2020 Red Burgundy

Update 21.4.2022(17.1.2022)billn

2019 Red Burgundy Part 1: (Here) The Côte d’Or – December 2021
2020 Red Burgundy Part 2: Beaujolais – February 2022

2020 Beaune 1er Belissand
Beaune 1er Belissand 21 August 2020…

What about the 2020 reds in the Côte d’Or?

2018-2020 are a trio of, historically, hot vintages. 2018 produced very inconsistent, sometimes faulty, wines but just a handful were among the greatest I have ever tasted. 2019 was a great and very consistent vintage for the reds in both halves of the Côte d’Or and the wines continue to show a remarkable level balance for such a warm vintage. 2020 and its darkly coloured wines sometimes exceeds the achievements of 2019 but with significantly less consistency – though, it remains far better than 2018 in this respect.

By consistency, I am more often referring to a stylistic difference than a quality difference – though I much prefer one of the styles. If I had to blind buy, then I would mainly stick with the 2019s. Realistically you will not be (fully!) blind buying and you will know the geography of your potentials – and here the equation is simple – the most consistently (emphasis intended) best wines are to be found in the Côte de Nuits:

The typicity of the vintage is that it started with plenty of rain in the winter – and that’s just as well, given how dry the summer would be. Exactly as in 2019, and despite slightly higher average alcohols, the best 2020s are those with clarity and fluidity, airy despite their cool-fruited concentration – they are marvellous – this would, largely, describe most of the fine domaines of the Côte de Nuits in 2020 – i.e. equivalent to, or sometimes a hint more concentrated than their equivalents in 2019 – seemingly without additional negatives.

Such wines are not absent in the Côte de Beaune – but they are much rarer – and significantly, they are found by particular domaines rather than particular villages. This implies to me that despite the vagaries of the rains the possibility was there for other domaines to achieve similarly great wines in the Côte de Beaune too. My main explanation would be picking time, though the Côte de Beaune diverged from the Côte de Nuits in some significant ways:

  • Except in the far south, the Côte de Beaune saw less rain and certainly less well-timed rain
  • The Côte de Beaune fruit was often at higher degrees of potential alcohol despite being picked as much as 7-10 days earlier than in, for instance, Gevrey-Chambertin. Because of the higher sugars, a number of well-known producers struggled to ferment their wines dry. Most domaines commented that their hardest decisions of the growing season were typically when to pick.
  • The Côte de Nuits saw some rain towards the end of August – some domaines had already finished their harvest, later pickers felt that the rain improved the presentation of the grapes and their balance.

My issue with a large part of the Côte de Beaune wines – and a few in the Côte de Nuits too – is not faulty wines, rather it is that the personality – the style – of those wines is distinctly different to much of the Côte de Nuits – so let me try to describe the two styles:

  • The Côte de Nuits style is exactly that of 2019 – which I don’t believe has a real equivalent that I’ve ever encountered – but 2020 often shows a twist more of concentration and/or intensity. The great wines remain balanced, accessible, fluid wines of superb purity. Will you note this ‘extra’ over 2019? With the same wines tasted side by side from 2019 & 2020 – I think you will. In isolation you really won’t – but you will be paying more for the privilege in 2020!
  • The Côte de Beaune style is different; it is rounder, richer, often sweeter, it’s also very concentrated with blacker wines than the average of the Côte de Nuits. I can approximately extrapolate to ‘a more generous and riper 1995’ or, perhaps, from the weight and shape, if not the ripeness, to 1959. These are powerful wines that will last. So we still have potentially great wines but with a quite different profile.

At the base of the pricing pyramid, we stay in a great run of vintages for reds from the Chalonnaise, the regional wines of the Côte d’Or and also the wines of the Hautes Côtes – if you could go back 20 years in time and take some of the Bourgognes of today with you, the domaines simply wouldn’t believe that such things could be produced in the future!

Despite the heat of the vintage, we don’t really have hot wines – though more warmth is notable in the Côte de Beaune. This was the earliest harvest on record for the majority of domains and one that favoured the ripening of the pinot ahead of the chardonnay. The vintage did not have the same peaks of heat that were seen in 2019 but it also had no cooler periods that would put a brake on growth, hence, the very early vintage. Some domaines noted some blocking of maturities, others not…

Caveat #1
Also, despite the heat of the vintage, acidities can sometimes be high – maybe one wine in 20 or 30 (like the next caveat). Occasional wines will have acid-o-philes (literally) drooling, but those brought up on wines since 2009 may be a little shocked. I would class these wines with higher visible acidities as earlier drinking wines – while there is still an ample width of cushioning fruit. In another five years, this acidity will be much more visible.

Caveat #2
Whilst still on a low level (of contamination) it would be remiss of me not to note how often I found wines with a pyrazine component in 2020. It’s easily the most since 2011 but no more than 1 out of every 25-30 wines. In my future reports, you will see that it’s much more prevalent in the Auxerois/Chablis.

Who to follow

This list, whilst containing wines at all price levels, remains price agnostic as every purchaser has different means and targets. As usual, 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 November & December visits. Rarer are the domaines where their products are so fabulously consistent that I would unhesitatingly take a mixed case of wine without knowing which bottles I would receive. These domaines deserve special mention, so alphabetically, here are my fun fifteen domaines for the 2020 vintage:

Bouchard Père et Fils
Bruno Clair
Christian Clerget
Clos de Tart
de Vogüé
des Croix
Marquis d’Angerville
Georges Mugneret-Gibourg
JF Mugnier
Cécile Tremblay

The yields

Figures courtesy the BIVB

As you can see, from a volume perspective, this vintage is low-yielding for reds – equivalent to 2019. I think François-Xavier Dufouleur expressed it best: “I just finished the statistics so it’s 60% of an ‘average’ vintage for volume but based on the last 10 years it’s more like 70%. I can say it’s not good but perhaps we have to change our mindset and 2/3rds volume is the new normal(?)

2019 had some losses due to frost but that largely wasn’t the case in 2020 – the losses here were mainly attributed to the exceptional dryness (see below) ie enough grapes but less juice in each one. Ther grapes were very clean and fine – if, marginally, less good than in 2019 – certainly in the Côte de Beaune. The only issue for triage was the roasting of some of the fruit that had to be triaged away – something that was also seen in 2018 and 2019.

What the growers said…

Encapsulating the vintage:

Pablo Chevrot:
The paradox was that this was a vintage that was very early but not due to heat, rather the ‘softness’ of the winter so everything started very early.

François Ambroise:
We had water here (Premeaux) but not in Beaune – there was plenty of difference from the climate so the Beaunes were ready first.

Guillaume d’Angerville:
Picking the right harvest date was essential I think – and this will make some differences in styles

Mark Fincham:
There’s a dichotomy between the Côte de Beaune and the Côte de Nuits; the degrees were higher earlier in the south, picking at 14° in Côte de Beaune while the Geverys were still 12.8°

Amélie Berthaut:
There was more rain in Vosne so the yields are good there but in Fixin much less so so the yields were lower

Jean-Marc Vincent:
We saw plenty of hot days but we kept enough away from 40°C to avoid big drops of acidity. I think it is a great vintage. And in 2020 we didn’t have the two generations of grapes that we had in the 2019s after the frost that year.

Frédérick Lafarge:
I’m very happy and for both colours. It’s also the fifth consecutive vintage with practically nothing to triage. The wines remind me of 1990 but with the terroirs, rather than the vintage, dominating.

Mark Haisma:
I decided in 2020 to pick it early and pick it fresh. If you did that, I think you will have something stunning – wait too long and you have jam – and some do.

Jérôme Flous:
A bit of a catastrophe for volume – it was the Côte Chalonnaise that suffered the most – the clays are different there – we can have a month without rain in the Côte de Nuits and you will see hardly any difference but you see the difference in the Chalonnaise – the more north you head we could see the extra balance.

Antoine Amiot-Servelle:
I think there’s a bit more material in these 2020s than the 2019s but the wines are still elegant.

Marie-Christine Mugneret:
We had some blocking of the maturity, that together with the concentration means that we can be very surprised by the purity despite some of the wines having 13.2-13.8°. I think, like this, the wines are more classic than the 14° of the 2019s.

Manu Bautista:
I harvested about 13° – I don’t like the fruit so much once it gets to 13.5° so I had 15 pickers ready to attack as we followed the maturity. It’s a whole year’s work so I don’t understand those that waited and made more pruney wines over 14°

Eduard Labet:
We waited until 27th to make our start – we couldn’t wait any longer for some of our 100-year-old vines and their maturity was good – but a little rain came on the 28th and it seemed that the grapes became juicier and ‘nourished’ from that.

François Millet:
The approach was very important in 2020 – you could see monsters. I destemmed completely and the potential for extracting was really high too.

Arnaud Mitanchey:
The wines are so deeply coloured – practically saturated. For us it’s incredible, these inky colours – we did just some remontage – I hate to think what we’d have had if we’d tried to extract!

Allesandro Noli:
The 2020 volume was down because of the dryness of the vintage – it wasn’t a lack of grapes, it was simply the lack of juice. We needed 310 kg of grapes for a barrel of wine in 2021, it was between 380 and 390kg in 2020 – not much juice and thick skins. So it was also essential to extract very carefully as there could have been much less noble tannins…

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

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