienne Grivot described ’20 as an “exceptional” vintage with perfect maturity and acidity. More and more, though, he noted that Burgundy is having the problem, common elsewhere, of high sugar, low acidity, and immature tannins. Quantities have also been a problem of late: 40% below normal here in ’20, 30% below normal in ’19 and 50% below normal in ’21. He was among those who waited for more phenolic ripeness in ’20, not beginning the harvest until September 3rd. Nonetheless, Etienne reported that alcohol levels were not high, mostly around 13.5% (though the Nuits Pruliers reached 14.5%). I thought the ‘20s were almost universally very good to excellent, and the tannins supple throughout the range, though I missed a little individuality in some of the wines. Among the Nuits, the Boudots stood out for its transparency in the mid-palate and excellent expression of terroir, while also having good density and juicy fruit. The Vosne Brulées was super-intense, with good drive and energy, and a long, spicy finish, and the Beaumonts was equally intense, though with the tannins a bit more in evidence. The Clos de Vougeot was deep, full, and rich, but I felt a slight touch of heat here. The Echézeaux was, in Etienne’s word, voluptuous, with great density and a creamy note on the finish. Best of all was the Richebourg, with the power evident even on the nose; this was a huge wine that still managed to be graceful, bright, and driven, with a saline, super-long finish.

Coquard-Loison-Fleurot:

This was our first visit to this domaine, located in Flagey, which used to sell mostly to negociants. It has some very old vines and has been gaining in reputation in recent years. The domaine picked relatively late in 2020, not starting until September 3rd. Malos were very late (winemaker Thomas Collardot said they were the longest ever). The domaine used about 20% whole cluster in 2020, though they don’t always, and about 25-30% new oak (50% for the grands crus).  Among the village wines, I particularly liked the Vosne (from 60–70-year-old vines), which had plenty of Vosne spice, a pure mineral center, and a very long saline and citrus-tinged finish. The Vosne 1er Cru (mostly from Beaumonts), had presence and power, but a bit too much new oak; the same seemed true of the Clos de Vougeot (70-year-old vines), but the malo had only finished a few weeks earlier, and this had a lot of sweet fruit supported by great minerality, with a creamy texture and a touch of white pepper, and in time could be quite good. The Echézeaux (also from 70-year-old vines) was particularly fine: despite a little reduction, this was deeply fruity with complex spice, soy, and a touch of black pepper; it had excellent purity and lift and supple tannins, and the makings of an elegant wine. The Clos de la Roche was for me a bit heavy, but the Clos St.-Denis, though slightly reduced, had tremendous potential: deeply spicy, with an intriguing floral quality on the nose and palate, and a coating of pure fruit around a mineral spine. The Grands Echézeaux again had deep spice, and pure black cherry notes; it was ripe and with silky tannins, though perhaps a tiny touch of residual sugar as well.

Ch. de la Tour and Pierre et François Labet:

The harvest began here on August 27th, but François Labet noted the extreme diversity of maturities: they began picking with the oldest vines of the Clos but finished with the younger vines two weeks later. Alcohol levels were very moderate, 12.4-13.5%. François is among those who have opted for a longer elevage and will not bottle until next April. Other than the three Clos de Vougeots, the wines are all under the Pierre et François Labet label. Unusually in this heterogeneous vintage, the entire range was successful, and quality followed the normal progression, beginning with a ripe and rich Bourgogne Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes. This was followed by a Beaune Au Dessus de Marconnets that had notes of clove and allspice, chocolate cherries, and good supporting acidity, and a Beaune Coucherias that was perfumed, spicy, bright and earthy. The village Gevrey Vieilles Vignes had good typicity, while being simultaneously rich and punchy; this will be a crowd-pleaser but is nonetheless a serious wine. The Clos de Vougeot (Cuvée Classique) was direct and clear, with bright spice, cocoa, and red fruits; the tannins were still a little rough but should smooth out with added barrel age. The Clos de Vougeot Vieilles Vignes was denser than the Classique, and though it was fruit-driven still kept good freshness, one of the remarkable aspects of this vintage. The Clos de Vougeot Hommage à Jean Morin had a color that was deep even by the remarkable standards of this vintage, a dense nose of black cherry, cocoa powder, and blueberries, and it managed to be at once both incredibly intense and yet soft, silky, bright, and fresh, with lovely transparency; the tannins were suave and refined and the finish extremely long—a great wine in the making.

Hudelot-Noellat:

This domaine is producing great wines and the only negative for consumers is that market values are finally catching up to the quality here. Picking began for the reds on August 29th and was completed within a few days. Alcohol levels were reported as moderate, mostly about 13-13.5%, and vinification was soft, with no punch downs. Everything was destemmed: Charles van Canneyt said that stems raise the pH because of the potassium released, a concern especially in warm vintages. 

The malos here were not finished until August, and the wines had not been racked at the time of our visit in mid-November, so still showed varying levels of reduction. Not atypically, the Bourgogne Rouge and the village wines (Chambolle, Vosne and Nuits) were all excellent, particularly the Vosne, which should be a great example of this. The Vougeot Les Petits Vougeot had good structure and line, and Charles believes that this is a particularly good vintage for Vougeot, which has generally been helped by warmer vintages. The Chambolle Charmes and Nuits Meurgers showed excellent promise but need more time to round out. The Vosne premiers crus were all brilliant and distinctive: the Suchots, which had dark sweet fruit wrapped around a mineral core, showed more fruit than the Beaumonts, though the latter had an extra dimension of grace and elegance, and great concentration, while the Malconsorts was superbly balanced, refined, and elegant and with an exceptionally extended finish. The Clos de Vougeot had a bit too much candied fruit for my taste, but the Romanée St.-Vivant was superb: silky, intense, an aristocratic wine with great purity, deep spice and refined tannins. It even outshone the excellent Richebourg, which had power as well as grace, crunchy fruit and deep minerality, and perhaps even more spice than the RSV, and was dense, vibrant and transparent.

J.-F. Mugnier:

The harvest here commenced August 26th and was finished on the 31st.  Yields were low. According to Freddy Mugnier, there was almost no malic acid in ’20, and so acidity levels didn’t change after the malolactic fermentation. He thought that the wines were likely to shut down after bottling. 

The village Chambolle was terrific: bright, with great balancing acid, and remarkable density for a village wine; surprisingly, I liked it better than the Chambolle Fuées, which had some bitterness in the tail. The Nuits Clos de la Maréchale, though typically earthy and rustic, was juicy and had good clarity in the mid-palate. Bonnes Mares, not often a standout in the Mugnier range, definitely is in ’20: ripe and intense, with a complex nose of deep black fruit, hay, licorice, spice and cocoa; the finish was especially fine, super-long, and at once concentrated and bright. The Chambolle Amoureuses was still primary, a heavyweight wine with plenty of tannin that seemed, at least for now, to lack the typical Amoureuses grace. The Musigny had an extremely dense and still somewhat reserved nose; the mid-palate was superb and transparent, with great minerality, intensity and density, and there was dark fruit, licorice, cocoa and the characteristic bitter orange note, and the tannins were refined though not soft—this will be a great wine in time. 

Trapet Père et Fils: 

The harvest here started on August 27th but went for three weeks, as Jean-Louis told us that the first-picked wines weren’t phenolically ripe, so they slowed down. Alcoholic degrees did rise, from 13% for the first-picked to 13.5-14%, but Jean-Louis is concerned that in modern vintages, a higher alcoholic degree seems to be necessary to achieve phenolic ripeness, and he is looking for ways to manage this, including more canopy cover, and planting trees (initially in Latricières) to create more shadow. In addition, the domaine is moving to prune differently, and has begun using single poles, without wires. Jean-Louis also mentioned that in ’21 they had pruned very late, and so avoided the heavy frost damage—by luck, he noted, but they (and others) are thinking this may be a viable strategy to help cope with the increasingly early budbreak that leaves the vines vulnerable, as in 2021, to April frosts. (Eventually, electrified wires seem likely to become a more widely utilized anti-frost strategy; it’s expensive, but not when considered next to the value of a lost crop of high-quality Burgundy.) 

Overall, these wines were highly successful in 2020, though (perhaps because some malos were late here) a few wines were reduced and hard to evaluate. Among the successes were a Côte de Nuits Village Meix Fringuet that had bright fruit on the nose and was quite expressive, and a village Gevrey that had clear Gevrey character, good density and tension, and a long finish. The Gevrey Clos Prieur was pretty and fresh, yet dense and persistent, and the Gevrey Petit Chapelle had an excellent nose of deep black cherry, allspice, coffee, and minerals, as well as plenty of ripe fruit on the palate; overall, this had more weight and even more density if not the clarity of the Clos Prieur. I especially liked the Gevrey Combottes (which had this year been separated out from the Gevrey Capita and was made with 100% whole bunch); it had a green olive touch from the stems, pure fruit, and great balance, with completely resolved tannins and great length on the pure mineral finish. The Latricières-Chambertin, which was the last to be harvested, displayed a lot of reduction on the nose and clearly needed more elevage, but there was excellent clarity and lift here, and the material to be a very fine wine. The Chambertin, (made with 90% whole bunch, which had been de-stalked and then layered in the vat) had an incredibly deep and transparent nose, power, elegance, balance, and complexity, with great presence and a silky finish—a terrific wine.

Duroché:

The harvest here started on August 20th and was finished by the end of the month, with picking only between 6 am and 1 pm each day. Yields were only about 20 hl/ha overall, the result of the millerandage at flowering according to Pierre Duroché, but the small berries kept good acidity. Alcohol levels were in the range of 12.5-13.5%. Duroché eschewed SO2 in the vinification (relying on CO2) and did not use any new oak barrels for the premiers and grands crus. The wines were already blended and in tank when we visited in November and were scheduled to be bottled at the end of the month. Pierre believes that in ten years, this will be thought of not as a warm vintage but as a classic vintage, possibly comparable to 2010 in character. While I felt the wines were a bit unsettled when we tasted, there was excellent potential here, especially among the grands crus. The Gevrey Village was very good, with characteristic Gevrey meatiness, ripe dark fruits, excellent balance, and a bright mineral/fruit finish, if some slightly fierce tannins–which also seemed to be the case in the otherwise deeply fruity and intense Gevrey Champ, perhaps reflecting the earlier picking. By contrast, the Charmes-Chambertin had silky tannins, and excellent balance overall, and the Clos de Bèze, if a bit reductive and unsettled, had wonderful complex fruit and was a refined, elegant style of Bèze.

Fourrier: 

According to François Orisé, by August 25th, alcohol levels were between 13.5% for village wines and 14% for the grands crus, but the wines hadn’t achieved phenolic ripeness. The domaine decided to wait, and the harvest did not begin until September 1, with morning picking only. Some stems were used, and they did slow pigeages, with the wines taking about 15 days to ferment. Also, about 20% of the wines were raised in amphorae rather than barrels, and according to François, the resulting wines were fresher and more austere. (They had been blended together in tank about three weeks before our tasting.) While the ‘18s had not shown well on our prior (pre-Covid) visit two years earlier, this range was highly successful—the alcohol levels were not obtrusive, and I noted silky tannins in a number of the wines, plus enough acidity to keep the wines balanced—the “miracle” of 2020. Despite some reduction and evident CO2 (a deliberate decision, as at Duroché and others in this vintage), both the Gevrey Vieilles Vignes and the Gevrey Aux Echézeaux showed rich fruit, good density, and excellent balance, with the latter having some extra intensity. The Gevrey Goulots was still unforthcoming on the nose, but quite intense, with refined tannins and a lovely mineral note, and the Gevrey Combe Aux Moines had notes of chocolate and sesame on the nose and was almost over the top but still kept its feet. The best as usual were the Gevrey Clos St.-Jacques and the Griotte. The CSJ was deeply spicy though slightly reduced on the nose, a driven wine with huge ripe black fruit and grilled meat notes but enough acidity to balance the fruit, and silky tannins, and the Griotte was incredibly dense, with a complex nose, powerful and even pushing the edge but with buried tannins, a saline note, and a remarkable, complex, bright, long pure finish.

Bruno Clair:

The delightful Philippe Brun has retired, and the domaine is now a family affair, with Bruno’s sons, Edouard and Arthur, now fully involved. Arthur, who oversees the cellar, told us that the harvest began early, on August 17th, but stretched until September 4th. He said that the grapes gained 1.5 degrees of potential alcohol in a three-day period, with final alcohol levels at the domaine ranging from 13% to the mid-14’s. The wines had great concentration from the beginning, and the domaine used more whole cluster, and fewer punch-downs, in 2020 than in the past.  The top reds will be bottled in May/June 2022. 

This is still a somewhat underrated domaine, perhaps because the wines tend to shut down in bottle and take a long time to come around, and also because of the breadth of the portfolio, which does lead to some inconsistency. The Chambolle Véroilles was attractive, as was the Chambolle Charmes, a new addition in 2019, with excellent density and plenty of sweet fruit—they are planning to move this vineyard to organic farming and change the pruning regimen, so it will be interesting to see how the wine develops in future vintages. The Savigny Les Dominodes was excellent as always, with blue and black fruit and an attractive spice note, showing prominent yet supple tannins. The vines here are very old (most from the 1920s and some from 1904), and in consequence did not suffer as much from the drought. The Vosne Champs Perdrix was reduced but seemed promising, and the Gevrey Clos du Fonteny was intense but not fully resolved. Arthur commented that these vines suffered from court noué, a root virus. In consequence there was more concentration, but lower yields, than previously, and he felt that the character of the wine had changed. The Gevrey Clos St.-Jacques was outstanding: deep, spicy, meaty, and intense, with great purity–a structured wine with an extremely long finish, and the influence of the whole clusters (50%) is apparent here. After the CSJ, I found the Clos de Bèze, while massive and intense, still primary (yields were only 21 hl/ha). The Bonnes Mares (80% from terres rouges), despite a little reduction, was quite classy, with excellent structure, intensity, and gravitas (!), supple and refined tannins, and an exceptionally long finish.

Rebourseau:

In 2018, members of the Bouygues family (which also owns Ch. Montrose and Clos Rougeard) purchased a controlling interest in this domaine from the de Surrel family and invested in a considerable upgrade of the facilities, but the day-to-day running of the domaine is largely in the hands of the de Surrel brothers, Louis and Bénigne. The brothers make an interesting contrast, as Louis, who oversees the commercial aspects, is studious and thoughtful, while younger brother Bénigne, who is in charge of the winemaking, projects a youthful self-assurance. In 2020, alcohol levels were moderate, 13.5-13.7%, and the malos largely passed quickly. The domaine uses about 90% new oak, and whole cluster in some cuvées, particularly the Charmes and the Chambertin. 

Having tasted the ‘18s two years ago, and now the ‘19s and ‘20s, I would urge more restraint. The oak treatment, while getting better, is still obtrusive. I tried hard to like these wines—and some I do—but stylistically, they have not yet achieved what I look for in great Burgundy: finesse, terroir transparency, and above all, balance and harmony. Power and richness can be adjuncts to those qualities, but to me are not themselves the goal–others may of course disagree. Right now, I think that the brothers haven’t fully chosen a direction: there was a sharp contrast, for example, between the Clos de Vougeot, where the huge oak presence completely overbore the light fruit, and the Clos de Bèze, which had far more restraint and brightness, with relatively refined tannins and grace notes of spice and violets. Depending on the choices made, this estate has the vineyards, the physical plant, and the dedication to become top-quality; we will have to wait to see what happens. 

Dujac:

Picking here began on August 19th and was finished a week later. The wines had very little malic acid and the malos finished quickly. Alcohol levels were all 14% or under. This was among the domaines opting to bottle early, to capture the vibrancy of the vintage. Jeremy Seysses commented that the ‘19s had more polish but that he was more excited by the ‘20s, which had an edginess he appreciated.  Despite having been recently racked, and still showing touches of reduction, most of the wines in barrel showed extremely well and this will be a fine vintage for the domaine. We also tasted two wines that were already bottled: a Morey St.-Denis 1er Cru, which displayed crunchy fruit and was sweet and ripe but with excellent acidity, and positive lift, and a Gevrey Combottes that was dense and deep, though perhaps with a touch of dusty tannins. Among the wines in barrel, standouts included the Vosne Beaumonts, intense and spicy with excellent clarity and a very long finish, and the Vosne Malconsorts, which had great purity in the mid-palate and was spicy, deep, and balanced, with tannins that seemed more polished than in the past for this cuvée. I particularly liked the Echézeaux (often relatively underrated among the grands crus here), with deep, complex red and black fruit, intense spice, and a green olive note from the stems; this achieved density and yet delicacy, especially on the long, pure, spicy finish.  While the Clos St.-Denis was quite nice, it was outshone, at least on this day, by the powerful and large-framed Clos de la Roche, with modulated tannins and a delicate, long mineral finish. 

Domaine Ponsot:

The reds were picked between the 28th and 31st of August, before the whites. The malos finished in early spring and the wines are around 13.5-14% alcohol, lower than in the two prior years according to Alexandre Abel, who felt the ‘20s would still need 6 more months of elevage. There was no cold maceration here, no SO2 at the time of reception, and the wines were 100% destemmed. The new team seems to be settling in, and although there was some inconsistency, there were a number of fine wines here. Among those showing best were an excellent village Morey, with dense ripe black fruit, coffee and anise notes that were prominent, along with some strong soil notes, good density, and medium tannins. The Morey 1er Cru was not yet fully knit but had a lot of material and should profit from the added months in barrel, while the Corton Cuvée du Bourdon, which was a bit reduced and disjointed at first, seemed with air to gain clarity and rondeur. The Chapelle-Chambertin was evolving very well: deep and meaty, with a spice-rub quality, ripe fruit on the mid-palate, and rounded tannins. The Clos de la Roche was excellent: a lovely calm nose, with some cherry fruit, champignons, an almost gamy touch, and some salinity; on the palate it had bright fruit wrapped a mineral core, with still strong but reasonably refined tannins (this is CDLR, not Musigny), and a persistent finish.

Domaine des Lambrays:

Harvest began August 20th and finished August 26th, both records for the domaine. Here, the north-south orientation of the vines helped prevent sun damage. The ’20 Clos des Lambrays yielded 15 hl/ha, and the wine has an alcohol level of 13.8%. 85% whole cluster was used, and there was no pigeage.

The Morey 1er Cru Les Loups was attractive, with bright fruit, a note of mushroom fricassee, and a citrus touch—this wine, which includes grapes from younger vines of the Clos des Lambrays (now 20 years old), will be appealing early. The Clos des Lambrays, which will be quite fine, had a deeply pitched nose, with champignons, licorice, citrus, and cocoa; it also had a pure minerally middle, which was dense for Lambrays, and was very balanced and elegant, with tannins that were still strongly present but rounded. 

Henri Gouges:

This was our first visit to this storied domaine, which traditionally has produced remarkable wines that may take 50 years to come around. Cousins Gregory and Antoine now run the domaine, and Antoine told us that over time they have been changing small details, to make the wines more approachable younger without changing their fundamental character. Extraction is softer, and they are looking for more finesse in the wines; they have also moved to organic farming and adopted some biodynamic practices. Judging from our visit, and some recent vintages tasted earlier, they are succeeding admirably in producing wines that respect the individual terroirs, and remain deep and complex, while not being nearly so gnarly as they once were. (No doubt they’ve also gotten an assist from climate change, with riper vintages now being the norm.)

In 2020, picking began on August 24th and finished September 1st. Average yields were only 17.5 hl/ha, and alcohols about 14.5%. Malos were prolonged, with some barrels still not finished at the time of our mid-November visit. Antoine is in the camp of those who believe that this vintage will benefit from longer than usual elevage. The village Nuits had been relatively recently racked but was marked by explosive sweet fruit. Among the premiers crus, a few clearly were not yet fully knit (and the Clos des Porrets St.-Georges had not yet finished its malo), but the Nuits Vaucrains, despite some small reduction, had plenty of ripe dark fruit balanced by excellent mineral clarity; the tannins were present but ripe and the finish in particular was concentrated and very long. The Nuits Les St.-Georges was showing beautifully: it had an aristocratic nose, with sweet fruit but also bright acidity; this was balanced, refined, and with a spicy cinnamon note on the extremely long finish.

Jean-Marc Millot:

This was our first visit to this Nuits-based property, which used to sell its production to negociants. It is now run by Alix Millot, who is drawing well-deserved attention for this small domaine (which has added some negociant wines itself in 2021). The harvest here took place from 21-28 August, and the resulting wines were mostly between 13.5-14.5% alcohol (the higher level for the Clos de Vougeot). The domaine farms organically and it uses indigenous yeasts for the fermentation. Mostly they use pump-overs, and after pressing the wines are put in tank for several weeks before being fed by gravity to the barrels in the lower cellar. New oak was 10% for the village wines and 30% for the Vosne Suchots and the grands crus. The wines are not racked until ready to go into tank before bottling. (In consequence, all exhibited some degree of reduction during our tasting).

The village Vosne had bright fruit in the mid-palate, classic Vosne spices, and good balance with moderate tannins and a slight bit of heat at the end (14%). The Vosne Suchots had bright pure black fruit, excellent depth, and good acidity, though the tannins seemed fairly prominent at the moment. The Echézeaux (from plots in Clos St.-Denis, Poulallières and Echézeaux du Dessus totaling about 1 ha) had very ripe fruit if not quite the purity of the Suchots, and had cinnamon and coffee notes, and a dense finish, with the tannins resolved. The Echézeaux du Dessus Cuvee 1949 (a single barrel, from vines planted in 1949) was far more precise, with refined tannins and dense fruit but excellent supporting acidity—a terrific wine, if you can find it. The Clos de Vougeot (located in Grand Maupertuis), was deep, brambly, with blackberry and coffee notes, the tannins relatively resolved but with perhaps a bit of heat here, though a creamy finish. The Grands Echézeaux had spice and cocoa notes, great minerality and transparency, and was refined, yet with power and presence, and the tannins were still prominent, with maybe just a tiny touch of heat.

Côte de Beaune

Marquis d’Angerville:

The harvest here began on August 18th-19th, and Guillaume said he deliberately sacrificed a bit of phenolic maturity to avoid higher alcohol levels and retain tension. Yields were moderate, and the wines were in the range of 13.5-13.8% alcohol. Guillaume had some interesting comments about the evolution of “solar” vintages, saying that previously in this century, the wines of such vintages were hugely concentrated (for example, ’05 and ’15), but that they had become progressively more classic, and he felt the plants were adjusting (a comment also made by Aubert de Villaine and others), especially for vineyards farmed biodynamically. In June, I had been blown away by the quality of his ‘19s, but the ‘20s, while presenting a very different profile, are also superb. I quite liked the Volnay Fremiets, which showed a characteristically saturated, deep color (as did all the wines), some blue as well as darker fruit notes, and a bright minerality. The Volnay Caillerets was still showing strong tannins and didn’t seem fully knit yet, but the finish promised more development and delicacy here. The Volnay Taillepieds showed excellent definition and structure, great purity, bright fruit, and refined tannins, and the Volnay Champans was intense, deep, and powerful, with an extremely pure finish (Guillaume aptly described it as “sapid”). The Volnay Clos des Ducs was intense and complex on the nose, with dense fruit yet great lift and purity on the palate, and showing extra layers on the finish, with highly refined tannins. Overall, this was an extremely successful set of wines.

Comte Armand:

The harvest started here on August 24th and was completed on the 30th. The alcohol levels were all over 14%, but the resulting wines still had very good acidity and did not present as overly alcoholic, while reflecting good phenolic ripeness, particularly in the Clos des Epeneaux. The Volnay Fremiets was deeply pitched, with notes of cinnamon and black fruits, and was developing a silky texture, though with some strong and perhaps slightly chunky tannins that reflected the climat. The Pommard Clos des Epeneaux was terrific: a complex nose led to a silky-textured palate, with rounded edges and the tannins refined, especially in the context of Pommard.

Yvon Clerget:

Thibault Clerget is one of Burgundy’s young rising stars. He is attentive to his cuvées, adapting the use of whole clusters, pigeage, and percentage of new oak to what he feels are the needs of each climat. The result has been a noticeable improvement in quality from year to year.

Yields were down significantly in 2020 (about 50%) and even more in 2021. The Bourgogne Rouge (100% destemmed and raised only in neutral oak) was bright, fresh, and attractive. The Volnay Santenots, made with 20% whole clusters, seemed to have excellent potential but was still showing some of the effects of a recent racking. The Volnay Caillerets, from 90-year-old vines that yielded 15hl/ha in 2020, was 100% destemmed; it was ripe, pure, and balanced, though still with some oak to absorb. The monopole Volnay Clos du Verseuil was especially fine; 100% destemmed and with 30% new oak, it was pure, expressive, and polished. I also liked the Pommard Rugiens (from Rugiens Haut; 30% whole bunch and 20% new oak, and no pigeage), which produced a stylistically creamy young Rugiens without the roughness that can characterize these wines when young. The Corton Rognets, from purchased fruit, had 40% whole cluster and 40% new oak; on the nose, it was spicy and bacony, with the new oak still prominent, but the palate was open and transparent, and it finished powerfully. The Clos de Vougeot, from Grand Maupertuis, had 50% new oak and 50% whole cluster. Even in a deeply colored vintage, the super-saturated color here was remarkable; while the oak influence was prominent on the nose and in the tannins, this is a wine of sufficient density that it should be able absorb these elements in time, and I thought it had a very pure mid-palate, along with fully ripe fruit, and excellent potential. 

Chandon de Briailles:

Alcohol levels here were between 13-14%. François de Nicolay felt the ‘20s would need more elevage, compared to the ‘19s and ‘18s, and described them, as had others, as “classical” wines that would take significant time to mature. These wines generally showed well, though needing more time to round out. This is a domaine whose wines still represent good value for those who are patient. Both Savignys showed well, Aux Fournaux juicy but with strong acidity, and Les Lavières deep, intense, with excellent balance and length, and given added dimension by the whole clusters. The Pernand Ile des Vergelesses had lovely raspberry fruit but was a touch heavy in the mid-palate, and the Corton Bressandes was intense but a little brutish, as the reduction made it a bit hard to evaluate. The Corton Clos du Roi was excellent, though, with dense black cherry fruit, bright acidity, earth and bacon notes, and a pure finish, albeit with some strong tannins that will take time to modulate.

Armand Heitz:

Both the domaine and negociant wines have, as of 2019, been consolidated under the Armand Heitz label. Heitz was not satisfied with biodynamics and is now experimenting with permaculture. Without trying to explain all its complexities, this approach to agriculture is in essence holistic, and as applied to viticulture, seeks to moderate insofar as possible the monocultural aspects of vineyards. Armand Heitz has therefore introduced both other plants (including vegetables) and animals in his vineyards, and many of these products are for sale through his storefront/tasting room in Pommard. He is also making other changes in the vineyard, including making the rows higher and looking to revise their spacing, and in the cellar, including reducing the use of SO2. Others are watching with keen interest, if not yet following.

In 2020, Heitz began harvesting on August 15th with the whites. His reds are 13.5-14% alcohol. The full range includes wines made from both purchased grapes and must, as well as domaine fruit, and we only tasted a sampling of the range. I did not find the wines entirely consistent; nonetheless, there were several highly successful wines, particularly among the reds. The Bourgogne Rouge, already in bottle, was from Pommard and Mercurey, without any new oak, and had a bright, ripe fruit expression. From barrel, I thought both Pommards we tasted were excellent: a Vaumuriens, vinified with 100% whole clusters and raised in 25% new oak, was very primary, with purple fruit, and an earthy, tannic Pommard character, while the Clos des Poutures (a monopole of the domaine), made with 75% whole cluster and also raised in 25% new oak, showed the stem character, and had excellent black fruit, a light soil note, and refined tannins—a wine of excellent complexity, balance and transparency.

The Negociants: 

[As a note, the line between negociants and domaines is an increasingly blurry one: the top negociants own considerable properties, from which they often make their best wines, while numerous top domaines, sensing economic opportunity, are purchasing grapes (and sometimes must) from other growers].

Joseph Drouhin:

Here too there were long malos. Véronique Drouhin said that at the beginning (and while the vintage conditions were clearly different), the wines reminded her of the ‘78s: high acid, tough to taste, but also with serious depth. Some whole clusters were used here, but Véronique stressed that this was individually decided during the sorting, not pre-determined. 

Though we missed seeing some of the wines we usually taste, clearly judicious choices have resulted in some exceptional wines here; the best of them showcase the strengths of the vintage, balancing deep but not over-ripe fruit with good acidity, and achieving excellent terroir expression as a result. The village Vosne had lots of crunchy fruit, good spice, and though not exactly classic, was accessible and enjoyable. The Beaune Clos des Mouches had a nose of earth and blackcurrants, and was soft and charming, with plenty of ripe fruit but the acidity to balance, and fine, buried tannins, and the Chambolle 1er Cru had bright acidity, with cassis and cocoa notes, and an appealing softness. The Chambolle Amoureuses was superb: with a nose of complex fruit that jumped from the glass, this was a wine of harmony and elegance, culminating in a refined and super-long finish. By contrast, the Clos de Bèze, while also terrific, was characteristically powerful, with touches of grilled meat and spice, perfectly ripe fruit balanced by excellent acidity, and refined tannins.

Louis Latour:

This was my first visit to this historic winery. We were guided by the inimitable Louis-Fabrice Latour, one of the grandees of Burgundy (and a major source of encouragement, generosity and help to both Allen Meadows and me in our research for Vintages) on a tour of both their remarkable cuverie in Aloxe-Corton and of the restored Ch. Corton-Grancey, where we also tasted a range of the 2020s. 

There is significant use of new oak here—100% for the grand cru reds and one-third to one-half for the premiers crus, all made at their own cooperage with a light, long toast and 36 months of aging. The oak was a bit obtrusive on some wines, at least to my taste, and there were some wines that I thought overripe, but there were also several successes among the reds (and the whites, reviewed below), including a rich, deep and already approachable Ch. Corton Grancey, with a long, balanced finish; a Chambertin Cuvée Héritiers Latour that had great depth and a plethora of ripe fruit but also a good underpinning of minerally acidity, along with supple tannins; and a very classy Grands Echézeaux, showing rose petal and spice notes on the nose; this was well-balanced, with rich fruit, a mineral spine, and refined and supple tannins.

Joseph Faiveley: 

The harvest here began around the 22nd or 23rd of August, with the last picking on the 31st. Alcohol levels in 2020 were mostly in the 13-14% range, with the highest being 14.5% in Clos de Vougeot. Erwan Faiveley said they had no trouble getting pickers, and that he had, as is his preference, picked the village wines after the grands crus, willing to risk greater maturity with the former. Erwan felt the vintage had remarkable freshness, despite the heat. He was among those who cited the apparent adaptation of the vines to the warmer conditions of recent years, noting that this was a vintage that could have turned out like 2003, but did not. Overall, I thought the wines were mixed, but successful at the top levels (we did not taste any of the village-level reds). My sense is of a house that has an extremely strong commitment to quality but is still struggling a bit to find its groove. While I’m speculating, perhaps an understandable desire to replicate the remarkable Faiveley wines of the ‘60s and earlier has been somewhat frustrated by the realities of climate change. For example, a soft, fruit-driven Corton Clos des Cortons Faiveley, while projecting a pleasurably warm, ripe expression of Corton, in no way resembles its progenitors. That said, I particularly liked the Echézeaux, which has become a standout in recent vintages (and was one of the few wines in the range where whole clusters were used); it had 13.5% alcohol and combined ripe fruit and Asian spice with lovely balance–a very composed wine, with the tannins refined and buried. The Latricières-Chambertin had silky ripe fruit but an underlay of strong minerality, and a slight tartness on the finish that I liked. The Mazis-Chambertin also had sweet and soft fruit, but a deeper minerality and an intensity, combined with a creamy texture, that made this quite attractive. The Clos de Bèze was deeper pitched, with resolved, soft tannins and a long finish, but I found the Clos de Bèze Ouvrées Rodin to be a distinct step up, with a more complex and subtle nose; this was spicy, charming, elegant, and balanced, with silky tannins and a palate-coating, super-long finish.

Louis Jadot:

The harvest here began on August 19th with the Côte de Beaune reds, with the whites following a week later. Frederic Barnier said that the date of picking had to be decided vineyard to vineyard based on the vines’ relative resistance to hydric stress–the old vines and upper slopes suffered less, and chardonnay in general less than pinot noir. He also was among those noting the increasing frequency of problems with respect to the 161-49 rootstock, which has been suffering because of drought. Average alcohol levels here were around 13.5% in 2020.

As is often the case in a broad portfolio that includes both domaine and negociant wines, the range overall reflects the vintage in its variability. That said, there were a number of successes among the reds, including a bright and balanced Beaune Cras that expressed the terroir well, and a concentrated, deep, and intriguing Beaune Clos des Ursules. The Corton Pougets was a relatively soft and approachable style of Corton, which will provide much pleasure early on. The Gevrey Clos St.-Jacques provided a series of contrasts as one moved from the spicy, meaty, intense nose to the softer, more fruit-driven palate, to the strong mineral finish—it will be interesting to see how this wine develops. The Echézeaux was sweet and easygoing, with a bit of tannin still to resolve but this should be pleasurable in time. The Clos St.-Denis also was showing bright fruit and good acid support, along with refined tannins. The Chambolle Amoureuses seemed more nerveux than usual, but I thought this was a good thing, and this was complex, dense and with a bright transparent mineral finish. The Musigny was very refined, if slightly anonymous, and had a finish that wouldn’t quit.

Bouchard:

The harvest here started on August 18th. There was significant use of stems: 30% in the Côte de Beaune and 40-50% in the Côte de Nuits. For complex reasons, we tasted fewer wines than usual here, so it’s harder to give an overall impression on the range, but the wines were generally well-made. The Beaune Marconnets, while ripe, had good balancing acidity, and the Beaune Grèves Enfant Jésus also had rich, ripe dark fruit but didn’t overstep; it was still tannic, with a touch of oak, and a very attractive complex finish with a note of violets. The Volnay Caillerets Ancienne Cuvée Carnot was dense but still pure, and kept its freshness, with a transparent finish but also a lot of tannin still to resolve. The Clos de Vougeot, from the domaine, showed a little reduction but was full, complex, and ripe, with excellent balance and energy. The Clos de Bèze, from purchased grapes, was also attractive, with ripe black fruit, good spice, and (curiously) less tannin than the Beaunes, plus a very pure finish.

WHITES:

The Domaines:

Paul Pillot:

The harvest here began August 20th and as with many others was finished before the end of the month. Thierry thought the vintage was close in quality to ’14 and ’17, if not quite at the same level (I am inclined to think it may well be better than ’17, but that judgment will have to wait at least until after bottling). Unsurprisingly, the wines here were a great success; the Pillot wines are consistently among the top white Burgundies today yet are still not absurdly priced—even as other domaines continue to command huge prices based largely on outdated reputations. Except as noted, all the wines had been racked and were in tank.

I certainly would not ignore the Bourgogne Blanc here, which was creamy, floral and with bright acidity. The St. Aubins, as usual, are excellent and represent good value: the Pitangerets, despite a little reduction, showed lovely tree fruit notes and good acidity and transparency; the Charmois was a bit fresher and more minerally than the Pitangerets. The village Chassagne was stony and pure, with medium body and a nice floral touch, and the Chassagne Mazures was a step ahead in both body and finesse and had good transparency. The Chassagne Champgains had pure, ripe fruit on the nose, and was quite transparent, if just a touch heavy in back, and the Clos St. Jean had great minerality, line and balance. The Chassagne Caillerets, still in barrel and thus not racked, didn’t seem as elegant as the others, but might only be further behind. The Chassagne Grand Montagne was high-toned, spicy, and driven, with what I would call a “spiral” quality (hard to explain, but I’m trying to express a kind of tension that is not purely linear but rather displays increasing intensity); all the elements are in place, it just needs a bit more time. The Chassagne Grands Ruchottes had a nose that was calm and assured, with floral notes, salinity, and reserves of power behind its façade of calm. The Chassagne La Romanée was still in barrel, and perhaps a bit subdued on the nose but still spicy, complex and with pure fruit aromas. This wine has it all: richness of fruit, pure minerality, and grand cru depth and length. 

Bernard Moreau:

There has been some family turmoil here, as brothers Alex and Benoît have now gone their separate ways (Alex retained the domaine, while Benoît took a share of the vineyards). The harvest started here August 22nd and was finished on the 31st, and Alex noted that the sugar levels kept shooting up throughout the period. The old vines had not suffered as much from the drought during the growing season, and here the crop was normal sized, with quantities between 30-50 hl/ha. He reported that there were some very long fermentations–a few even carrying over to the following summer. Interestingly, he commented that one felt the acidity more in the ’19 whites than in the ‘20s—something I did see at some domaines where we were able to compare the wines directly—as the balance was better in ’20. The domaine was highly successful in ’20, and I think it will likely turn out to be their best vintage since ’14. Most of the wines we tasted were assembled and in tank.

The Bourgogne Chardonnay (bottled at the end of August) was creamy, with good acidity and a soft finish—a nice entry-level wine–while the village Chassagne (fined before harvest), had attractive notes of licorice and spiced apples. The Chassagne Clos St. Jean, which had been racked, was bright and positive, with a floral note and creamy texture; the Chassagne Vergers, from old vines and one of the wines that underwent a very long fermentation, had notes of lemon and lime, white flowers, anise, and, on the palate, crunchy fruit and an almost raspy minerality—I don’t know how that all sounds in print, but the wine was delicious, balanced and had excellent tension. The Chassagne Chenevottes, from a vineyard that touches Vergers and is also planted with very old vines, had similar crunchy fruit, but a more perfumed and spicy quality, and was creamier on the finish. The Chassagne Maltroie had some fine elements but felt disjointed at the moment, while the Chassagne Champgains was denser, and perhaps slightly heavier, than the previous premiers crus, but still a very fine wine. The Chassagne Morgeots had more weight and power still, but remained balanced, and had a sneaky long finish. The Chassagne Caillerets was quite attractive, with minerally, floral and citrus notes on the nose; on the palate, the texture was softer, but there was a strong mineral thread to this, and it had great tension, drive and purity, and an extremely long finish. The Chassagne Grands Ruchottes was as usual the best of the premiers crus, with a superb nose that included floral, tree fruit and lemon parfait notes, while the palate had a mineral core wrapped in sweet peach and pear fruit, and anise and floral notes–a wine of great harmony and remarkable precision, with a superbly long finish. The Bâtard had great clarity and balance, with no hard edges, yet plenty of drive, the one nit being a slight warmth on entry, while the Chevalier was powerful and had good balance, but not quite the cut of the domaine wines. (Last, and in this case least, was a non-domaine Corton-Charlemagne, rich and sweet but lacking the balance and finesse that characterizes the domaine’s wines.) 

François Carillon: 

François described this as an easy vintage and was among those who saw it as similar in style to the ‘10s, though he said the entire harvest was completed before the end of August. Alcohol levels here were 13.5-14%. Despite a slight tendency in some of the wines toward tropicality, overall this was an excellent range of wines, including a pleasant Bourgogne Chardonnay Cuvée Vieux Clos and an excellent Puligny Le Clos du Vieux Château, a village-level wine from 80-year-old vines that had plenty of ripe tree fruit and, despite a hint of tropicality (it is a warm site and so was picked several days before the rest), managed to maintain a zippy acidity to it, and had good complexity for a village wine. I also particularly liked the Puligny Combettes, which was floral and charming; François commented that it was his favorite, because of the elegance. For me, though, the Puligny Perrières was even better, as this had drive and power on the palate, and excellent minerality, plus a long saline finish—a great pairing, I would expect, with lobster. 

Guy Roulot: 

2020 was the domaine’s earliest harvest ever, beginning on August 20th and finishing on the 29th, and as others also commented, Jean-Marc believes picking dates were key in ’20. He described the vintage as a cross between ’18 and ’17.  The wines had been racked from barrel into tank in August and were due to be bottled in February or March. 

While perhaps not entirely consistent across the range, the top wines here were characteristically excellent, as were many of the less exalted cuvées: the Bourgogne Blanc was attractive, and the village Meursault, with lovely sweet tree fruit notes, was also very good. The Meursault Luchets had a saline, minerally nose and was pure and elegant, with spiced pear notes, while the Meursault Tessons was more linear and saline, with an intense finish. The Meursault Poruzots conveyed a lot of intensity and power, with touches of ginger and iron filings (!), while the Meursault Charmes was a leaner style of Charmes than one usually finds, but no less beautiful for it; I admired the Perrières-like stoniness, and this was very pure, focused, and intense. The Meursault Clos des Bouchères, though having more weight and power than the Charmes (and more purity, per Jean-Marc, though I would have said equal), had great balance notwithstanding its weight, and excellent focus. The Meursault Perrières had a typical stony nose but also a lovely floral quality and some nuanced spice, and on the palate, there was a coating of ripe fruit wrapping a pure mineral core; this was weighty without being ponderous and was both intense and transparent—a great wine. We also tasted the negociant wines, a soft and charming Puligny Caillerets, a nicely balanced Chevalier-Montrachet that perhaps lacked a little depth, and a Corton-Charlemagne that was much improved from prior vintages, complete and with a fine minerally finish. 

Comtes Lafon:

This was our first visit in several years. We were greeted by Leah, Dominique Lafon’s daughter, and Pierre, his nephew, who are taking over the operations of the domaine, as Dominique is retiring (he joined us partway through the tasting). The harvest started on August 20th and yields for the reds were in the low 20s (hl/ha).

The ’20 whites are impressive here. These are getting slightly less time in barrel than before, but more time in tank, on the fine lees. The village Meursault will be a crowd-pleaser, while the Meursault Clos de la Barre, also charming, had more depth and a delicate mineral underpinning. The Meursault Bouchères was floral, balanced, elegant and long, while the Meursault Goutte d’Or was slightly more subdued, but had greater depth, intensity, and drive. The Meursault Poruzots was a bit on the heavy side, but still attractive; the Meursault Genevrières was a standout, with a creamy and spicy nose, sweet fruit, and white flowers; it was complete, pure, and balanced. The Meursault Charmes had more intensity and depth than the Genevrières but was less evolved—this needs time but has a lot of material. The Meursault Perrières had intense stoniness on the nose, with a soft, creamy palate entry leading to a balanced, elegant, and pure wine with a saline touch on the finish; this too will evolve. The Montrachet, not surprisingly, had added layers of richness, and a honeyed nose; it was delicate and floral with an ethereal quality and then a bright, almost endless mineral finish.

Latour-Giraud: 

Jean-Pierre Latour said that the acidity in ’20 had stayed at a good level, and that the wines had good fruit, power and precision, whereas in his view the ‘19s had too much power and alcohol. He compared 2020 to ’12 and ’92 stylistically. The Meursault Cuvée Charles Maxime had good acidity and energy for this cuvée, with a refreshing bite of citrus at the end, while the Meursault Narvaux was softer and creamier, though with some slight bitterness at the finish. The Meursault Charmes was a classic Charmes, with excellent brightness and precision, and a good acid balance that Jean-Pierre said characterized the whites of this vintage. The Meursault Genevrières was spicier, stonier, and more citric and saline than the Charmes, with a precise finish, and the Meursault Perrières was calm and creamy, an elegant version of Perrières. As is typical here, the Meursault Genevrières Cuvée des Pierre, from 60-year-old vines in the center of the domaine’s 1.5ha of Genevrières, was the top wine in the range, showing a perfumed nose with saline, spice, citrus, and mineral notes; it was palate-coating, with a creamy texture but also a piercing minerality, and was complete, elegant and fresh.

Henri Boillot:

Some excellent whites here. We began with a floral and fresh, if slightly reduced, St. Aubin 1er Cru, followed by a Meursault Genevrières that was fresh, coiled and saline, with spiced pear notes, and a Puligny Pucelles that had an entrancing floral nose, though the palate perhaps could have used (and might still develop) a little more fruit. The Puligny Clos de la Mouchère was excellent as usual, with a complex nose of white flowers, licorice, spice, and citrus, a minerally, taut palate and a long finish. I also quite liked the Bâtard, also very floral on the nose, with a pure, deeply minerally and poised palate, and showing characteristic power.

Armand Heitz:

Heitz began harvesting the whites on August 15th, and they came in between 12.5-13% alcohol. I found them a curious mix, with a Bourgogne Blanc, bottled in early June, that had razor-sharp minerality, but a St Aubin 1er cru Les Castets that had tropical notes. Both a Meursault La Barre that had some puppy fat but also a touch of apple crisp, and a Chassagne Maltroie, which had a spicy, creamy, minerally nose, were not yet fully resolved, though there seemingly was fine potential here—à voir.

Other Whites Tasted (mostly from domaines located in the Côte de Nuits):

Bruno Clair: A Corton-Charlemagne that was very pure and minerally, with a lovely floral note, as well as intensity and power

Pierre and François Labet: The Bourgogne Blanc Vieilles Vignes was among the best examples of Bourgogne Blanc we saw this trip: cream, spiced apples, minerals, and very good tension. The Beaune Marconnets had crunchy fruit and white flowers, and good lift, though the Meursault Tillets, despite good tension, felt like it needed more time to come together. 

Domaine Ponsot: The whites were picked September 5-6th, about a week after the reds. The Corton Charlemagne had only finished fermenting in August 2021, and was still gassy, but should be excellent once it settles out, carrying its weight with ease, while the Morey St.-Denis Monts Luisants was round and floral, but with bright acidity, pear, anise, and lemon notes, and just a touch of sweetness at the end. 

Domaine des Lambrays: I thought the Puligny Folatières a bit too soft for a ’20, but the Puligny Clos du Cailleret was much more interesting, with anise, spice, lime and pear notes on the nose, sweet fruit wrapping the mineral backbone, and plenty of dry extract.

Comte Liger-Belair: An easy and charming Nuits Les Grand Vignes, and a soft, ripe village Nuits (the young vines of Les Grands Vignes).

Chandon de Briailles: A particularly fine Corton Blanc, pure, floral, saline, with tree fruit, a touch of orange peel, and excellent transparency—this clearly has a different texture from Corton-Charlemagne. 

Comte Armand: The ’20 Aligoté, still in tank, and not yet filtered, was a highly enjoyable aligoté, picked three weeks after the end of the harvest, with a deeply minerally nose, still bright acidity and a lovely floral component.

The Negociants:

Joseph Drouhin:

The range of whites we tasted seemed particularly strong this year. I was impressed by the Côte de Beaune, which had lovely spice and white flowers, an excellent mineral aspect and a creamy texture—thus, I was not surprised to learn that this has a fair amount of Clos des Mouches in the blend. The village Meursault displayed good tension, but the Meursault Charmes ratcheted up the intensity, with a strong stony quality, tree fruit, and a perfumed touch. The Chassagne Embazées was particularly fine for this appellation, with great purity and a lovely floral quality. The Corton-Charlemagne was a crowd-pleaser if slightly soft, and the Chablis Les Clos, while pure, also seemed a bit on the soft side; I preferred the Beaune Clos des Mouches, a great year for this appellation, with a gorgeous complex nose, white flowers, crème brûlée, and a strong mineral underpinning. 

Bouchard:

The whites were somewhat mixed, with a Meursault Perrières that this year far outshone the Genevrières, and had great stony character accompanied by plenty of fruit, along with a nice citrus touch. The Corton Charlemagne, usually a standby here, lacked refinement (and was far outshone by the Latour version), but there were excellent examples of both the Chevalier-Montrachet (the wines from the different terraces are kept separately in barrel and blended later, so we did not taste the final blend), which was pure and elegant, and the Montrachet, which while full-bodied and powerful, had fine energy and no heaviness, and was deceptively complex.

William Fèvre:

This house typically produces reliable, well-priced Chablis that rarely scale the heights. The ‘20s, however, are stunning. The harvest started on August 25th and ended September 5th, with different climats showing major differences in ripeness. Yields were about 40 hl/ha. The Chablis Montmains (which had an alcoholic degree of 12.5 and was 30% barrel fermented) was ripe but with great acidity, characteristic gunflint, and citrus, and the Chablis Vaillons, a steeper vineyard with more limestone, was incredibly intense for a premier cru, and had a long, saline finish. The Chablis Montée de Tonnerre, 40% barrel fermented, had a deeply minerally nose with floral, anise and spice overtones, and was intensely minerally on the palate–a vibrant wine that needs plenty of time. The Chablis Vaulorent had more body, and a lot of power for a premier cru; it was large-framed, intense and almost achingly minerally. Moving to the grands crus, the Chablis Vaudésir evoked flint wrapped in ripe fruit—a layered, subtle, refined wine—while the Valmur reflected its cooler climate, with more citrus, anise, and ginger notes; one sensed the power, though this also managed to be subtle and refined. The Chablis Preuses had a wonderful creamy texture, with white flowers and a strong oyster shell component; it was structured, complex and pure, with an extremely extended finish. The Chablis Les Clos was perhaps the least forthcoming; though there was a lot here, it will take time to evolve; there was plenty of dry extract and this reminded me of a heavyweight boxer, but whether it’s Ali or Liston remains to be seen. The best of the range, in my view, was the Chablis Bougros Côte de Bouguerots, which was super-intense, with an incredibly pure oyster shell nose that was the essence of Chablis, and a light lemon touch; on the palate it was bright, pure, intense, with a remarkably long saline finish and a sense of real refinement—an impressive wine. 

Louis Latour:

Although a number of the whites, like the reds, suffered from too much new oak, some excellent whites were made here in 2020.  The Chevalier Montrachet Les Demoiselles, despite the evident oak, was creamy and spicy with excellent minerality and depth of fruit. Better still was the Bâtard-Montrachet Clos Poirier, with a very pure mineral nose graced with white flowers and a light lemon touch; this had great texture, power, and length, but above all, charm. Their flagship white, the Corton-Charlemagne, had bright fruit, a creamy texture and a minerally mid-palate, and was highly appealing.

Joseph Faiveley: 

The Bienvenues-Bâtard was floral and perfumed, soft and charming but with good presence, while the Bâtard had more power and minerality, and drive, yet an elegant finish. The Corton-Charlemagne, though charming, was a bit soft, not perhaps unlike the Drouhin version.

Louis Jadot:

Most of the whites were put through full malolactic fermentation in 2020. Frédéric Barnier said they were surprised by how well balanced the whites were (maybe that malo thing is a better idea than Jacques Lardière thought it was?). Certainly, the whites were a success in 2020. Among those I most liked were a Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot Clos de la Chapelle Duc de Magenta, which had an appealing stony quality, a creamy middle and a spicy finish (this vineyard has been sold and will no longer be produced by Jadot); a Puligny Referts which was delicate, creamy and delineated, with a lot of dry extract; and a Puligny Clos de la Garenne Duc de Magenta that had great complexity, balance, and a lovely line to it. The Bâtard was dense and deep, if possibly slightly dry; the Chevalier Demoiselles was very minerally and deceptively powerful, with a super-long finish, an elegant wine that will benefit from long cellaring. Also showing well was a complex Montrachet, with peaches, honeysuckle, perfume, and mineral qualities but also good acidity, drive and strength, and a remarkable, pure finish. Only the Corton-Charlemagne was disappointing: it seemed heavy and graceless.

© 2022 Douglas E. Barzelay

From → Vintage Reports

2 Comments
  1. Mike Wagner permalink

    Thanks for sharing your impressions. Always interesting to get preliminary information on a new vintage. Were there no tastings at Rousseau’s and Roumier’s ?
    Mike

    • Because of Covid-related scheduling disruptions, I had tasted at Roumier earlier in the year. The ’20s were not available to taste
      but I did catch up on the ’19s, which are stunning (I’ll report more fully on the ’19 vintage in a subsequent post.) I did not taste at Rousseau this past year.

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