A Vintage Viewpoint (2009, 2008, 2007…)

Update 13.12.2009(1.12.2009)billn

red and white


There’s a bit of a vintage sequence going on: ’59 – high-quality and still quite masculine, ’69 – high quality though gently fading, ’79 – high quality but largely overlooked after ’78, ’89 – quite some high quality and not yet drinking in many cases, ’99 – top-drawer and at least 10 years from drinking, ’09 – well it’s a bit early to be definitive but clearly it will be splendid!

2009 provided an embarrassment of natural riches, whether it was the cherries, the apples or the walnuts in your garden, or let’s not forget, the grapes. A cold, ‘cleansing’ winter gave way to a calm, orderly spring – flowering was not to be upset by inclement weather. Early summer was far from a scorcher, but chemical treatments were leisurely as there was no major threat from rot. Hail ripped through the côtes in May and June, but the only real loss was a part of Morey and across the road into Gevrey Combottes – this was mid-May, so those vines had time to recover but with a significant loss of yield. July interspersed a lot of rain days with hot days, raising concerns about rot and oïdium, but those who treated conscientiously, had nothing more than their own concern to contend with.

August and September were characterised by bright days and generally cooler nights, rain was typically light until a couple of weeks before harvest when there were heavier downpours for a few days. Despite many a vigneron suggesting the rain was ‘needed for the vines’ there was certainly a large swelling of grapes in many vineyards. Still the weather returned to dry and sunny and September once more benefited from the proverbial north wind – those grapes that had put in weight did shrink a little due to this. A significant quantity of the harvest was brought in before more rain arrived – that later rain was inconsequential for quality if rather inconvenient under-foot!

Taking 2005 as our benchmark, pinot noir grape quality was less consistent in 2009; some vineyards actually offered better fruit in 2009, some less good – either through swollen berries or through rot or oïdium – but note that, on average, the triage was significantly lower and easier than 2006-2008 vintages. Picking dates were not as knife-edge critical for chardonnay as was the case in 2006, but timing was still important in 2009 as the sugars rose very quickly! I noted that I did not stick to the triage table (like a post-it) in 09 as much as I did in 05 – the grapes were often not quite so concentrated – but what they do have seems to be extracting very easily and quickly; colours, aromas etc., etc.. I’m really looking forward to following their evolution.

Taking what I said four years ago about the 05s: “The question is not ‘good or bad?’, the question is ‘how good?” I can use that same text for 2009…


Well, what are people going to make of this?

The reds are mainly the problem – well not the wines themselves actually, rather the ability to ‘score’ them in the ‘traditional’ October-November period that is favoured by ‘critics’ – malolactic fermentations were so late on many reds as to make utterances on individual wines effectively meaningless. So let’s come back to the reds later and discuss what may be the real stars, the whites.

The Whites: The malos on whites were typically not so protracted as with the reds, most were finished by July, though some were also done in January. No problems tasting the wines here.

The best whites from 2006 had a slight tropical-fruit lift and sweetness, yet retained fine acidic balance that cut through the core, unctuous flavours to savour. The best whites from 2007 had a gushing waterfall of mouth-watering acidity coupled to an immense, mineral-laden concentration, wines of impact. Both super, but chalk and cheese expressions of white burgundy. What would happen if you made a hypothetical blend? I would say than in many cases you would get the 2008 vintage.

I tend to taste most of my whites in January-February – particularly Chablis – so this is perhaps a little too early to be getting carried away with myself, so I will necessarily keep this paragraph short, but the bottom-line on whites I’ve tasted so-far is – wow!

Back to reds: I would contend that even the normal 90-94pts scoring approach favoured by some critics – and that is a very wide range indeed – will for many wines need to be further widened and, hence, meaningless as a ‘score’. Some wines were quite ready for bottling in November though, so there’s no hard and fast rule at play here, particularly when compared to wines that have barely finished malolactic fermentation in the same cellar!

That’s enough about the perils of trying to assess and score wine on a certain date, but I can certainly tell you about the character of the wines. The whole vintage is built on its acidity, the wines are bright and can be a little lean (there is still opportunity to put on weight before bottling), but the fruit can be more than wonderful – dark-red, indeed approaching black in some villages and superbly pure. It was potentially the worst year for mildew in the last 50, growers had to spray and spray again to keep on top of things, and given that only two weeks of good weather pre-harvest enabled certain parcels even to produce wine, the average weather pattern across the Côtes was not one to endow the wines with benchmark depth, yet brightness, focus and purity are the words which will keep crossing your mind as you taste and discuss with producers.

As is unfortunately usual, at least if you are a fan of Pommard and Volnay, that the wines steadily improve in quality as you head north and into the Côte de Nuits, here the vineyards were less challenged, the resulting grapes were cleaner and so, some exceptional wines can be found. Even in the Côte de Nuits though, the vintage character remains – brightness, focus and purity – 3 words for a vintage.

Comparison to other vintages? I guess an obvious handle (crutch?!) for an ‘equivalent’ vintage would be 1996, at least in terms of acidity. Versus recent vintages these 08s seem much more ‘serious’ wines than the friendly-faced 2007s, perhaps with certain peaks that may surpass even those in 2006. There are certainly quite a number of wines with the potential to astound, but rather like 1996, I don’t expect them to start unlocking those treasures before their 20th anniversary.

Drinking. Where this vintage clearly mirrors 1996 is that a certain amount of youthful fat will make these very interesting bottles to drink young, but drinking in adolescence will be a sport only for masochists, oops, sorry, I meant enthusiasts! I would suggest drinking at 1-3 years and then post 15…


Best First – The Whites
This time last year, I did my best to put some limits on my enthusiasm for the vintage, and in-part that was borne out by some bottles at home. But my tastings generally bore out that initial enthusiasm – some monumental wines were made in 2007.

The character of the best is like white-water rafting in your mouth – the rush of acidity sweeping you along – and coupled to superbly mineral concentration, I really often thought to myself, wow! That wines from (traditionally) my least favourite ‘great village’, Meursault, would smite me so, and that I would buy for the first time in my life, Meursault Charmes, must say something about the vintage. Yet it is not all plain sailing with 07 whites, any element of overcropping/lacking concentration and the acidity will punish you, and there is also a sherbet aspect to the aromas from some wines. Overall though, anything from a good producer will be a worthwhile experience.

The Reds: They are soft, they are balanced, they are ‘giving’. The 2007s are generally easy wines. There is an element of macquillage (make-up) to the sweet red fruit, but it successfully covers up any major blemishes.

There is often a negative connotation to the term restaurant wines, I’m not sure why – I want to drink something in a restaurant, not fight with it. This is a restaurant vintage in the very best sense of that description – seemingly well balanced despite generally low acidity, open for business and hiding very little. My personal short-hand is 2000 but with better fruit.

It’s fair to note that I’ve had a few disappointing wines from Chambolle at home, but in each case it has been the oak-treatment that has been at odds with the soft character of the underlying wine. That I suspect these wines will never close down really hard, hopefully means that there will be a big improvement by their 3rd birthday as that oak wanes. Just as wines from 2000 can offer such pleasure now, this is the 2000 for the next 10++ years, and a slightly finer character than 2000 too.

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…

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

There are 4 responses to “A Vintage Viewpoint (2009, 2008, 2007…)”

  1. Etienne de Montillle1st December 2009 at 12:33 pmPermalinkReply

    Hi Bill,

    Curious to better understand your comments on Volnay and Pommard. In terms of quality (hail strom discounted), over 5 vintages in reds, I would say roughly that
    CN has the edge over CB 2 times (2000 /2001 /2006 / 2008 ?)
    CB has the edge over CN 1 time (1999 / 2007 )
    CB equals CN 2 times (2002 / 2003 / 2004 / 2005 / 2008 ? )

    As for 2008 vintage, don’t you think that it would be fair to disctinguish Volnay (hail) and pommard that are just delicious and had nothing to envy to CN

    when are you next in Burgundy ?
    would be good to see you
    best Etienne

    • billn1st December 2009 at 12:40 pmPermalinkReply

      Hi Etienne,
      My comment comes as a lover of both Pommard and Volnay, and is based on my own triage experiences since 2004 – those Côte de Nuits guys almost always seem to get the better looking (less triage needed) grapes. Not the case in 2005 and 2009 of-course.

      So less Volnay & Pommard to go-round (after triage) in most years, and ‘easier’ to make good wines in the CdN, so maybe I should have said

      the average wines steadily improve in quality as you head north and into the Côte de Nuits

      Cheers, Bill

  2. David Bywater1st December 2009 at 8:40 pmPermalinkReply

    A very fair assessment in my opinion – I think the 2008s will surprise a few. To me similar to how the 2006s tasted – quite austere but with a certain glint in their eye.

    I agree with Etienne’s comments on the CDB v CDB – top Pommard is seldom surpassed even in the higher echelons of the CDN!!!

  3. Mark Gough1st December 2009 at 10:41 pmPermalinkReply

    Bill, big thanks for this, don’t believe I’ve ever disagreed much with your sage observations on matters a la borgougne but, based on my amateur grafting, during the CDN 08 & CB 09 vendanges, totally agree with David B’s comments entirely.

    I always hoped cum thought the 2008’s might surprise, not least the reds – but your description of the whites ‘excites’ my acidity loving taste buds just a bit (and then some !!).

    Can’t wait to try some of these.

    Re 2009 you are totally spot on with what I saw in my Pernand / Corton ‘bubble’ in Sept – and we finished just before the rains came ! But, having been flamed on a certain UK wine forum (from folk who have never got their hands etc dirty in a vineyard ?) for simply reporting what I saw I’m not going to say anything else except to wait for the wine to be in bottle and hopefully more than speak for itself 😉

    Etienne, really look forward to seing you I hope at the London January 2008 tastings – most probably at Loeb’s tasting ?

  4. David Bennett14th December 2009 at 4:04 pmPermalinkReply


    Great report as always and a treat to get the 3 vintage comparison. things “down sarf” on the Macconnais/Challonais border are often different to the “oop narth” and we find that the 09s are eagerly awaited, (reds>whites) the 08s are almost all instantly forgettable in whites and ultimately thiner in the reds with 07 being a cracker for whites and a little patience required for the reds to come around – I’ve found 07 reds to be a little lacking so far…obvious exceptions of course with Fichet and Guillot Broux.

    The pouillys, Vergissions, Solutres, and St verans are stunning in 07 veering toward a less riper style than 06. I suspect the 09s to be lush again with 08s being the mineral vintage but I’ve not tasted enough to make a really sound judgement yet….will keep you posted!

    Ps we are around over the new year – ur very welcome!

    • billn14th December 2009 at 5:10 pmPermalinkReply

      A big thanks for that David, I rarely get so far south 😉

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