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A Vintage Viewpoint

red and white

2003

This vintage will keep the column inches ticking over for quite some time, probably more of those inches will be devoted to the weather than the wines themselves! The heat wave which bathed Europe during the summer brought about the earliest ‘ban des vendanges’ on record, in fact it was so warm that by 10:00am each day, photosynthesis was just about finished as the vines shut down.

The eventual quality of the wines is likely to be divided into two camps – those that harvested in August and those that waited for September. The early harvesters saw good sugar levels and falling acidities – so took the plunge. The late harvesters point to the fact that (although) there were indeed high sugar levels, the grapes were not physiologically ripe – the pips were green and the tannins in the skins were unripe. I heard a number of instances of grapes being harvested over 14° alcohol.

Also worth pointing out is the fact that many were spraying against Odium at the end of July – in theory you then need to wait around 35 days before harvesting – some of these were harvesting in August! The late harvesters benefited from a little rain which helped the starved vines and according to them, saw not much reduction in the acidity compared to August. Because the grapes were so warm some even resorted to hiring refrigerated wagons to get the grapes down to 12/13ºC to avoid runaway fermentations – I heard a very well know grower talking about one of his Puligny 1er Crus, alcoholic and malolactics done by 30th Sept! He loves the aromatics of his whites, but at the time of writing (Oct.2003) he doesn’t think the wines come from Burgundy! It will be fascinating to see the wines develop and see who made the right decisions.

2002

I’ve been lucky enough to follow the wines through elevage almost every month from December to September, and I’ll stick my neck out here – admittedly not very far – but before the ‘big name’ critics charge you for their verdicts, I’ll say that this is a superb vintage. At this stage the wines are a little more voluptuous than the 1999’s were, but we’ll probably need to see them in bottle to choose between the two – opinion over which is best is evenly split between the growers I’ve talked to.

If there is one disappointment that comes from tasting from the barrels, it is the ‘uniformity’ of the wines – villages to Grand Cru – all are supple, have super, pure concentrated fruit that gives the impression of lots of flesh, good acidity and medium-plus, slightly grained tannin. The balance of red or black fruit seems to be down to the terroir as opposed to the weather – and no cooked notes. The fun of looking for the gem in each cellar has been taken away, only to be replaced by the surprise of finding a less ‘showy’ wine.

Anyone can have a little bad luck, but frankly, people who made bad wine in this vintage should be asking themselves some very tough questions.

What makes this all the more of a surprise is the fact that Germany also seem to have pulled off another fine vintage in 2002, yet I live directly between Beaune and the Mosel and had a terrible rainy September! The gods must have smiled…

Is 2002 a classic vintage? If you mean in terms of austerity or in terms of the average vintage of the last 20 yearts – absolutely not – it’s from another planet. The wines are just so friendly – yet seem packed with all you could wish for – I’ve even been reserving villages Aloxe-Corton!

2001

After the ‘hoopla’ surrounding the 1999 vintage, the generally lighter 2000 vintage and the more classic 2001 seem to have been largely overlooked. All the talk about the 2002’s prior to release of the 2001’s won’t have helped, but there seems to be some level of ‘vintage fatigue’ following exceptional vintages all over the world – or perhaps I should say ‘finance fatigue’ following the extra purchases made in this period. Whatever the reason there seems to be more than a hint of Cinderella about 2001.

Despite having already reserved more than a few 2002’s, I’m expanding my 2001 collection by the month. There’s a compelling purity about the fruit, not a bit cooked, and better structure than the average 2000 (which by the way have been super drinking over the summer), in fact some wines are as structured and concentrated as you could ever wish for. For me, 2001, with the same caveat as always – producer, producer, producer – is a very classy vintage indeed, and the tannins are much finer than most of those from 2002.

Of course the ‘blue-chip’ names long ago allocated their wines, but it will be interesting to see how long they hang around on the shelves, as currently the market could be called ‘soft’ even for ‘blue-chips’, particularly if they bear the 2000 label – apparent whether you talk about DRC or Rousseau. Anyway back to 2001, I expect these to drink rather well right from release but to start tightening up by the end of 2004 – I’ll be drinking most of mine from 2010. It’s mainly Grand Cru 2001’s that I’ve been tasting over the last few weeks, and I’m convinced that anyone who likes the wines enough to have searched out a site like this, will enjoy them just as much as I have – cheers!

A QUICK WORD ABOUT GENERALISATIONS!
Certain wine publications have been roundly slated because they give a bad score to vintages such as 1993 and 1998, vintages that have many Burgundy lovers drooling. How can that be? – simple they look at the probability of someone who knows nothing about the region finding a good bottle. This has to take into account the vast raft of third division producer’s and second division négociant’s wine that ends up in supermarkets and some wine lists. The fact that the finest wines of a generation may have been produced by the top 5% of producers doesn’t really enter the equation. I don’t (by intention) drink the former, I spend my time searching out names of people whose aim is first and foremost – quality. These are the targets of my own generalisations and the targets of the words above.

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