2020 White Burgundy – Part 2


2020 Whites Part 1: Mâconnais – October 2021
2020 Whites Part 2: Côte d’Or – November 2021 (this report)
2020 Whites Part 3: Chablis – Jan 2022 (so coming soon)

Meursault - May 2020
Meursault, 25 May 2020 – the flowering already done in the chardonnay…

With the first two reports online for this 2020 vintage, you now have the information on 61 domaines. That’s only 12 less than the same stage last year – but, given the later harvest in 2021, with 1 month less to complete the visits and typing.

What about the 2020 whites?

Fluid, structural, detailed and fresh wines. It’s a great and consistent vintage!

If 2019 was a year of concentration and texture – brought about by the heat and low yields of the vintage – then 2020 is a vintage that is more taut and structured, of much more aromatic clarity. These 2020s are vibrant wines of juicy detail that are more overtly mineral and intense and less about the zesty bitters (amères) shown by the 2019s. It’s no surprise that these bitters and dry extract are on a lower level in 2020 – the yields are much higher – behind only 2018 in the last 6 years (see the table below.)

The aromas, in particular, set these 2020s on a higher level versus the same wines in 2019 – less alcohol and more acidity bringing not just extra clarity and detail to the aromatics but the flavours too. Some growers note levels of acidity that have not been seen since 1996 – pHs below 3.20 after malolactic fermentations – but at this stage of their evolution, you won’t find razor-sharp acidities. It’s a yellow-citrus vintage, sometimes with complex agrumes but lime-citrus is rare in 2020. I would say that the 2020s are more for keeping than the 2019s,* certainly the wines are taking their time in elevage; despite being harvested very early, many will still be bottled later than is the norm.
*Though you need to be confident in your grower and their choice of seals if you have a more than 5-year outlook.

A factor of enormous importance to followers of Burgundy; the Meursaults taste like Meursault and the Pulignys taste like Puligny! Particularly the great wines shine – I’ve hardly ever seen such impressive jumps from premier to grand cru, from Bâtard to Chevalier then even another level to the Montrachet – this is a great Montrachet vintage! – it definitely wasn’t like that in 2019.

Of more general interest, considering the currently overheating commercial aspects (prices!), it’s fabulous to see how great the whites of the Mâconnais, Rully and Mercurey have done. My ‘historic’ cases of house wine – once Meursault, St.Aubin or Puligny which have more recently been replaced with Chablis – could easily be replaced with Rully or some of the more interesting wines of Macon in this vintage – to be honest, for my palate, that’s incredibly rare. Another commercial note here; given the decimation of the white volumes in 2021 and often the need to lengthen the time in elevage – these whites will be, largely, trickled into the market and often held back and offered to augment the paucity of 2021s in 2022/23 – you will face plenty of competition to buy them – at any price!

In recent years we have to compare these 2020s to the more structural and fresh vintages of 2017 and 2014. The 14s started a little hard but are largely magnificent now. The 2017s are very good but currently less easy to drink than 2016 or 2018 on either side. Often, though definitely not always, I see 2020 as a hypothetical blend of 75% 2014 and 25% 2015 – the latter bringing some extra ‘comfort’ but without taking away the clarity.

NB: In the region, the tasting term used for the famous (but now less seen) Roulot-Reduction is a ‘réduction noble‘ – or a noble reduction. It’s a term that sets apart this lovely aroma from the other deep, sometimes rubbery, sometimes firework style of reductive notes – so this year I’ve decided to start using it in my notes too.

Elephants in the room?

In 2019, the higher alcohol levels were certainly something to consider. This is not an issue in 2020 but it’s worth mentioning both the early harvest and the acidities:

Harvest Date. In 2020 the growth started early in ‘unseasonably‘ but ever-more common warm temperatures – thereafter there were simply no cooler spells to break or retard the cycle of growth. The peaks of heat were less sharp than in 2019 and rainfall was much patchier than the growers would have liked – they had assumed that, despite plenty of grapes, there would be a lack of juice. They were proven wrong – there was plenty of juice. Of course, there were some losses to frost in 2019 but the extra juice in 2020 seemed to bring, at least coupled with higher acidity, a more fluid style to the 2020 wines as opposed to dilution.

The 2020 acidity. With commentators often discussing the acidity of the vintage, you might easily afford this more attention than it deserves – at least for the whites. In all my tastings, I have rarely come across wines that felt overly angular or sharp – something which could easily have been levelled at many 1996s. Perhaps the higher maturity – despite such an early harvest – is enough to offset the lower pH of the 2020s. The acidity could play an important role as the cheaper appellation wines age and lose a little of their young padding – but the balance seems fine and consistent today, also, if we believe all the studies, ‘who keeps the cheaper wines for 5+ years, anyway?’

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 and November 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 9 for 2020 are:
Domaine Jean-Marc Pillot
Domaine Lamy-Caillat
Domaine Bachelet-Monnot
Domaine Etienne Sauzet
Domaine Vincent Girardin
Domaine Joseph Colin
Domaine Comtes Lafon
Domaine Alvina Pernot
Domaine Jean-Philippe Fichet

*You may miss the names of domaines such as Leflaive, Lamy or the Comtesse de Chérisey in my lists: These have taken the decision only to show their wines in the following year – and they will not be the last to do this. I respect these decisions and hope to see the domaines before Spring 2022 is done. But if you came looking for notes to aid your purchases of wines from those domaines, you will need to wait longer – and of course, if you already have offers for 2020s from those domaines, then there is a disconnect for all the journalists and buyers.

The yields

Figures courtesy the BIVB

What the growers said…

Encapsulating the white vintage:

Antoine Jobard on 2020:I like the balance – it was a hot year but we still have a year with acid and peps – 2014/2017 in style but elegant.

Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey:The combination of maturity and acidity has so few other vintage comparisons – I’ve never seen it before. I’ve been working since 1995, starting with my father, and you usually get one or the other. A vintage that has frank and precise wines – I find them very sincere and the terroirs are marked…

Michel Bardet of Domaine Albert Grivault:Our 2020s fermented very quickly, much easier than the 2019s! I think it’s hard to find a more balanced vintage; it has the acidity of 2017 and the power of 2019.

Jean-Michel Chartron:The balance of sugar and acidity is very interesting indeed – we won’t have any heavy wines. It was a hot year but one that was balanced with cool nights.

Franck Grux of Olivier Leflaive:3.10 pH post malo – that’s comparable to 1996 and 2000. So we generally see a bit more acidity – there’s not that much malic this vintage but plenty of tartaric. In 2020 I won’t say that there was hydric stress but, here and there, the vines were definitely thirsty.

Michel Pernot of Domaine Paul Pernot:I think it’s a magnificent vintage with good acidity – I like it – it’s been a while since we’ve had this style of wine.

Jean-Philippe Fichet:It reminds me of the very good, generous, vintages a bit like 2009.

Average weather…

weather averages for 2013-2020
Sources: Météo-France & Chambre d’Agriculture, Côte d’Or

According to the Dijon weather station, 2020 was the driest season since 1945! The dryness of the 2020 vintage was significantly more a factor for the reds than the whites and more particularly in the Côte de Nuits. In the Côte de Beaune, the rain was not bad in the Santenay to Chassagne sectors – decent in July in Puligny – but much drier in St.Aubin. Generalisations are unhelpful in 2020 but one that is still useful is that 2020 had only 50% of the expected amount of rain in the growing season.

2020 vintage weather

The winter of 2019-2020 was one of the mildest of the last 25 years – the main reason for the higher average temperature in 2020.

Like most of the recent vintages – 2021 included – the warmth came early in 2020. Vineyard workers wore t-shirts whilst pruning and lapping up the February sun! The Chalonnaise did suffer from a little frost but much less so than in 2019 or 2021. Save for a single night where some in the Côte de Beaune worried about frost, and even lit some candles, in 2020 there was no cold snap to break the momentum of the vines’ growth, unlike every other vintage since 2015. This meant that the flowering began in mid-May – almost a full month earlier than in 2021. There was also about 60mm of rain between 11-20 May, which was welcomed by the growers but some also pointed to a little coulure/millerandes because of it. The flowering was already over for the chardonnay by the 25th of May and the pinot about 10 days later. At this stage, it looked like quite a generous vintage.

millerandes puligny combettes 15 July 2020June was a month where the precocity of the vintage was reinforced – there was a little rain, perhaps 50mm – by the consistently warm and sunny days. Without ‘climate accidents‘ it was already clear that the harvest would be starting in August. July was close to what the French describe as ‘canicule‘ (heatwave) weather. The millerande grapes (right) pictured in Puligny 1er Combettes, 15 July 2020. Veraison – yes that’s a thing in the whites too, the skins becoming more transparent as opposed to the full colour-change that you have in pinot noir – was fully underway by the 20th of July. This was the month where the main deficit of rain in 2020 began to show itself – there was only 10% of the normal average rainfall – and in some places, there was zero. Despite the leaves of some of the pinots changing colour there were no outward signs of problems for the grapes at this stage.

August rain showed the disparities in the region: Between the 1st and 20th of the month, fell 100mm of rain in parts of the Mâconnais, 60mm in much of Chablis and 3-5 mm in the Côte de Beaune! Harvesting began in beautiful weather in the middle of the month, typically with the pinots. Quite a number of growers opted to harvest only the mornings so that they could bring cooler fruit into their cuveries. Others put their fruit directly into refrigerated wagons and began processing only after a night in the wagons. Some domaines did both!

The dryness of July and August had a much larger effect on the pinot noir – perhaps the lighter skins of the chardonnay reflected the sun more than the darker skins of the pinot – the latter absorbing more of the heat energy and dehydrating them more. A drying wind was also a factor – without which, the yields in the chardonnay could have approached those of 2018.

Very clean chardonnay was harvested and even the sunniest spots delivered a harvest that rarely reached more than a potential of 13.5° – more than a degree lower than for the same grapes in 2019. Many of the wines were characterised by their austerity during elevage – and a few unready wines still are!
Bill Nanson, 23 December 2021.

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?

Burgundy Report

Translate »

You are using an outdated browser. Please update your browser to view this website correctly: https://browsehappy.com/;