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A Vintage Viewpoint (2011, 2010, 2009…)

red and white

2011

A precocious vintage – only the sixth time on record that harvesting began in August – for the record (ex BIVB) the other vintages were: 1719, 1822, 1893, 2003 and 2007.

Such was the vigour of growth in the vineyards that it was nigh-on impossible to visit some domaines in May and even into June; people were trimming, training, spraying – just about everything except mollycoddling visitors. The last couple of days of June were so hot that they literally roasted some grapes, July cooled a little and the first half of August cooled a little more. There was mix of sun and rain, and at temperatures where you might expect the rot to bloom, but either through meticulous spraying or just a case of downright luck, rare was the parcel that became infested with rot.

Producers of ‘named village’ whites started harvesting generics and villages wines around the 25th August; Côte de Beaune red producers in Pommard and Volnay were only a day or two later, but ripeness varied so there was quite a spread. Many domaines in the Côte de Nuits started around the 1st of September and most were finished by the 10th – last of the late pickers (usually) Mr Laurent Ponsot finished on the 16th of September. It seemed there was no value to waiting; the berry size after on-off rain in July and August was little ‘fuller’ than the average and so, not surprisingly the sugars were correct but modest, many will add a little sugar to add perhaps half to one degree of potential alcohol.

The first two weeks of the harvest were conducted in glorious weather – if anything a little too warm. The best domaines picked early in the morning and put the grapes straight into refrigerated vans, otherwise there was a quickly developing acetic smell in any waste grapes left in the 26-30°C heat – this can be the bane of hot harvests and bring a certain volatility to the wines too – so cool grapes and good housekeeping were the pre-requisites at all the assiduous domaines.

And what of those raw materials? Apart from a few hailed parcels of whites which were hard to triage, this is a vintage of uncommonly clean fruit; perhaps the average ‘waste’ from a well-maintained vineyard was about 5% at the triage table, but more than half of that will have been the removal of ‘over-fulsome’ fat bunches with a questionable ripeness. Only 2005 and maybe 2009 have been cleaner since 2004, but triage was still necessary to remove recalcitrant green grapes from otherwise perfect bunches of pinot noir.

The basic raw materials are there for very good wines, but I urge a note of caution. There were a lot of coccinella stripped from our clean fruit this year – seemingly much more than in 2004 – maybe the relative lack of rot versus 2004 made them easier to remove, but some still made it into the fermentation tanks. Nobody reported the 2004 character until well after bottling – if you are sensitive to that trait it makes sense to keep your options open for now. Who knows, the prices of the 2010s might mean that you’ve less money for the 2011s anyway ;-)

You can find a little more background information here.

2010

I have to say that it was with some concern I started to taste the 2010 whites; you may remember about one week before everyone expected to begin their chardonnay harvest a massive electrical storm cut a swathe through Santenay, stopping just at the border with Chassagne. In less than 36 hours the fruit that had looked so good began to turn brown – early harvests were mandated for many – those bunches with less advanced maturity were not affected. Given the tendency for blowsy, overblown white wines in recent vintages, this may have actually played into the hands of consumers (like me) who crave a baseline of acidity in a Bourgogne Blanc – I’m sure there might have been the balancing hand of Monsieur Chaptal in some cellars, but that will have taken nothing away from the acidity. Of-course this early picking was largely in Santenay and some of the vines in Chassagne that lie on the border with Santenay; the producers of St.Aubin, Puligny and Meursault say they were not affected so we should bear in mind that not everyone picked early!

But what of those whites? Some of the regionals have already been bottled but villages and above will probably be imprisoned in glass between February and April 2010, but from what I’ve tasted so-far – I’m in love! The vintage is defined by fine acidity – not unlike the reds – and with a clarity of focus (fruit or minerality) that is striking; even when you compare 09 and 10 at the very best addresses, the difference is palpable. My benchmark for the top wines is 2007, and broader through the crus 2008; it is just a little too early to call whether one or both of those benchmarks will be replaced by 2010!

The reds. Well let’s get this out of the way; yields were down by about one-third; 20-30hl/ha was the norm – there will be a push to increase prices, but it seems that this may only hold for ‘oversubscribed’ domaines, for others 5-10% price softening could be seen, returning to 2008 levels. Such yields were not particularly due to rot or hail – though there was a bit of both, but rather to the bunches themselves – very often they were smaller than usual with very small berries, these are called millerandes. Appraisal of the reds was complicated; not just because of the higher and higher incidence (every year) of reductive winemaking, but also because some malos were very late – finishing only in September 2011 – wines were often far too gassy to appraise. I think this turned around only towards the end of October.

The low juice, high solids of the millerandes has bestowed an über-classic purity and intensity to the best wines – like the best of 2008, only better. Indeed in profile there are many similarities between the best of 08 and 10; the average 2010 has more balance, reserve and intensity, but there are still mouth-puckering wines out there so you need to exercise caution!

Although I consider the reds a notch below 2005, potentially 20/20 for both colours(?) – It’s a possibility!

2009

2009s, in the main, are selling like hot cakes. Their ‘quality’ was hyped on bulletin boards and by merchants, but frankly this was just what many in Burgundy needed – sales of the less lauded 2007s and 2008s had met a trough in the cycle of global economics – and many remain available.

For the first time, it also seemed like large parcels of wines traditionally reserved for a particular market were earmarked instead for the consumers of south-east Asia. Not surprisingly it was easy to justify higher prices in traditional markets with such a tightening of supply in those same markets.

But how good were the wines?

The whites are typically fuller and rounder than the two vintages that preceded it, but can be very tasty indeed – the knife-edge between overblown and classic seems sharper every year – some producers are choosing to pick at the moment the grapes reach 12.5° and avoid completely anything over 13°. These producers made consistently fine wines that were commendably fresh, other producers delivered something considerably more variable.

From a standpoint of ‘how classic?’ The reds are all over the place. It’s fair to say that they are all eminently drinkable, but they vary from prodigious to ponderous. At the base of the classification (regional and villages wines) there are some lovely bottles that deliver ripe fresh pinot fruit that talk with a Burgundian accent – these are the overachievers of the vintage. Particularly it is worth looking at the reds of Ladoix, Auxey and Monthélie in this vintage – they offer unbridled, undiluted pleasure.

The premier crus and grand crus have more variability for my taste. All are ripe for sure, and generous to a fault, but there are many wines that seem a little ponderous – at least after the virtuoso performances of the best 2008s. Yet some producers sailed serenely through to deliver beautiful, classy bottles of wine that (whether you can afford them or not) probably justify the higher tariffs they achieved in this vintage. For all the hype, I find the average wine from this vintage not to the level of its siblings from 2005, and for a number of producers I would rather fill my cellar with their 2006 and 2008s – at a considerable cash saving – or even wait for 2010s; that said, neither 06, 08 nor 10 can come close the average quality delivered by 2009 – in that respect, the vintage was an unmitigated success.

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…

5 responses to “A Vintage Viewpoint (2011, 2010, 2009…)”

  1. adrian latimer

    Great stuff, thanks. From my few visits in Burgundy this year I suspected the growers found 2008 and 2010 reds more classical to the rather ‘sunny’ 2009 (and they all out and out prefer the whites).

    This ‘gout de coccinelle’ worries me though. I think you pointed out to me the numbers of ladybirds at Camille Giroud the 2nd of Sept, and I have drunk a MSD from Perrot-Minot & C dela Roche from Catagnier, both 2004, which had an overpowering ‘chemical’ smell/taste. It was not fruit nor vegetal/floral, but bitter and reminded me (?) of coal tar soap. Both bottles went down the sink and I retasted the Castagnier 6 months later with same result. Yet many 2004s get very high scores..?

    Have you ever found this taste in other wines? I recently had a NSG I think Perrieres from Regis Forey 2002 and last night an 02 Corton from Roblet-Monnot and both had this strange overlay. Underneath it they had nice fruit and were good wines, but I found them a bit spoilt by the overlaying bitter-chemical taste. I am becoming a bit paranoid, but I’ve drunk many other burgs without any hint of it…

    I hope you are right and some non-megastars soften 2010 prices, but Lamarche told me to buy the 2008s as I would ‘never again see prices this low’ which was depressing…

    thanks
    adrian

  2. brian

    Great, keep up the good work,
    thanks
    brian

    1. Richard Heilman

      Very interesting comments about the “gout de coccinelle” in regard to 2002. I recently opened a bottle of Vougeraie NSG 2002 ‘Petits Noizons’ and found it undrinkable due to the overwhelming aroma that reminded me of the systemic insecticide “Orthenex”. I am sure this is what caused that offensive odor; it is something I had never experienced before, so thanks for the insight.

      It is also interesting to note that I just saw the film “A Year in Burgundy” last night during its premiere here at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. The film is about the 2011 season through the eyes of about 4 estates but no where in the film was there mention of the lady bug problem, even though one of the vigneron’s favorite plow horse was named “Cocinnelle”! (The rot problem was prominently mentioned, however.)

      Again, thanks for the mention of the issues the little coccinelle can create.

  3. ERNST

    I just bought your 2012 book “THE FINEST WINES OF BURGUNDY”
    and I can assure you there is not a better book on Burgundy’s wines in my opinion anyhere past or present!
    Your open and clear cut recommendations for at least well over
    120 excellent producers is found nowhere else in wine books.
    In addition it is up-to-date with all vintages red or white from 2010 to 1990 and older vintages from 1986 to 1959. Your judgements are profound and correct. Photos are excellent.
    Also the description of each vigneron’s holdings, vine- and wine- elevation inclusive methods of vinification including the old ways of winemaking with no destemming is what we all need to know
    today! It is no coincidence that the domaines of ROMANEE-CONTI, LEROY and very few others who do not destemm at all, achieve top
    results in quality, taste and aging of their wines. With great respect for your work and many thanks.
    Ernst

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