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A Vintage Viewpoint (2010, 2009, 2008…)

red and white

2010

Following on from a very fine harvest in 2009 the vines would have a long an cold winter to recover, though for some it was too cold; one evening before Christmas the thermometer plummeted. At 6pm it was around 0°C, by midnight it was anywhere between -17 to -20°C. Such a temperature is not normally a problem, but on this occasion it came too soon and too fast for some of the vines. It was only a rare vine that perished on the exposed hillside, but where the frost flowed down the hillside and collected in depressions at the foot of the hill, many were lost – and for the first time since the winter of 1985-86.

Not surprisingly, as Spring came late so did the bud-burst – about 3 weeks later than the average. Warm weather followed and the vines began to catch up. Approaching flowering time they were almost back to the average schedule. Then came June’s cooler weather and rain; the flowering become extended and heterogeneous. The result was a very millerande vintage – lots of much smaller grapes – and more verjus at harvest (tiny, green unripened grapes) than I’ve seen in any recent vintage.

July weather was fine and sunny – some days well over 30°C, though the growers will tell you that the sun is more important than absolute temperature. The forecast was that August would be lovely too and with it also the prospects for the vintage. Of course the forecasters didn’t really do a great job of prediction in 2010; there were occasional nice days with temperatures in the late 20°s but more often than not it was dull or rained. On the positive side, temperatures were low enough that rot never became a concern. The start of September was little better so producers were forecasting harvests anywhere between mid-September and the start of October; 100-110 days from flowering – but then the sun came out. Was the harvest to be rescued by the weather pattern for yet another vintage? Almost.

The ripeness which was needed came through, but the drying north wind of recent vintages was nowhere to be seen. Sunday evening, about ten days before the Côte de Beaune vignerons expected to pick their chardonnay a big storm hit; there was some hail localised to the Santenay-Chassagne border, elsewhere the air was full of electricity and its force was felt. The grapes that looked ‘magnificent’ on the Friday were already browning on the Monday, apparently such is the effect of a big electrical storm. It didn’t happen everywhere of course, but the vignerons affected had two choices, bring the grapes in early or watch 5% of their yield go down the drain to botrytis each day. Most chose the former. Not surprisingly some chardonnay needed lots of triage, others looked fine. Canvassing growers in October none ventured that they had any problems, however, a chat with someone at the analysis lab indicated results ‘all over the place’. Let’s see.

The first few days of harvest were greeted with sunshine, the days that followed usually contained rain – and plenty of it. But it’s the grapes that count, and the pinot noir that came across the triage table warmed the heart. Some plots had rot, but it was easily triaged. Others were perfectly clean with beautiful bunches of small blue-black berries; the Côte de Beaune had nothing to envy the Côte de Nuits about this year, many a Pommard and Volnay looked gorgeous. On occasions I was the only one at the triage table, and merely removing the occasional leaf. Though many gave no hint to the rain, some plots had grapes that appeared a little swollen – I think those on the flatter land had drunk the most. In terms of absolute grape quality, i.e. the harvested material; 2010 pinot noir had an average quality between 2006 and 2009, probably closer to 2009. The best plots looked as perfect as the same in 2005, 2006 and 2009. There was only one issue for the growers – the yields – tiny berries come at a price, and in this case the price was yields of 20-30 hl/ha, so I expect few problems with concentration. I can’t wait to see how they develop.

2009

Can you feel the hype?

People have had time to calm down since the 2005 hysteria, indeed for many they have had a hard time even selling wine in the years that followed. It’s a shame that this recent bipolar market seems to have no bearing on the actual drink-ability of the wines. Anyway, back to 2009; you will hear many times that vintages ending in a 9 are always something special, wonderful, tremendous (insert the adjective of your choice) etc. – you were warned!

Reality? Let’s start with reds. They are indeed very drinkable, and in the main they were the result of very clean harvests. The wines seem not quite as intense as the 2005s and certainly the communal wines don’t have an extra premier cru style depth that for me was the defining feature of some villages in 2005. But what they have is drink-ability in spades, blending concentration and balance. Analysis will tell you that the acidity is relatively low, and versus any 2008 you will see a big difference, but in isolation they are perfectly fine. In terms of how the wines showed through elevages, I’m reminded of 2002 but only from the perspective that they were always open and giving, though usually with far too much gas to objectively assess – retained CO2 is really much more prevalent now than then. A more appropriate comparison might be 1999 given the rather large harvest (versus the previous 5-year average) but the 99s certainly show more acidity.

On the other hand, for much of the elevage the wines have offered homogeneity; the vineyard differences more soft-focused and less distinct after the clarity of the 2008s. Some were muttering that it was a flattering vintage but, dismissively, not a vintage for ‘purists’ – usually the same people that say the same about 2005s today – so maybe you can decide yourself whether they are correct! That was during the summer and early autumn, but I have to say that the longer the elevage goes, the clearer are the distinctions. Apart from a few bourgognes, most of the reds will anyway stay in their barrels and tanks until March or April – there is more development to come from them, so today’s snapshot may not offer the ultimate picture. The standard November appraisal is getting more and more difficult – the later bottled 2006s put on a lot of weight, many producers chose to do the same with their 07s, the 08s were virtually untasteable and it looks like the 2009s may also not fully reflect what eventually goes in the bottle. But summarising the position today: Very high average quality, balance and drinkablity, let us see how well the focus sharpens. (Note: I’ve seen some already bottled wines from F.Esmonin, I’m really surprised (versus his peers) how early he’s chosen to bottle.

The whites seem to me neither fish nor fowl, it’s far from easy to pigeon-hole this vintage.

The 2009 whites don’t have the energetic spine of acidity that 2008 and 2007 before them showed, perhaps because of this they don’t seem to deliver the same impact, but they do not lack for balance and indeed there are many beguilingly, understatedly beautiful wines. The best addresses really do have compelling wines but they are wines that major on delicatesse rather than outright power or intensity, contemplative rather than demonstrative – yet not obviously lacking any concentration – I’m a buyer.

2008

Like 2007, the most broadly successful wines were the whites. They have a gorgeous spine of acidity à la 2007s but with an extra twist of fruit richness and sucrosité which shows in the mid-palate and finish; add some of the rich fruit of 2006 to the acidity of 2007 and you have this vintage – seldom are vintages so easy to pigeon-hole.

Whether you have a preference for 2007 or 2008 is only a matter of personal taste, though moving directly from a 2008 to a 2007 is not always an easy thing as the 2007s might seem to have a hole where the fruit should be. I find a majesty in some of these 2008 wines and ‘on average’ prefer it to 2007, yet the ultimate thrill for me still rests with a few well-chosen 2007s.

Even during the summer months, some of the reds were still to be found in their barrels, producers hoping that they might gain a little weight and padding. The vintage is (just like the whites of 08 and 07) defined by its acidity – there is plenty, in fact many wines are spoiled by too much acidity. A significant proportion of wines are mouth puckering and it’s hard to keep a straight face as you react to them – lemon-like.

At the good addresses it is a different story; one or two of these industrial cleaners slip through, but generally there is more padding and balance, there is also something absolutely compelling – gorgeous clarity and precision. Some will wax lyrical on the definition of terroir etc., etc., I prefer to discuss their energy and the crystalline red and black fruits that are perfectly defined and delineated – I am frankly captivated by these. The patchiness of the vintage really does mean that you need the chance to taste before committing to purchases, but the ones you choose will be absolute winners. For info, the greatest young wine I’ve drunk this year is Ponsot’s 2008 Clos St.Denis TVV – it will offer plenty of competition for the stunning 1999…

A QUICK WORD ABOUT GENERALISATIONS!
I try to remain consistent, so the generalisations above are in-line with the same ones each year. It’s about looking at how the good, better, best producers fared in the vintage – nothing more…

3 responses to “A Vintage Viewpoint (2010, 2009, 2008…)”

  1. Robert Tang

    Wonderful report- Thank you so much- This also makes me run out and find some 08 Ponsot. Any comments about the Guala seal that he is planning on using??

    Also, what are you thoughts on the 2010 vintage in Beaune and Volnay?? Thank you

  2. Hartmut

    Dear Bill,

    thank you for this first yet exhaustive assessment of th 2010s.

    When you say”2010 pinot noir had an average quality between 2006 and 2009, probably closer to 2009″ though, can you make it a bit more sophisticated? :-)
    Seriously, as I have heard people comparing 2009 to 2005 and 2006 (perhaps a tincy bit closer to 2006), where am i supposed to put the 2010s in that regard? Good, fine or fine+?

    Thanks a lot, Hartmut

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