A Vintage Viewpoint…(updated)

Update 19.12.2012(18.12.2012)billn

red and white

As I noted in the ‘summer’ report, this overview would end up in it’s usual place in the autumn report- once published – so here we are. I’ve not felt the need to revisit the text of the 2012 and 2010 vintage, but have looked again at the text for 2011. Largely it is unchanged, but it bears the emphasis on a couple of points, based on the experience of well over one hundred 2011s in the last 4-5 weeks, the majority of them red.


2012, it will certainly be remembered.

If the four horsemen of the apocalypse had been seen riding ahead of the first seven plagues of Egypt, the vignerons of the Côte de Beaune would not have been glummer. Spring frosts, heavy rain during flowering and more rain mixed with hail-storms that on one-hand encouraged disease, and on the other, battered fruit and (even!) branch mercilessly. Volnay and Pommard were worst hit but Meursault, Savigny and Beaune and Puligny were not far behind – many plots were judged as ‘unfit’ for picking at vintage time.

There is no rule of thumb, but it’s clear that many more treatments needed to be made in the vines than an ‘average’ year – but often-as-not those treatments were washed away within hours by the next weather-front. It was far from uncommon that some organic-certified vignerons eventually chose to spray synthetic and systemic treatments to try to protect their grapes. Older vignerons pointed to 1993 as ‘almost as bad’ in terms of rain, but most were left scratching their heads for comparable vintages with such trials and tribulations – what they were all clear about was that 20 years ago, for most domains there would have been no vintage. The vintage was clearly saved by the fine weather of late-July and August – though still with occasional hail-storms.

Life was generally ‘easier’ in the Côte de Nuits. A little less mid-season rain and much less hail than their Côte de Beaune neighbours, though with a similar millerande fruit from uneven flowering. Although most of the picking was done 20-27th September, as usual, Laurent Ponsot was pretty much the last of the late pickers; 1st-8th October – it rained on the 9th!

Whilst the memories remain raw, it’s not always easy to inject a positive note in those cuveries that witnessed yields of only 20 or 30% of a typical year – there will be some serious financial implications down the road – yet it was clear during the harvest triage, that those grapes which made it into the tanks, were of ‘above average’ quality. Not perhaps the acidity of 2008/2010 but with more extract and concentration than most 2008s and probably all 2011s. The reds will be deeply coloured and the whites seem to have real depth too.

It seems we have a low yielding but very good quality vintage in the making – as usual, it will be great to follow the progress!

My harvest ‘summary‘.


You may remember what a precocious vintage this was – only the sixth time on record that harvesting began in August.

You may also remember that despite a growing season that rewarded attention to detail and timely treatments. The ensuing raw materials were ‘uncommonly clean’, such that their triage largely focused on the removal of unripe bunches, rather than furry, diseased fruit. It is this occasional question of ripeness coupled to grapes that were sometimes swollen by pre-harvest rains that delivered wines with only modest pre-fermentation sugar levels – many reds will have been augmented with sugar even to reach 12.5% alcohol.

It was a similar story for the whites; only a few parcels had, difficult to triage, hail damage. Those whites seem to have come around very nicely – particularly at those addresses whose grapes were picked a little earlier than the average. There is not the rapier-like acidity of 2007 / 2008 / 2010, there is a more supple character than those vintages, but there is still more freshness than you will find in the duo of 2006 / 2009. At your favourite addresses you will find flavour, verve and interest – it is a very good vintage as opposed to very fine.

These clean starting materials have delivered red wines which are beautiful middleweights, shaded to red fruits, with modest but quite sufficient acidity. I consider them something of a hypothetical cross between 2002 and 2007 in terms of their friendliness from barrel and generally modest (but more than 2007) structure. There are really achingly pretty wines to be tasted from barrel, wines of pure pleasure, if admittedly not that much minerality despite a good distinction between vineyards – it is simply not a vintage where you would use the term ‘profound’ – but we have enough of those in cellar already. Here is something to drink.

But you should also remember a note of caution I raised at vintage time re Coccinella. Perhaps (post-2004) sensitized to the pyrazines, I can confirm their existence in multiple cellars where I tasted in Nov/Dec – but rarely did every cuvée show it – yet almost 50% of all reds (I tasted) now show it to some degree. I have a vastly different awareness to this issue now, versus when I tasted 04s in 05, but I still feel that the taint is more obvious now that it was then – a tainted perception perhaps. My advice remains very simple:

If you don’t understand the fuss about pyrazines and thought the 2004 reds ‘okay’, 2011 will reward you with much better wines – indeed lovely wines – so buy from your usual addresses without worry. If you have issues with pyrazines, it is not a question of waiting, rather you simply cannot afford to buy these wines based on the current presentation of the vintage. The extent of ‘infection’ in 2004 was not apparent until at least 6 months after bottling – to avoid it, you need to ‘wait and see’ and I would say that you need to cross your fingers! From past precedent, en-primeur barrel samples will overwhelmingly not show the issue due to the ‘scalping’ effect of young oak – and if they do, there are two possible reasons – 1. It’s worse than last time, or 2. We (the sensitive ones) are all now tainted…

My harvest summary.


What I said this time last year:

Although I consider the reds a notch below 2005, potentially 20/20 for both colours(?) – It’s a possibility!

One year down the line, I see no reason to back-track.

I see but one minor blemish; there are some good producers, who specialize in whites, who have made irregular red wines (a bit too much spiky acidity) at the generic level – though let’s be clear, 2009 is THE vintage for buying and drinking generics 😉 Yet overall, this is a magnificent vintage, in both colours at good addresses.

For coupling, clarity, depth, intensity and freshness, this vintage seems to tick all the boxes – bravo!

(Short and sweet!)

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?

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