Part 1: 2019 Mâconnais – Sept 2020
Part 2: 2019 Côte d’Or – Oct 2020
Part 3: 2019 Chablis – Jan 2021
02 April 2019 – before the frost…
What about the 2019 whites?
Delicious, sensuous, tactile wines…
2019 is a year of concentration and texture – the yields were low – and there’s a fascinating finishing ‘tannic/phenolic’ texture in the majority of these 2019s, just as there was in the 2019s of the Mâconnais. We used to call this ‘dry extract‘ but we can just as easily call it by what it is – tannin. Most importantly there is fine balance – you rarely sense the level of alcohol in these wines but more on that later. What we have is purity allied to concentration. The freshness of yellow citrus fruit – much more rarely green citrus or overt agrume in 2019. Exotic fruit is rare. There are zesty wines, but this is less common than was the case in 2017 and 2018. Unlike the 2018s which were open and drinking right from the start, these 2019s will repay cellar time* – much like the 2017s. Important to followers of Burgundy, the Meursaults taste like Meursault and the Pulignys taste like Puligny! Instinctively I place this vintage almost as high as the (currently, only modestly expressive) 2017s and higher than 2018 – though the 2018s will offer more delicious and easier drinking for the next year or 3. My current favourite vintages for drinking today are two very different vintages – 2013 and 2018.
*Though you need to be confident in your grower and their choice of seals if you have a more than 5-year outlook.
Let’s attack the elephant in the room: Alcohol.
Whilst some domaines kept their whites below 13.5%, the majority of wines are 14% and higher. It was, therefore, not unreasonable to assume there would be plenty of hot wines when tasting. I’m almost shocked – and relieved too – that this simply wasn’t the case. In the 47 domaines in this report, you will find reference to only 4 wines where I felt either aromatically, or in the finish, the effect of higher alcohol – that’s insignificant. This is also in-line with my tastings of 2019 Mâconnais – so that’s now 73 white domaines in total.
Who to follow
There are many ‘great’ or ‘bravo’ performances on the level of single wines; I invite you to discover those wines in each of the individual visit reports in this publication of my October visits. Rarer are the domaines where their products are so fabulously consistent that I would unhesitatingly take a mixed case of wine without knowing what I would receive. These domaines deserve special mention, so alphabetically, the magnificent 7 for 2019 are:
Domaine Comtesse de Chérisey
Domaine Jean-Philippe Fichet
Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard
Domaine Hubert Lamy
Domaine Jean-Marc Pillot
Domaine Etienne Sauzet
Figures courtesy the BIVB
The dry weather made some contribution to 2019’s low yields – there was also poor flowering after frost – not everyone had frost but all had poor flowering and dryness to contend with. The volumes are comparable to those of the heavily frosted year of 2016, indeed lower in the Côte Chalonnaise. For more specifics on the 2019 weather, see the section after the ‘grower comments.’
What the growers said…
Encapsulating the white vintage:
Thibault Morey of Morey-Coffinet on 2019:
“A smaller harvest, some frost followed by a poor flowering with coulure and millerandes – that’s not a complaint because it was great for the quality, despite such lower yields, something we couldn’t achieve with simple de-budding in 2018 for example. The degrees are still slightly higher than normal here.”
Charles Ballot: “It’s a surprise what freshness we have in the wines – it was also good in 18, but that year we had a reasonable amount of rain. In 19 it was much dryer in the winter and the reserve of water in the soil was much lower. I imagined wines that could be much richer and sunnier – certainly, the degrees are quite high, not much is under 14° – but directly from tasting the musts, there was a freshness that we hadn’t been expecting. I think we have everything in these wines – in Meursault we don’t want just tension, we need some fat and complexity too.”
Pierre-Henri Rougeot: “Maybe the whites have a touch too much alcohol – maybe. They are enthusiastic, energetic wines … rich but they have a good balancing acidity too.”
Léa Lafon: “I’m not really surprised by the balance of the wines, because I remember tasing the juice at the time of harvest and I found it super balanced, despite the high sugars. But it’s always nice when the wines turn out well. We have fresher fruit in 2019 vs 2018 despite the higher alcohols.”
Franck Grux: “In 30 years it’s my lowest volume harvest – much lower than 2016 which wasn’t overly touched by the frost in Puligny. I don’t know the last time Puligny averaged 25 hl/ha.”
Benoît Riffault: “The alcohols were quite strong and though we could have harvested earlier, I just felt that the aromatics of the grapes weren’t ready before. The result is an impressive concentration also aromatically – strong but with a fine terroir aspect – they are saline and mouth-watering so I’m happy.”
Armand Heitz: “2018 is the easiest vintage in the vines so far, 2020 was close – 2019 definitely not!”
Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey: “2019 was a more complicated vintage. My souvenir is the frost – we ended with between 30 to 70% fewer grapes depending on the parcels – St.Aubin was the worst-frosted area. But what followed was a nice growing season and the fruit was superb, but the quantity was ‘thin.’ Less bad than 2016 but not that far away from that volume. Harvesting began 6 September and of course, the maturity was quite exceptional – 13.7-14.7° – we couldn’t really pick earlier because the maturity came so very fast – but we still have good acidities! 14 and 14.5° we’ve seen before but that was always due to botrytis and with that, you always lose acidity. You might say that 14° is over-mature but the grapes with 14° today look perfect. Still, we chose to block about 20-40% of the malos per cuvée.”
Jean-Philippe Fichet: “There was rain and wind at flowering, probably producing the most millerandage I’ve seen in my career – more even than in 2005. The wines are charming, whilst showing some richness. I am for precision and minerality, there’s more weight in 2019.”
Vincent Boyer: “I haven’t seen degrees like that since I was doing a stage in 1989; 14° was common that year.”
Jacqueline & Matthieu Collardot: “We late-pruned so were not particularly affected by frost – just in a couple of places where we were about 20% down. The balance is great but unfortunately, the volume was still low – We were heading for 14° for most cuvées but we had good pHs – we would have liked a little more phenolic maturity but the degrees were going up and up.”
Antoine Jobard: “We have generous wines with alcohols about 14%, despite the richness, the material, there’s a nice freshness.”
Sébastien Caillat: “A hot, dry one. One of the three hottest years in the last 100. The pHs are better and the level of tartaric acid also better than in 2018 but we are still close to 14° of alcohol. I have a positive feeling towards them.”
Sources: Météo-France & Chambre d’Agriculture, Côte d’Or
Averages can hide so many details. In 2019, for instance, most of the vintage (April to September) rain fell in the April to June period – afterwards it was as dry as 2020. Likewise, there were high-temperature records set in 2019 – but in the average, they are lost – don’t get hung up on that though, whilst 41.5°C can certainly be problematic, in 2019 it arrived pre-veraison, so had no effect on the ripening of the grapes.
2019 vintage weather
2019 began just as precociously as 2017, 2018 and 2020 – vineyard-workers completing their pruning tasks in shorts, t-shirts and sunglasses as temperatures comfortably exceeded 20°C – in February! The reason that the 2019 harvest was mid-September, rather than firmly in August, was a cold-spell of weather that arrived at the end of March and included spells of frost; 05 April in the Côte d’Or and again at the start of May in the Chatillonnais – this time it was only -0.5°C in the Chalonnaise. Unfortunately, the first growth of the vine-buds was noted already 1 week before the April frost – see the header image. More of the new ‘windmills’ were seen in action and many more domaines than was ever previously the case in the Côte d’Or resorted to lighting candles in their vines. The April frost was a typical Spring Frost, but reaching as low as -4°C and was largely confined to the bottom slopes, so had only modest, if any, effect on the more important vineyards – but large effects on the volumes of regional wines and some village appellations that could be produced. Everyone was lucky that the weather in the days before the frost had been dry – damage would have been much greater if the vineyards had been wet.
The weather finally warmed towards the end of June, but was wet, windy and changeable – unfortunately, this also coincided with the flowering. In 2020 the flowering took place in perfect weather and lasted only about 5 days. In 2019, the flowering in ‘sub-optimal’ weather lasting nearly 3 weeks – 04-20 June and it was April and June that were the wettest months in the growing season – resulting in coulure and, eventually millerande grape clusters.
Localised hail has been a problem in many of the last vintages, in 2019 it was rather rare; there were instances in Savigny-lès-Beaune and Chorey-lès-Beaune on the 6th of July, and then a little more on the hill of Corton about 1 week later on the 14th July. Luckily without major damage.
Then came the sun – almost without end. There were two heatwave episodes, one of which with record temperatures across France – on 3 consecutive days in Beaune the thermometer pushed past 40°C – fortunately, the grape clusters had not yet closed up or started to change colour – veraison – so this wave of heat should not be detectable in the style of the wines. The positive aspect of recent warm and dry vintages (maturing phases) is that the traditional enemies of the vigneron and the grapes – porriture and mildew – have been largely absent from the vines. This allowing vignerons to reduce the amount of treatments that they make – though oïdium has certainly been on the rise. Usually, oïdium is only a problem for chardonnay – and this was also the case in 2019 – but many were shocked to find that their pinots were also attacked in 2020!
A little rain arrived – but not everywhere – in August, this gave a little nudge to the veraison in many areas, most of which was finally completed at the end of the month. The biggest issue leading into the harvest was the technical ripeness versus the phenolic ripenes. Prior to 2019 I don’t recollect vignerons differentiating between these two concepts but in conversation today it seems to crop up regularly. The technical ripeness – ie how much sugar is in the grapes would normally be enough to see the teams of pickers heading into the vines, but in 2019, virtually all domaines said that, although technically ripe, the skins of the grapes were not yet ripe to the taste and waited to pick. The end result was wines of about 1° (%) of alcohol more than is typical.
In the end, veraison was rather fast – many domaines who had anticipated a mid-September harvest ended up bringing in their grapes almost a week earlier than they had first planned, while other waited for the ‘skins.’
Some domaines report alcohols of 13° others of 14-plus – 14.5° is far from uncommon in 2019 chardonnay. Unheard of 10 years ago the aligoté was often 12.5-13° natural too. A good rule of thumb for differentiating between those that picked based on technical ripeness and those who chose phenolic ripeness is the level of alcohol in their wines. The majority chose the phenolic ripeness.