Unlike the reds of 2018, I expect no controversies with the 2018 white burgundies.
If the headlines for the 2017 growing season were dominated by frost – for 2018 it was the heat and dryness. There was an ever-present worry about maladies, but apart from some larger outbreaks of mildew in the Mâcons, and also some hail in the northern Mâconnais, the growing season brought few challenges in the vines. This is not to say that there were no surprises, of course!
2018 will be most remembered for its high yields. Some vigneron(ne)s will tell you that it was completely clear that action needed to be taken to reduce the number of bunches after the perfect flowering period, whilst others will tell you that the harvest volume was a complete surprise after a summer with no rain – they were expecting very little juice.
Regardless, Chablis, Meursault and Chassagne were all left asking for VCI, sometimes quite a lot. Pity the poor producers of Chablis (mainly) with half a harvest in 2017 and half again in 2019, having to send perfectly good wine from 2018 for distillation as they had too much in their tanks, even after the VCI – this act will not improve the wine that remains, it is the same.
Most vigneron(ne)s in the Côte d’Or are too young to have benchmarks for similar volumes, but their parents largely point to 1982 as being equally bountiful.
The whites of 2018
2018 was yet another year where many producers began their harvest in the sunshine of August – but early picking, or late picking, was (as always) something of a red-herring in discussing these whites; viticulture, weather and vine altitude are the main factors that determine the picking dates, not an over-riding wish to be first! It should be clear to anyone that vines with only 3-4 clusters of grapes will bring ripeness before those with 7-8 clusters – or more – and it is typically the vines of the former that are picked first!
Picked early or not, the 2018 whites have surprised everyone by their approachability and how delicious they are. From the summer weather alone I was wondering if the wines might be styled like 2006, 2009 or 2015 – but far from it – I’m pleased to say. We can conjecture about where the freshness in these wines has come from – because the pHs were high and there was very little malic acid to start with, so those that blocked malos gained precious-little advantage. But balance, indeed freshness, there is – so let me call it a mineral freshness because it’s not an acid freshness. I’m not alone in assuming that the extra volume that has been produced has, perhaps, enabled these wines to be so tastily accessible, there are very few wines that are sullen in their concentration like, for instance, in 2016. Chardonnay can certainly tolerate yields of more than 60 hl/ha, levels where pinot noir would be turning green (with envy…)
Tasting 2018s with their producers has again been a pleasure this year; the producers will have plenty of wine to sell, and even more important for the consumer, the wines are largely delicious. The wines are unusually fleshy, open, and easily differentiating of terroirs – Meursaults really smell like Meursaults should* – and the vintage is characterised by really great finishing length – from the regional wines to grand crus. On average I find the 2018s a little more delicious than the more structured 2017s at the same stage, but towards the top end, there were more ‘great‘ wines in the 2017 vintage than in 2018 at the same stage of elevage.
*I reserve some judgement on Chablis for my January 2020 visits – some I have tasted had a suggestion of Mâcon, others were entirely classic.
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 – the 2017s had fine structure though more warmth, the 2018s less structure but more deliciously open at the same stage.
I’d like to introduce the concept of ’emotion’ to the wines, particularly these whites. I respect the great 2017s but don’t yet see genuine emotion. There are less than a handful of wines that I consider great and emotional in 2018, a combination a didn’t find in 2017s, but there are many whites in 2018 that simply dance over the palate – they are fabulous, despite the warm vintage, the high volumes and the theoretical lack of acidity – it’s important to taste – no?
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.
- 2018: Fleshy, open, layered, delicious wines, modestly mineral, that have very little of the ‘warm-weather-spice’ that you may find in 2009 or 2015. The fruit is largely lemon citrus – there is some agrume and a little lime, but largely the rigour of lime fruit is missing. The finishes are impressive, with a decent number of wines that actually dance over the palate!
- The northern Mâconnais had no frost but there was hail in July – from 20-95% – there are still some great wines. It is the southern Mâconnais, the St.Vérans and Pouilly-Fuissés that excel in 2018.
- Chablis had a very big harvest – some of my small sample tasted classic, others not. 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 2018 Côte de Beaunes are:
– Less concentrated but with more generous fruit.
– the 2018s are much less ‘mineral’.
– the 2018s have a compelling length of flavour.
– The analytical acidities are low (high pH) in 2018, but the wines have good energy nonetheless.
– 2018s have much more deliciously accessible flavour than 2014 or 2017.
– The 2018s, in terms of the number of great wines, are behind the vintages of 2014 and 2017.
– The 2018s show their terroirs very well
– 2018 is not a vintage with very many reductive wines
– There will be plenty of availability of 2018s, and they are easier to drink than 2017, 2016 and 2014 is/was young – so enjoy…
What to Buy:
- Of-course my ‘per domaine’ great buys can be found highlighted in the report for each producer, but in general:
- It’s a very strong vintage for the Côte Chalonnaise whites
- ‘Hautes Côtes’ wines can be super in 2018
- The Bourgognes in 2018 can be seriously good for the second vintage in a row
- Meursault-Charmes have been very lovely this year.
- Puligny-Combettes – wow! Often more impressive than Puligny-Pucelles!
- There are great Montrachets, But more often than not, where producers have both, the best balance is to be found in the Chevaliers…
- The usual suspects for me: Hubert Lamy and Roulot top my wish-list, but Jean-Philippe Fichet, Buisson-Charles, Lafon and a few others have brilliant ranges too!
- Value – I spotted a couple of lower offers, but the 2018s will largely keep the same pricing as 2017s. More shocking for me was the much higher bulk prices that I’ve seen for 2019s – so much for following a very big harvest like 2018!
When to Drink:
Great wines will last you 20 years – also in 2018 – and certainly if sealed with DIAM (many) or screwcap (few, but Benjamin Leroux is a great source). But the open, delicious nature of the 2018s, means that you can take great enjoyment from them as soon as they hit the market – very few are for the patient.
And just for the sake of argument, if some part of the open nature of the 2018s is down to their high yields, you get to drink them before they start to lose any substance and/or begin to seem dilute…
And, of-course for individual recommendations, consult the individual reports and nearly 750 wines tasted in this month’s Burgundy Report!
*My first whites tasted from barrel were the 1996 vintage in 1997 in the village of Chardonnay! I missed 1997, 1998 and 1999, tasted en-primeur samples (London) 2000-2002 and then tasted 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!