2018 Chablis – What a surprise!

Update 18.2.2020(17.2.2020)billn

Côte de Bouguerots, January 2020Our basic starting point for surprise is the harvest in 2018; growers suggest only days before they harvested, that they thought that there would be ‘not much juice.’ If we are comparing to 2017 where some domaines pressed hard and actually didn’t get much juice, that might be fair – but even the untrained eye (mine!) could see walls of fruit in the vines at harvest-time.

With very minor exceptions, yields spiked to far more than the appellations allow. Even ‘great’ vignerons of highly allocated wines reported average yields of 85 hl/ha. The rules are, however, clear; all that is above the allowed yield plus a later agreed VCI goes to the distillery. Later is the operative word here, meaning that domaines began by vinifying all that they could – engaging in a game of ‘Tetris‘ by constantly moving tanks or their contents, trying to find sufficient space for all the juice.

The rules concerning yields are well-intentioned – and there for a reason. It’s fair to say, however, that the rules never envisaged a vintage such as 2018. Pity the poor growers with miserly production in 2016 and 2017 that could already see that they’d lost 40%, or more, of their 2019 crop, whilst arranging the collection of their ‘over-production‘ from 2018 to send to the distillery.

Long before the wines were fermenting I saw writers conjecturing that the vintage must be ‘dilute as the yields were so high.’ I waited for my January tastings with fascination – how would 40 hl/ha and 100 hl/ha compare to each other with perfectly ripe fruit and no obviously rain-gorged grapes? Unlike the red varieties of Burgundy, chardonnay has a reputation of being quite elastic when it comes to yields. The more than interesting truth would be found in the tasting.

To the point – all about 2018 Chablis!

  • The style of Chablis 2018 largely mirrors the 2018 whites of the Côte de Beaune; remarkably approachable, fleshy, sometimes rich, but usually they are balanced and delicious wines, often quite energetic with really great finishing persistence.
  • There is plenty of wine and those wines are tasty and accessible – from this perspective, it is a very commercial vintage.
  • There are fewer ‘great wines’ in 2018 versus 2017/2016 and certainly fewer than in 2014 & 2012.
  • It is a vintage that is less classically incisive Chablis – there is minerality, but on average, less. There is salinity – but on average much less. The salinity more a factor ‘by domaine’ than lower across the board.
  • It goes without saying that ‘less classic’ is a highly variable term that significantly depends on ‘which producer’ or sometimes ‘which climat’ so you should consult the individual reports for that.
  • I would estimate that when tasting blind – I would still guess that the wine came from Chablis about half the time.
  • Concentration? All seems fine, indeed with the more-or-less richness of the vintage, you will generally have the impression of concentration, despite yields that (probably often) spiked above 100 hl/ha!
  • But shouldn’t we better define concentration? In a Chablis context, it’s the crux of this vintage, so yes we should:
    Despite walls of fruit at harvest-time (see below), the grapes were small, golden and thick-skinned – these were not grapes artificially engorged by a deluge of rain a few days before the harvest.* On one hand, the wines are concentrated and even, sometimes, rich, but on the other hand, many domaines have a reduced impression of minerality and many more lack salinity. Perhaps the volume of the crop has influenced – diluted – those terroir characteristics, more than it has the overt fruit and weight of fruit flavour.
  • In terms of easy fruit and accessibility, you can compare the 2018s to the 2015s – with more clarity/purity of fruit and a little less spice than was present in 2015. And if we are discussing 2015 it’s also worth pointing out that 2015 also seemed less mineral, less Chablis, around bottling time – but today the minerality in the 2015s is more obvious – it has risen from the depths of these wines. The same will undoubtedly be the case for 2018 – it’s just a question of how many people will notice, given that such a large percentage of Chablis is drunk within 2 years of bottling.
  • In terms of the style of fruit, 2018 is very much a citrus-fruit vintage though there are certainly some more exotic wines. Often agrume, occasionally lime, many of the best having a citrus-skin, zesty impression..
  • Petit Chablis is a very easy vintage, without austerity – it’s very tasty wine, though you have to look harder than in other vintages for ‘great PC!’ PC is an area where, historically the degrees are lower – as one producer said to me this year “The last of the Petit Chablis came in at 13° – amazing!
  • In the 1er crus, and for the second vintage in a row, it is a ‘Montmains Vintage!’ Montmains, say the producers, is a cooler area, so it is perhaps for this reason that after tasting richer (than usual) Chablis the first sip of a 1er cru Montmains is so wide, fresh and mineral – wistful Chablis – even blind.
  • For the grand crus, I still love Preuses in 2018, but I’ll give the nod to the much rarer Grenouilles – in the warmer vintages it seems to show more of its structure, its architecture – the Chablis Grand Cru nature of this wine seems more overt in a hot vintage.
  • As each of the previous vintages, DIAM and DIAM-style seals are on the increase – for the first time in 2018 La Chablisienne will be 100% DIAM. This can only be good news for the consumer of Chablis who occasionally (or more often) likes to wait for some maturity in their bottles.
  • *There actually was rain in August – a storm that delivered up to 23mm – not an inconsiderable amount. Having fallen around the 9th August, it certainly helped where there was some blockage of maturity but it was also sufficiently distant from the harvest to have minimal impact on the volume of juice produced – certainly considering that it remained hot up until the harvest, 3-plus weeks later.

There is such a diversity of styles in 2018 that it’s better to see the individual reports for the domaines than for me to attempt listing them all. The ‘cognoscenti‘ will once again prefer their 2014s and 2012s, perhaps falling back on 2016s and 2017s while waiting for those vintages to mature.

A Market Perspective:

An interesting comparison:

In 2018 both Chablis and the Côte d’Or made (more than) plenty of white wine. In 2019, both regions made much less. Given the higher 2018 production volumes, the bulk market prices softened in Chablis but the prices stayed steady in the Côte d’Or.

In 2019 the bulk market prices in Chablis held steady – in the Côte d’Or they jumped again. An example of the latter is the price of a barrel of Meursault; 2018 price about €4,500, in 2019 the prices began between €5-6,000 with some later sales at over €7,000 per barrel. Let me put that into context for you; this means that the 2019 bulk price for villages Meursault is 25% higher than it is for Chablis Grand Cru! And, yes, I did take into account the difference between a Burgundian piece and a Chablisienne feuillette! Only a handful of vintages ago, a villages Meursault in bulk was priced, roughly, like a Chablis 1er Cru. I know that they are not the same, but I think that I need say no more…

Because everyone loves lists:

Of-course the relative position of respective domaines in their elevage has an effect on how brilliantly – or not – their wines show. In January, from 64 domaines visited and over 650 wines tasted (sorry to Fabien Moreau – it should have been 65 domaines – next time!) but here are my top 11 domaines – roughly alphabetically:

Domaines Jean-Claude & Romain Bessin
Domaine Château Béru
Domaine Samuel Billaud
Domaine Vincent Dauvissat
Domaine William Fèvre
Domaine Garnier et Fils
Domaine Roland Lavantureux
Domaine Pattes-Loups
Maison Patrick Puize
Domaine Pinson
Domaine François Raveneau

There were many great wines – though certainly less than in 2017. Of all the wines that I tasted, 2 stood out for their extra-level of brilliance; it’s probably of no surprise to you that William Fèvre’s Les Clos was one, but the other came from left-field – Château Béru’s Chablis Montserre – wow! – but that one wasn’t yet bottled.

NB – of-course this list is for the white wines of Chablis – but keep an eye out for Bourgogne Epineuil and Irancy from 2018 – a great vintage for the reds of the Auxerrois!

And wines to drink now?

Of-course, if you have 2008-2010 in your cellar, then the 08s and 09s are largely ready and you can wait a little longer for the 2010s but they already taste great. The 11s have (~70%) never been my favourite because so many have an accent of asparagus – which can be linked to pyrazines – but if you have good ones (your mileage will certainly vary) then it’s no shame to start drinking them. And from the 2012-2017 vintages that I’ve reviewed in Burgundy Report, I’m drinking the 2013s and 2015s with great joy – unlike many 2015 reds, the wines of Chablis have not tightened. Certain 2012s taste great too though I’m largely waiting for those – the same with 2014 and 2016. You may already have noted that I can’t keep my hands off the already bottled 2017s!

Enjoy if you have any or all of those!

A little 2018 Vintage Background:

Valmur 06 September 2018
Chablis Grand Cru Valmur – 06 September 2018

Annual Production Volumes
Chablis Production 2018
*VCI of the previous year claimed to fill crop deficits – more info here. Figures courtesy the BIVB, Chablis.

The previous December to February period was one of the driest since 1945, but this year it was practically the reverse, with ~1.7 times the normal amount of rain. Although March was a cloudy month with quite a lot of rain and a second-half that was much colder, the month still averaged 2-3°C higher than average – 24°C on the last day of the month certainly contributed to that! Overall the first quarter of 2018 delivered 1.5-2.0 times the usual amount of rain for the region.

In April, the weather warmed again; for a couple of days an amazing 29°C was noted in Chablis – 20+21 April. Many vines were showing 4-5 leaves by the end of this month. In May, the weather remained ‘unstable’ with multiple heavy rainfalls – the storms continuing into June. There was a small worry about frost when temperatures at the start of May ranged from -0.5 to -2.0°C – fortunately, nothing seemed damaged – aspersion (water-spray) was used in many places. In the first days of May, the vines were already showing 6-8 leaves. Once-more invoking 1945, June 2018 was the warmest since that vintage and it was already clear to many at the flowering – there were going to be a lot of bunches! Flowering began in some places 25 May and was in full-swing practically everywhere by the 30th – in perfect weather. Seldom do all the flowers get converted to grapes, but 2018 was one such vintage.

July delivered wall-to-wall sunshine with an average temperature of 3-4°C above average. August was much the same, save for the storm that delivered plenty of rain for the vines of Chablis on Thursday the 9th. The highest temperature of the month was 38.4°C. The first ripe grapes were noted around the 25th August, harvesting mainly starting at the end of the month or the first days of September – roughly in-line with 2017.

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