Lest we forget, 2017 was a year where French wine production was dominated by frost – by the skin of its teeth the Côte d’Or was mainly spared – there were some low-lying Bourgognes and parts of St.Aubin and St.Romain that froze, but quite unlike the widespread frost of 2016. Possibly the 2017 crop in the Côte d’Or was only saved thanks to much 5 a.m. smoke making – the temperatures were certainly minus. Unfortunately Chablis was still badly hit by frost – for the Mâconnais, it was often a harder vintage than 2016 – predominantly due to frost – followed by the dryness of the summer and then a lot of rain at harvest.
As far as production volumes are concerned, 2017 was a tale of two cepages – the reds needing a severe pruning and de-budding to keep their volumes in check, for the whites it was a little calmer, producing a little more than the 5-year average for the preceding vintages, and those vintages had suffered frost, hail and heatwaves – so the volume is relatively modest – the volume in Chablis was more like 75% of what was produced in 2014, itself not a high volume vintage:
Stats, courtesy, BIVB.
As always, you can refer back to my commentary about the 2017 growing season, but here we can talk about the wines – so let’s get to it…
The whites of 2017
Whilst some growers picked earlier and others picked later there is an impressive consistency to the whites of 2017 – unlike the reds:
“I detach myself a little from the early-late harvesting polemics. The people harvest when it fits them, the availability of their labour, their culture in the vines, et-cetera, et-cetera..”
Anne Morey putting it best.
Picked early or not, the wines show the character of vintage really well, but they show equally well the terroir differences that are absolutely necessary to support the prices of the bottles. Given the warmth of the summer, it is certainly a sunny vintage, yet, the wines resemble those of a ‘classic vintage’ – much as I admired many 2016s, this is clearly a much more consistent vintage, made as it is from more consistent yields.
Tasting 2017s with their producers has been a pleasure this year, and not just because the wines are fine, but because most producers have a decent amount of wine to sell – not excessive, simply correct – their mood is much lighter. Excellent as the wines are, 2014 remains unmatched as my absolute reference point since the 1996s I tasted in barrel* – as previously noted, the style of fruit in 2014 had a slightly cold, more mineral personality – with the 2017s you have more warmth.
You may have either of two equally valid standpoints – or reference points – with which to discuss the 2017s: a) 2014 with little less tension but more richness – or b) 2015 with more freshness – depending on the domaines, those two statements would encompass everything. The wines have fine to decent energy, rarely a tropical fruit and good purity. The concentration is easy to see, though obviously less overt than many from 2016 – but with better balance because of that – as always, talking ‘on average.’
I note that in 2016 the very best wines – no more than a dozen-or-so from the few hundred that I tasted last year – were genuinely great, emotional wines – wines that could bring a tear to the eye. I found no wines with that level of emotion in 2017. I don’t discount that this emotion could have been a response to greatness coming from the dire, frost-ridden circumstances of the 2016 vintage – 2017 was easy by comparison – but a handful of 2016s rest, ingrained my memory – I can’t say that for practically any 2017s, despite the average 2017 being better than the average 2016.
A style of wine summary, each year just before bottling:
- 2014: Flavour delivered in waves. Fruit in the lime/citrus style, often with mineral and reductive elements. Excellent terroir definition.
- 2015: Flavour was more layered. Fruit was in an agrume style, often with reductive elements, less mineral. Good, not excellent terroir definition
- 2016: Flavour delivered in a more melting style, the flavour much more yellow/lemon/citrus styled, with very much less reduction in wines, minerality between 2014 and 2015. Excellent terroir definition.
- 2017: Flavour that is layered and melting. The vintage has delivered more of the reductive ‘Roulot-esque’ wines than in 2016, more like 2015, but much less than 2014. Fruit is citrus-agrume, sometimes more pineapple. Terroir definition is very good, similar or better to that of 2016 and certainly better than in 2015.
- The Mâconnais has done better than expected from a yields perspective – I will taste next year.
- Chablis also suffered the frost – again – so the volumes are low. The losses are predominantly in the right bank and ‘unprotected’ Villages and Petit Chablis plantings. What remains had quite a favourable growing season. I plan to taste there, as usual, in January.
- The whites of the Côte de Beaune show consistency – a mouth-puckering wine is a rarity – equally rare are the fat wines without energy.
Taking 2014 as my benchmark, the 2017 Côte de Beaunes are:
– Typically, equally concentrated but with a more generous fruit.
– The acidities in 2017 are less overt, in general, but relatively rare are the lifeless wines.
– 2017s can have excellent energy, but the style of 2017 is more composed than 2014.
– The majority of 2017s are very accessible – much more-so than 2014s or 2016s.
– At their very best – maybe only a dozen wines – I think the 2017s behind the wines of 2014 and 2016.
– The 2017s show their terroirs and the hierarchy excellently – the Perrières and the Chevaliers really standing out from the Charmes and the Bâtards – from this perspective alone, it’s a truly excellent vintage.
– More reductive style than in 2016 – similar to 2015
– There are many compelling wines in 2017 though fewer than in 2014, or 2016.
– There will be more availability of 2017s, and they are easier to drink than 2016 and 2014 was young – so enjoy…
But what to buy?
- Of-course my ‘per domaine’ great buys can be found highlighted in the report for each producer, but in general:
- The Bourgognes in 2017 can be seriously good – I have bought some – even some aligoté too – in magnum!
- Don’t miss the super wines of the Côte Chalonnais – there are many ‘killer’ wines – the value here can be higher than the Bourgognes!
- At the other extreme you will have much more choice of Montrachets as they weren’t frosted this year! I am tempted to buy a bottle each year – just for my Christmas lunch. But I have to say that the growers are not very proactive in supplying single bottles to an itinerant journalist!
- The usual suspects for me: Jean-Philippe Fichet, Pierre-Yves Colin, Vincent Dancer, Bernard Moreau, Hubert Lamy and this year I’d definitely include Prieur – a big thumbs up to Vincent Latour too!
- Value – I do not anticipate any lowering of pricing – the cellars were empty before this vintage – but given a second healthy (very healthy!) volume in 2018 – there is no justification in higher prices outside the realm of ‘collectables.’
And, of-course for individual recommendations, consult the individual reports and over 500 wines tasted in this month’s Burgundy Report!
*My first whites tasted 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!