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Vintages Notes - By Burghound

Allen Meadows, the worlds leading authority on Burgundy.

2016- FRESHNESS ENERGY AND GRACE

So, as with every vintage, the two questions for you as consumers that take precedence over everything else always are: should I buy the wines and if so, how much of them? The best wines are wonderfully refreshing, transparent and graceful with moderately firm tannic spines where the all-important element of balance is supplemented by good but not high acidities. They are balanced wines built for medium to sometimes longer-term aging yet they should also be reasonably approachable young if youthful fruit is your preference. Before I offer more detail, the short answer is yes on both accounts that the 2016s deserve a place in your cellars and there is no reason not to go heavy – I for one will be buying all that I can afford and find.
More specifically, there are two aspects that I absolutely love about the 2016s which are those of the crystalline transparency to the underlying terroirs coupled with their refreshing drinkability. One just feels like drinking the 2016s, in fact it’s hard not to like them. Part of this appeal is due to the generally softer approach to extraction that many growers elected to use. As such most 2016s have relatively fine-grained tannins which should also help them to be reasonably accessible young. This is partially because the tannins are generally fully mature and partially because there is an excellent level of tannin-buffering dry extract that tends to render them less prominent at this early stage. Another reason is because the generally thicker skins of the grapes together with the generally smaller berry sizes made many growers opt for using fewer punch downs to avoid producing overly extracted wines. On the less positive side, one of the factors that negatively affected wine quality at some domaines was simply vinifying such small quantities. To be sure this is not unusual in Burgundy and some growers are used to this fact of life but most aren’t and thus there are a few wines that reflect either too much, or too little, extraction.
As to longevity, the average upper level 2016 is built for mid-to occasionally longer-term (and in some cases, very long-term) cellaring. With that said, and as I also noted, many wines will very likely drink well on the younger side. To provide some basis of comparison, I would (again, as a broad-brush generalization) describe the average 2015 as aging on a base of sheer concentration and tannic density whereas the typical 2016 will age on a base of balance and measured extraction. But it’s important to bear in mind that the average 2016 is a bit suppler because the phenolically mature tannins are finer and more pliant.

2015 - REVISITED- AS GOOD AS MY ORIGINAL ASSESMENT -  i.e. A GREAT VINTAGE

My in-bottle tastings of the 2015 vintage from the Côte de Nuits have served to largely confirm what I concluded last year, which is to say that wine quality ranges from very good to genuinely great. While there are of course some poor wines due either to elevated ripeness levels or too much backend warmth along with some dilution. But as a general proposition, the average 2015 is excellent and you want these in your cellars. 

I would add that just like 2016, the 2015s are excellent up and down the appellation hierarchy as well and it’s good everywhere in the Côte de Nuits. So unlike some vintages where it pays to focus on one or two communes or to necessarily emphasize one level of the appellation hierarchy at the expense of another, 2015 is a very consistent vintage. I would go so far as to say that while it’s not a vintage that you can buy blind, it’s close.
About the only other important aspect to mention is that if for whatever reason you did not like the 2009s, then you may wish to try some examples first. I took pains to point out that 2015 is fresher than 2009 but nonetheless the average 2015 is definitely ripe. The average 2015 is also clearly built-to-age but one of the aspects that make the vintage so appealing is that as structured it is, it should still be reasonably approachable young. Happy hunting!

2013 – A CLASSIC AND EXCELLENT WHITE BURGUNDY VINTAGE THAT SHOULD DRINK WELL YOUNG

So, as with every vintage, the two questions that take precedence over everything else always are: Should I buy the wines and if so, how much of them? The answer to those questions are yes, you should buy the 2013s and secondly, while personal preferences and circumstances always dictate the quantities purchased, I would suggest being more aggressive than usual. I say this because the best 2013 are wonderfully refreshing, energetic and transparent medium-bodied wines that possess firm but not aggressive acidities, indeed they are classic white burgundies in almost every respect. You will consistently see the descriptors “citrus, citrusy, lemon zest, etc.” used to convey my impressions of the wines because the supporting acidities regularly have these characteristics. This is one of the primary reasons that the 2013s are so exuberantly refreshing to drink.

This is also why there are few 2013s that are excessively fat or tiring to drink. Moreover the underlying terroirs are very much on parade as the intrinsic differences between one wine and another are razor-sharp. In sum, the successful 2013s are finely balanced wines built for medium-term aging yet they are not so rigid and structured as to prevent them from being approachable young if youthful fruit and energy is your preference.  

2013 –YET ANOTHER "BELLE ECHAPPÉE" THAT PRODUCED MANY SURPRISINGLY FINE AND ELEGANT REDS

Belle échappée in French means a narrow or lucky escape from what looked to be all but certain disaster.Grower after grower in the Côte de Nuits riffed off of this one theme that they were not only fortunate but actually down right lucky to have made anything respectable let alone in many cases very fine burgundies. This has in a way become a common theme because when you consider the growing seasons of 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012, every one of them presented their fair share of challenges, even if those challenges were not cut from the same cloth, particularly since 2013 had the latest harvest date in the last 35 years!

2013 produced many really lovely wines that should provide for delicious drinking early on yet be capable of amply rewarding mid-term cellaring and in a few cases, they will be as long-lived if perhaps not as long-lived as the 2010s or 2012s. However it also produced any number of herbaceous and/or edgy wines that possess a bit too much acidity for them to be properly balanced. When the 2013s are good though they are a joy to drink, not only because they are delicious but also because they are capable of appealing to the intellect as well. I hesitate to call them the “thinking person’s burgundies” but there is an element of that in the wines. To craft another comparison, they are stylistically about as far away from 2009 as one can get and still have ripe wines. To this end, if 2012 is some rough combination of 2009 and 2010, then 2013 is like a riper and better balanced 2008 or perhaps a less powerful and more approachable 2010.

As to overall quality by sector, as I mentioned, it’s generally highly variable and this is true up and down the Côte de Nuits. But to the extent that sweeping generalizations are never useful, I believe that it is accurate to observe that once again the farther north one goes, the better the quality. In yet another parallel with the 2012 vintage, Gevrey is again the belle of the ball with Chambolle coming in a close second. An exception to this “the father north the better wine quality is” pattern though is Marsannay as there was hail however it was early enough that many fine wines were still made. Quantities though are another story and it’s not pretty. Once again like 2012, yields in 2013 were down sharply and in some cases they were even lower than in 2012. While it again varies by sector, I would put the average decrease in production at between 30 and 40%.

In sum, I really like the 2013 vintage even though it is not a great vintage, in fact the best that can probably be said about it is that it is a very good vintage that produced some excellent wines and in a few cases, genuinely great wines. I will invoke yet one more parallel with 2012 in that the key challenges for consumers in 2013 will be twofold: the first is simply to find the wines and the second will be paying for them as they will not, indeed cannot, be inexpensive.  

2012 – A VERY FINE TO EXCELLENT VINTAGE THAT SHOULD DRINK WELL YOUNG

Listening to grower after grower describe the litany of growing season tribulations the wine gods visited upon the region in 2012 often reminded me of the famous line from the Wizard of Oz about lions, tigers and bears, lions tigers and bears oh my!

In a way I can’t blame the Burgundians for wondering if the wine gods are indeed mad at them as there hasn’t been a really good growing season since 2009 and before that it’s necessary to go back to 2005. 2012 saw just about every possible growing season misfortune possible with the exception of botrytis. There was frost, cool weather at the wrong time, hail (mostly in the Côte de Beaune), constant rain, a poor flowering, severe attacks of both mildew and powdery mildew, an intense heat wave that sunburned exposed fruit and a heavy storm during the harvest. It’s honestly hard to pack in more problems in just one growing season.

Not surprisingly, all of these problems contributed greatly to a vintage that would produce the smallest yields since 2003. For those readers who wish to understand all of the particulars I discuss all of this in much more detail below. Yet despite all of the problems, the quality of the raw materials, and the resulting wines, are not only good but in many cases excellent. The 2012s are concentrated wines with ripe and moderately firm supporting tannins, good freshness and enough acidity to maintain the proper balance.

One of the more endearing characteristics of the vintage is that it produced very high phenolic maturities yet the sugars were only average. This is important because often when a vintage has high phenolic maturities the accompanying alcohols are above 13% and often even 14%. In 2012 the average range is between 12% and 13% which contributes to the heightened senses of freshness and drinkability. 2012 produced many really lovely wines that should provide for delicious drinking early on yet be capable of amply rewarding mid-term cellaring and in a few cases, they will be as long-lived if perhaps not quite as long-lived as the 2010s. Moreover there is fine transparency to the wines such that the underlying terroir is very much on display. The high levels of dry extract and relatively fine grain of the tannins combine to create seductively suave textures that avoid any sense of heaviness as there is good freshness and sufficient acid verve to maintain the finishing balance.

As to overall quality, it’s variable but the critical take away is that despite all of the vicissitudes of the 2012 growing season, it was indeed possible to make highly attractive wines. In fact there really isn’t much not to like about the vintage other than the tiny yields and what will almost inevitably be the high prices that accompany small quantities. Total yields were off in the best cases some 20% and in the worst cases almost 70%. While it varies by sector, I would put the average decrease in production right at 40%.

In sum, 2012 is a very fine vintage built for mid-term aging. The key challenges for us as consumers will be twofold: the first is simply to find them and the second will be paying for them as they will not, indeed cannot, be inexpensive.  

2011 – WONDERFULLY FRESH, SEDUCTIVELY TEXTURE, GENEROUS AND UTTERLY DELICIOUS

The most successful 2011s are wonderfully fresh, seductively textured, generous and utterly delicious wines that offer excellent if not truly exceptional transparency. They have this beguiling sense of harmony, partially because they are so well-balanced but also because the tannins are so ripe and fine- grained. Add all of this up and you have a vintage style that will very likely drink well young but also improve and reward mid- term cellaring. The fine-grained tannins offer another benefit as well, which is to say that when the more rustic appellations such as Fixin, Marsannay, Côte de Nuits-Villages and certain sectors of Gevrey and Nuits are good, they tend to be notably more refined than usual. There simply isn’t much not to like about the 2011 vintage except for one key factor: there is less of it than would be the case in a typical vintage, though to be sure, it’s certainly larger than the tiny 2010 and 2012 vintages. Total yields were off between 20 and 40% and thus notwithstanding the continued favorable movement of many currencies vis-à-vis the euro, there will be little incentive on the part of the growers to reduce prices.”  

2010 – AN EXCITING AND ULTRA-CLASSIC VINTAGE OF REFINEMENT, BALANCE AND SUPERB TRANSPARENCY.

2010 may be the most surprising vintage in the last 20 years and that is no small statement when one considers just how many harvests there were in this decade alone where victory has been narrowly snatched from the jaws of potentially truly awful vintages. In a scene that was to play out again and again during my fall visit, I would be in the middle of tasting the wines of a given domaine and my glance of amazement would cross that of the grower’s. In response, the grower would succinctly utter “C’est dingue eh?” which is a colloquial French way of saying that it’s crazy or it’s amazing. It was the commonplace way of acknowledging that the wines were not only remarkable but no one could really explain how or why they obtained such quality. Yes, there are plenty of theories, some of which I will share with you later on in the analysis. But in point of fact, why 2010 is so good isn’t immediately obvious. There simply isn’t much not to like about the 2010 vintage except for one key factor: there just isn’t very much of it. This is due primarily to two reasons. The first is a very severe frost that killed a huge number of vines in December of 2009. The second is the poor flowering that I have already mentioned. Total yields were off between 30 and 40% and the frost alone is estimated to have reduced production by more than half a million bottle. Thus notwithstanding the recent favorable movement of many currencies vis-à-vis the euro, there will be little incentive on the part of the growers to reduce prices. In sum, the 2010 vintage produced a very large number of superb wines, indeed every bit as many as did 2009. And the quality of even the average 2010 is very high and it would be fair to say that there are relatively few poor 2010s, at least this is true among the growers that I visit. It is of course true that I visit Burgundy’s best but nonetheless, generally what is true for the elite is true for the average grower in vintages that are consistent such as 2005, 2009 and 2010. Moreover, 2010 is an exciting vintage because the wines are so vibrant and refreshing. But make no mistake, as appealing as they are now, there are going to be some masterpieces resident in the cellars of those who have the patience to allow the greatest 2010s to achieve full maturity. I for one can’t wait.”  

2009 -  A CLASSIC IN THE MAKING.

As I observed at the very beginning, the most successful 2009s are wonderfully fresh, seductively opulent, elegant and refined burgundies that should be more than capable of successfully rewarding short-to-mid-term cellaring out to 20 years or so. There is also a tenderness to the wines that render them most beguiling. Moreover, the wines adhere quite closely to the appellation hierarchy though at the same time, many wines indeed transcend their respective levels, particularly at the lower levels. The other aspect of the better ‘09s is how fine the tannins are and this contributes to the seductive and charming character that so many of them exude. As was the case in 2008, when the more rustic appellations such as Fixin, Marsannay, Côte de Nuits-Villages and certain sectors of Gevrey and Nuits are good, they tend to be more refined than usual.

The average wine is firmly structured but not at all aggressive because of one, the abundance of mid-palate concentration to buffer the structure; two, the structural elements are all quite ripe, which takes away any sense of aggressiveness from the tannins, and; three, the acid levels are in keeping with the ripeness of the tannins, which means that the acidity does not have the tendency to accentuate the perception of astringency.

As with the better 2005s, the best ‘09s have a highly seductive textural impact on the palate. There is a real sense of volume and punch but at the same time, no sense of undue heaviness. Indeed I would go so far as to say that the best ‘09s, again as with the greatest of the ‘05s, epitomize the intrinsic genius of a great burgundy’s ability to deliver power without weight. Stated differently, the better ‘09s are gorgeously balanced wines with a real sense of underlying harmony as there is everything they need to age gracefully for years if not as long as the ‘05s.

Overall, the best wines are truly transcendental and should provide for magical drinking experiences over a period of several decades and the best wines should see 30 years in fine shape. What’s harder to predict is how they will react after they have been in bottle for a few years. Some believe that they will shut down after a few years but my sense is that they will probably remain relatively open or, if they do shut down, it will not be in a hard “don’t’ touch me until I’m ready” fashion. The better wines have so much depth of material that they will probably always be accessible if not necessarily always at their optimum.

As to what other vintages the 2009s might resemble, as usual I received a lot of different answers to that question. Candidates ranged from 1959, 1978, 1985, 1989, 1990, 1997, 1999 and 2005, or some combination of those. My own view is that 2009 is a hypothetical blend of 1985 and 1989, as the best ‘09s combine the elegance, refinement and tenderness of the former with the ripeness, lower acidity and concentration of the latter. If this is the case, they should drink well almost immediately and continue to do so as the ‘85s never really shut down.  

2008 – CLASSIC BURGUNDIAN VINTAGE

My in-bottle tastings of the 2008 vintage have served to confirm that, like the 2007 vintage, it is a very good to sometimes excellent but highly variable vintage. 

A lot of things had to go right for the best wines to be made and some growers were either good enough, or lucky enough, to do just that. Most wines scored within their predicted ranges and while there were a few surprises, and in both directions, the average 2008 will make for really lovely medium-term drinking though there will also be a few long distance runners.

The best ‘08s are fresh, intense, bright, vibrant and very terroir- driven – in short it’s a classic Burgundian vintage. And as I noted in my vintage analysis last year, it is on the whole more interesting than either 2007 or 2006. And in a few cases, the wines are truly brilliant so don’t overlook them.