To an extent, the vigneron(ne)s were lucky in 2019:
Lucky that they had the cold period and frosts that persisted between April and much of May. If they had enjoyed the same warmth in April and May as they did in 2017, they would probably have needed to start harvesting in the middle of August – ie before they went on holiday!
Outside of the frost, the dryness and the heat-spikes above 40°C – the double canicule – it was a second vintage with no overt disease challenges in the vines – it was too hot for other things to grow, so it also became the second vintage in the vines of ‘treatment lite‘ for many growers.
Despite the heat, it is a very different vintage to 2018 – much lower yields for a start – generally about 30-40% down for the whites and 20-30% down for the reds. And that’s down versus a ‘normal’ harvest, not the volume harvested in 2018…
Much of the vintage deficit can be laid at the door of the weather during flowering – though the frost on one hand and the drought on the other did also make some inroads. The chardonnay flowers first with the pinot blooming about a week later – the weather was alternately cold and wet and then hot – the pinot had the better of the weather, but still sub-optimal. Finally, a growing season that began with little reserve of water in the soil, and very little rain was to come. The drought and heat made ripening more complicated than 2018 – some domaines chaptalising (adding sugar) due to blocking of ripeness in some parcels – some growers even found clusters partly ripe, partly blocked – it was complicated.
The temperatures of 2019 may be less obvious in the wines than in 2018, and that’s because the real peaks of temperature were before the berries began their veraison – thereafter the heat was less out of the ordinary. The wines, however, look concentrated and generally have higher acidity than in 2018. Something to look forward to.
An exceptional vintage? For sure. A good vintage? That will depend on your tastes!*
At least for the whites – from Chablis to Pouilly-Fuissé – there is surprise. Not just for the remarkable volume of grape juice that was produced in some places, but also for the balance of the wines.
It’s a fair question of-course; where did this balance come from? The acidities are predictably low, given that this was the second-warmest year on record, and second only to 2003. Yet the wines have no similarity to 2003 “2018 was warm for 7 months which is completely different to 2003, which was just a couple of months” says Frédéric Barnier of Louis Jadot. Perhaps it’s a mineral balance (artistic licence on my part) – but the wines are open, fleshy and largely delicious – yes sometimes rich – but the majority are a long way from being unbalanced and heavy. Are they less classic? Of course, if you compare to wines made by the previous generation of producers, but maybe this is something that we have to get used to. NB All the warmer vintages of whites taste more mineral and with 3 years or more in bottle – without doubt 2018 whites will follow that convention.
Those 7 months of heat have produced some of the finest wines I’ve ever tasted from barrel – but others that I wouldn’t for one second consider purchasing – black wines, alcoholic or worse, slightly volatile, and suggesting the Barossa, not Beaune. It is another vintage in the series of creeping, extra, sweetness that began in 2015. Many will live very long lives given their ‘off the scale‘ level of phenolics, but perhaps more as curios than as pleasurable drinkers. I’m more than happy to drink a decent 1947 with you, but they are round, warm fruited and rarely multi-dimensional wines – with some notable exceptions, I expect the same from 2018. If I were buying, it would be mainly the wines of the Côte Chalonnaise and the Hautes Côtes.
Over the next two months I will bring you the 2018 Chablis and 2018 Beaujolais vintage reports.
Well don’t even the average 2017 reds look and taste so remarkably good after tasting through hundreds of 2018 reds(?)! They may be sweet, they may not always have a concentration that impresses – but they are deliciously Burgundian in style.
The highlights of the red vintage remain the wines from the Côte Chalonnaise, Volnay, Corton and Morey-to-Marsannay. The grand crus are proper grand crus in 2017 and the regionals generally excellent, often great – the grapes here were ripe and clean. The rest are a little more modest in scale, ambition even, if still delicious – and they will still last 20 years if that’s your wish.
The 2017 whites are more structural, more mineral, than in 2018, and they still impress when tasted. Comparing 2018 and 2017 today – the younger vintage is the fleshier, with more accessible flavours and brilliant, open-ended, delicious finishes. The 2017s are still a little more constrained by their shape and their structure, they have more tension but are often more impressive than they are delicious at this stage. It’s a vintage, like 2014, that will reward your patience – so I hope that you’re fully confident that your chosen producers have a good record of (wine) longevity! It doesn’t matter to me how the wines are sealed if I’m planning to drink them within 3 years – but for ageing, I buy in DIAM, or sometimes screw-cap.