Why Big Red Diary?

A Vintage Viewpoint

red and white


Producer, producer, producer. You hear it often enough but it will be crucial in 2004 – at least for the reds – here the vintage was much more challenging and is likely to be anything but homogeneous.

The grapes had excellent acidity and ripeness but triage was the most important part of the process. Hail, rot, oïdium; everything was thrown at the vines and the elimination of the affected grapes was the primary task for any domain with quality in mind.

Many, many pinot vineyards in and around Beaune looked in a very sorry state mid-August, only a dry September could save the day, and somehow it happened yet again – only one day of inconsequential rain! Where the triage was conscientious you should have the opportunity to find excellent wines as both the acidities and the ripeness were very good; where the triage was lacking many manipulations will be required for ‘clean’ wines. There was quite a bit of juice from the grapes this year, though many will not saignée to avoid concentrating bad as much as good.

Although there should be chance to acquire classic and potentially excellent reds I think the vintage might be best remembered for the whites. The Chardonnays shrugged off much of the hail, only the rot needed to be removed. Were it not for this rot removal it could have been a vintage that coupled both volume and quality in white. I’ll enjoy checking their progress.

Assuming that you don’t get the opportunity to taste I’d say that some level of guidance will be needed for the 2004’s. Check the reviewers, it’s not a vintage for blind buying; remember from the harvest reports that hail was patchy – part of Clos Vougeot was affected, part not – it was much the same up and down the Côtes.


For me, the 2003 vintage is 2002 on steroids, it is a 110% vintage. Despite this, 2003 should also be a very successful vintage for producer and consumer alike. There is only one potential fly in the ointment – pricing – the yields were often savage. Fortunately for us, price increases may not spoil the party; the reason is that the best wines are at the lower end of the scale – the regionals, the Hautes Côtes and the villages – here an extra 20% doesn’t usually break the bank. Around 80% of the region’s production is at this end of the scale and whilst it’s always nice to have a barrel of Chambertin in the cellar, this is not how most domaines pay their bills.

The effect of the summer heat was to produce exceptional ripeness and, in a way, compress the hierarchy of the crus – by that I mean that (in general) the lower wines are much better than normal and the 1er and grand crus don’t show such large jumps in quality – in fact some are a little over-ripe. This over-ripe character is particularly obvious with the whites; top 1er crus and GC’s are often opulent and ‘new-worldy’ – fun, but I think short-term wines. The Corton-Charlemagnes seem much more classic and interesting, but will be more expensive that the better previous vintages.

Red & white cuvées with over 15% potential alcohol were to be found in most cellars. Somehow these wines still show balance – high stilettos and big ‘up-top’ – they remain upright but this balancing act looks precarious. Certainly a fun night out (or in!), but elegant they are not.

At the top-end there are always exceptions and I hope to be buying several of them, but most of my budget will go on the exceptional quality ‘everyday wines’. I think the volume of my purchases will be similar to most vintages, but probably not the value…


Virtually without exception, this was a vintage that I really enjoyed when tasting from barrel. I know that Burghound doesn’t find them quite as terrior-specific as the 2001’s (which I haven’t stopped buying) but they are very much more consistent than that vintage, and I could taste real differences between the various vineyards. To top everything off, the wines were/are wrapped in a lovely, lush package – I was won over and my forward purchases confirm this! Of course the real problem in a vintage like 2002 is how long you can keep your hands off them. If I have had one area of disappointment for the bottled wines tasted to-date, it comes from a surprising area – Bourgogne Rouge – I expected much more, but then it’s a small sample so-far.

I know that many a US consumer has been disadvantaged by exchange rates and have seen a worrisome increase in price. The wines released in Europe (to-date) show that the increases should be due only to exchange rates – except where wine merchants settling divorce cases! – local prices for me vs 2001 are constant to +5%. I expect some of the later releases might add to that, but do I need them anyway in 2002? 🙂

Where I think there is less chance for ‘terroir’ dispute is when we look at the whites. Uniformly clean, interesting, tasty and most important – consistent! Unlike the reds, they are not packaged in a quite so lush a way but show super aromatics. Also unlike the regional reds tasted so-far, I think that the regional whites show a really excellent quality/value relationship. I think that red or white, you will have to go well outside your normal purchasing comfort-zones to get burnt with 2002’s – that, of course, excepts any stylistic preferences that you may have!

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?

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