2015 White Burgundy

Update 23.11.2016(21.11.2016)billn


The white harvest in 2015 was, overall, just a little higher than the 5-year average of the vintages 2011-2015 – though there are many low-yielding vintages included in those 5 years – so for that reason, this actually remains a modest volume vintage. And let’s not forget the frost of 2016 – the 5-year average from 2012-2016 will sink even lower:

Chablis: +8% vs the 5-year average
Hautes + Côtes de Beaune Blanc: +13% vs the 5-year average
Bouzeron + Côtes Chalonnaise Blanc: +10% vs the 5-year average
Mâconnais Blanc: +7% vs the 5-year average

For an in-depth overview of the 2015 vintage, I refer you to the report that I made last year.

So, let’s get straight to point shall we?

After having the 2015 grapes in my hand at harvest, and thinking of the warmth of 2015, I had some fear that this may turn out to be something like 2005 – a vintage that is powerful, but brutal and lacking charm. With that in mind, the wines have really surprised me, they are so much more dynamic than that vintage, and perhaps that’s because the last 2-3 weeks of ripening were relatively normal summer temperatures – i.e. hot, but not very hot – it was really only pre-veraison (for the reds of-course) that the thermometers kept spiking at 40°C (104°F) and above.

As indicated above, I find that the 2015 whites are something of a surprise package. This vintage certainly hasn’t the generalised consistency or elegance that you find in the 2014s – which remains the best white vintage I’ve ever tasted* – but there is often more power in these 2015s and, given the growing season, a surprisingly good line of flavour and balance in most wines – though I would suggest buying with more care in the Mâconnais.

  • On a small-ish sample of Mâconnais wines, it seems to me, that most of my favourite ‘band‘ of producers have done really well – see the vintage Lafons here. Outside of this fine coterie, I have had quite a few, big, fat, powerful wines, but often without grace – no surprise for those that show 14-15% alcohol! I usually make a visit in April/May so will hopefully add more detail at that time.
  • On a similarly small sample, the Chablis are really quite good – the sweet mouth-watering acidity that I crave being visible at a number of producers. Of-course there was the shock of hail that came one week before they planned to harvest, but it was a relatively narrow corridor of destruction – if a far from modest route that the hail took! But 40 domaines await my visit in January 2017.
  • Given the hot vintage, it’s no surprise that the wines of the Côte de Beaune show some variation – yet outright fat and unemotional wines are quite rare – probably the worst I tasted in this respect, was a Montrachet! The relative lack of fat and uninteresting wines is something of a boon when you consider what happened in 2016 – but more on that later.
  • Taking 2014 as my benchmark, the 2015 Côte de Beaunes are:
    – Less consistent
    – Lower acidity than 2014, but generally with good to fine balance, though plenty of bourgognes show some fat, sometimes a little too much.
    – Powerful, often more-so than the 2014s, but with a little less acidity than 2014, so they often seem less overtly intense.
    – At their best, they are flattering wines, yet they are still wines of line, rigour and virility that I find absolutely compelling.
    – Showing large differences between the terroirs, yet at the same time the wines have less innate minerality and salinity than 2014.
    – There is also a little less of the agrume/reduction in this vintage – even where it’s a house style like at Roulot, and a little less-so, PYCM
    – Very interesting in Chassagne. Presumably the mid-vintage heat has slightly modified the aromatics here. The (usually) easy to spot, herby / bouquet-garni nose of the white Chassagnes is much more floral-inflected in 2015.
    – A blend of decently balanced richer regional wines, and simply compelling wines.

But what to buy?

  • Whilst I have noted that you need to choose your 2015 regional wines (Bourgogne Chardonnay) with care, if this is an appellation that you buy each year, then you should buy double your usual volume and/or try to buy the last of the great 2014s too – why? Well that’s because the villages and regional wines of 2016 took the hardest hit from the frost – probably less than 25% of a normal vintage volume will be available – even if the few grapes that were harvested were encouraging from a quality perspective. So buy more to avoid going thirsty in the future.
  • I like the wines of the earlier pickers more than the wines of those who picked late. And two domaines really stood head and shoulders above the others at the time I tasted them – relative positions in elevage not withstanding – it’s surely of no surprise to you that I include the wines of Domaine Hubert Lamy, in my shortlist of two, but more of a surprise might be Domaine Jean Chartron, whose wines were absolutely compelling.
  • Because all our circumstances and viewpoints are different, I leave the ‘value question‘ in the eye of the beholder, but with respect to pricing, about half the domaines told me that they will try to keep their prices the same as in 2014, whilst most of the rest suggested increases between 3 and 5%.
  • I should note that with the 2014 vintage, Domaine Leflaive joined the list of producers who are now bottling with DIAM seals. This info was reinforced to me last week when a 2001 Lafon Meursault Perrières, which was bought on release and pulled from professional storage only 2 weeks before opening, was poured – it was the brownest and most oxidised thing I’ve experienced since a 1970s wine with a loose cork ‘graced’ my glass. Never forget that keeping whites sealed with ‘natural cork’ for longer than 5 years is a lottery!

And, of-course for individual recommendations, consult the individual reports and almost 300 wines tasted in this month’s Burgundy Report!

*My first whites from barrel were the 1997 vintage. I missed 1998 and 1999, tasted en-primeur samples (London) 2000-2002 and then tasting from barrel every year in Burgundy since the 2003 vintage. Not forgetting triaging the grapes of multiple villages and vineyards every year since the 2004 vintage!

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