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A Vintage Viewpoint

red and white

2008

Well the worry is over and quite a number of vignerons can feel happy. Those that do, have two things to thank: tireless vineyard work (spraying, spraying and spraying again against rot) and the sunshine weather of the last two weeks of September. Equivalent cold and wet conditions despite the largely latent threat from rot would have all-but written off the vintage thirty years ago. Modern-day approaches coupled to old-fashioned hard work have paved the way to potentially a few great wines and a lot of very, very good wines. Those that worked less hard will struggle to make so-la-la wines from rot-infected bunches. Many committed growers harvested a full 110 days after flowering.

The whites continue their super run, their thicker skins less affected by rot were easily triaged. They will start with a 2004-style bright acidity (that I loved) though maybe a little more depth than that vintage. Sadly I find I’m more interested in the producers’ approaches to the p.ox; it seems that with no clear way forward, many will simply increase their additions of sulfur – as is obviously the case for quite a number of 2006’s – pass the decanter…

Reds, despite the cold and the rain seem to have produced sufficient sugar that idealistic growers were not fully challenged with a broad need for chaptalisation, the better-placed sites easily achieved 13°. As for phenolics, this was less clear at the time of harvest but there were no obvious causes for concern. Characteristic was the high malic acid content (4-7 grams/liter versus an average of 3-5g/l) with cuvées initially showing low pH’s (high acidity) of 2.90-3.20. Despite losing some of this acidity during the malolactic fermentations, the finished wines may still show a 1996 style acidity. On average I felt the grapes were not quite so concentrated and had thinner, more fragile skins than those from 2005 – similar to 2006 – but many a site (mainly Côte de Nuits) had clusters of tiny (millerandes), clean, concentrated berries that herald concentration if not volume, but will be the basis of the potentially great wines of my expectation. So a mix of profound and ‘lite’ from 2008.

2007

Relatively early during the maturation phase a vigneron with feet in both red and white camps told me; “2007 whites will be the best in the last 10 years”. Now given the high average quality of those last 10 years that’s a bold statement. In the last year I have consistently tasted less than 60, so will not be so bold in my predictions, but what I have tasted convinces me that there is a high overall quality. I don’t really see the vintage (yet) as a significant standout versus good wines from 2004-2006 but its character is a little less rich than the 2006’s but with a more consistently impressive spine of acidity – that suits me fine and would prompt me to selectively buy.

At harvest time many growers were comparing the reds to (amongst others) 1995 – frankly that wasn’t a great call! From very early days the wines surprised everyone with their lovely ‘come hither’ red fruits. Given the trials, tribulations and significant triage that they required, they took on their colour very well and have generally made very, very tasty wines. They are soft, sensual and dare I use the word – hedonistic! Before you get carried away and stop reading, it is also important that I point out that I see NO GREAT WINES in 2007! It is a vintage that as near as possible, I will characterise as 2000+, and everyone who has 2000 in the cellar will know how tasty they can be. The wines show terroir differences and are ripe, seductive and show fruit that is fresher and more intense than the referenced 2000’s – I see them being super early and mid-term (less than 20 years?) drinkers. They don’t have the depth of 2005 or typically 2006 – someone reminds me at this point that the same was said of the 1985’s and even 1962’s! Whilst the grandest appellations will produce wonderfully generous wines, from a value perspective they will not be worth a higher price than their 2006 and 2005 equivalents which tower above them on an absolute quality scale. I see no place for a price premium over 2006 from these reds. As a buying strategy I will chase my normal somewhat varied mix of cuvées perhaps at a rate of about 65% (quantity) relative to 2006, and of-course stick with my normal mixed cases from usual suppliers.

2006

Last year I nailed my colours to the mast on the quality of the reds and see no reason to change my conclusions. Certainly many are a step-change in quality versus the remarkable 2005’s, but equally, many wines from Nuits and further north exceed the complexity and quality of what was bottled from 2002 and even grab at the coat-tails of their equivalents from 2005. The colours are certainly paler than those of the 05’s but as ever, colour is a poor pointer to the experience in the glass. Just a few have become tight – early, just like those 2005’s – I wonder, is that a vintage thing or is it because more and more people are working in a reductive way? (rhetorical question) Like 1972 after 1971 and 1991 after 1990, this vintage will forever live in the shadow of the vintage that preceded it, but the wines will offer a high-quality experience for the next 30 years+

The whites are polarised.

Whenever I hear someone describing a white burgundy as ‘rich’ I think of it as a euphemism for ‘where’s the acidity?’. Clearly we are not talking ‘rich’ in 2003 terms, but whether it’s Chablis or Chassagne a significant proportion of 2006 whites are concentrated but do not slide across the palate entirely effortlessly – others are also concentrated but deliver a really fine white burgundy experience. In some cases, waiting only one extra day to pick tipped the balance to ‘rich’. If this sort of thing makes or breaks a wine for you, then taste before you buy, if it doesn’t then you will have no problems. I taste everything I buy first, but still buy only sparingly due to potential p.ox issues – although it’s not a lot of fun when pulling the cork, those producers that have increased their sulfur instill in me an extra (but unproven) edge of confidence. I have seen one notable ‘failure’ in 2006 – Domaine Leflaive. Okay ‘failure’ is a harsh word, but their wines (I haven’t tasted Montrachet, Chevalier or Bâtard), good as they are, are disappointing versus their price and the normal standards that they set. Only their Puligny Pucelles displays the anticipated quality – surprising given that Pierre Morey’s wines are so good!

5 responses to “A Vintage Viewpoint”

  1. Jose

    Bill,
    I am relatively new to the world of wine and have developed a passion for the wines of the cote d’or, especially the reds. I greatly enjoy reading your articles and find them very instructive.I was hoping to get some wine buying tips from you.You mentioned above that you would buy your usual mix of cuvees and mixed cases- would you mind elaborating on this and explaining what your approach to wine buying is? Also, do you buy en primeur? Many thanks and I look forward to the next issue!

  2. Jose

    Thank you, Bill. That is extremely helpful!

  3. Jack

    Where 2006 was a relatively easy year, 2007 and 2008 were liable to more disseases and losses. After wordking hard in the vineyards (taking down the less usefull branches) a severe “tri” was mostly necessary. The producers of red wines who did this got to a very nice, allbeit, small yield in the end. Examples in yhe Côte de Nuits are to be found at Forey in Vose Romanée and Fellettig in Chambolle Musigny. For the Côte de Beaune I would recommend Domaine Lucien Jacob for their beautifully balanced, fruity Savigny les Beaune and Beaune 1er cru’s.

    The whites 2007 show less acidity then 2006 and are in 99% of the cases to be drunk before the 2006. My experiences are based on cask and bottle sapmples of Maroslavac Léger (Puligny Montrachet) end Morey-Coffinet(Chassagne Montrachet). Allthough the style of terroir and wine making is totaly different the wines show a readyness to be drunk young; the smiles of juicy fruit are opulent and go on throughout the taste.

    Af for 2008: I will taste the wines coming march and june.

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

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