Why Big Red Diary?

A Vintage Viewpoint

red and white


The winter was cold and then so was the spring – not just cold, also very wet. Flowering was late, but quite even. The wet of the early part of the year encouraged plenty of foliage growth which needed keeping in check.

July was a record hot month – hotter even than in 2003. At the start of August the vines were about 3 weeks ahead of the ‘average’ year, but this year at least, nature evened things out with a cold and cloudy, wet August. By the end of that month we were back close to the average maturation cycle.

September weather hastened things a little with clear skies, slightly higher than average temperatures and very little rain. Mid-harvest, there was a little rain that made the vineyards sticky to work in, but nothing heavy enough to physically affect the grapes – just the demeanour of the pickers!

The major issue was the damp of August and the humidity of September which led to rot (botrytis) – significantly more-so in the Côte de Beaune. How vignerons and triage teams dealt with this will, to a large extent, define the quality of the vintage.

Individual plots varied significantly based both on exposure and the remedial measures taken. 13% was found in many vineyards right from the ‘ban des vendanges’, though perhaps the phenolics (of the pinot noir) favoured those who waited another week to pick.

For whites, 2006 has the potential to be a very good vintage, there was some botrytis, but it was (in most cases) easy to triage and chardonnay will anyway tolerate a little. Not everyone picked in the first week, those that waited until later in the second (and there were some) will have been faced with 14-14.5°, those wines will reflect that.

For reds, the vintage will not be homogenous. Quality and consistency may be found in the Côte de Nuits, the best producers will again have made very good, perhaps excellent wines – 2004 with a little more density. The raw materials of the Côte de Beaune were much more variable – even with thorough triage. The hill of Corton seems to have been the border and here may be found consistency.


Last year I opined; the question was not ‘good or bad?’, the question is ‘how good?’.

Both pinot and chardonnay grapes looked excellent so any required triage was fast and easy – very little weeding-out was required. To a large extent this lack of harvest drama has led to a relatively homogenous quality level. Of-course the vintage handed out devasting hail in some places, but the fact that it was dry and fine afterwards ensured that the effect was mainly on yields, rather than quality (no rot). By the standards of some recent vintages, although fine, the weather was not overly warm but it was sufficiently dry that younger vines were quite stressed.

Looking first to the whites, in terms of density and richness I would class them at least as good as 2002. Interestingly, and particularly in Chassagne, the aromatics remind me of 2004 – ripe citrussy fruit which I like a lot – but versus 2004 the average wine, particularly at regional and village level, has a palpable extra density. Certainly the wines seem just a little less fresh than the 2004’s – if you move in that direction – they seem equally mouthwatering but lacking a little ‘tension’ at this stage. I think that in many cases the key difference is that 2004’s currently have an attractive (to me) mineral aspect which many of the 2005’s are yet to display. That said, up and down the hierarchy, quality in 2005 is much more consistent than 2004.

For the reds we had a very inconsistent elevage; in just about every cellar some wines had screamed through their malolactics by the end spring and yet other cuvées were still plodding through malo in August. It is clear that some striking wines will have been produced; the average 2005 has more depth than its 2004 equivalent. Comparing, I see similar fineness of tannin – in this respect both are better than 2002 – and fewer cedar (some would say green) aromatics, lastly the 2005’s seem to lack a little freshness if you move from tasting 2004’s – though the pH’s are about equal – perhaps the fruit is a little more supple and balancing in 05. At the very best addresses the differences are less clear-cut vs 04, but in the end I would say depth, balance and density are the key characteristics of the vintage.


The harvest was similar in many respects to 2006 except that many areas of the Côte de Beaune also had the indignity of hail which made many bunches of fruit look quite grotesque. We have now had time to assess the vintage at some length and can see how high are the highs and equally how low the lows.

Whites are, on average, and to my taste, super. The sweetspot seems to be in the 1er cru area particularly with Chassagne and Puligny – I will award my rosette to Chassagne. The key attributes of the best wines are mouth-watering acidity – perhaps a little too mineral in some cases – but coupled to sweet citrussy fruit and very nice depth. They were drinking superbly straight from bottling and manage to hold your interest very well – many bottles were fully enjoyed during the summer. The village wines offer the same attributes but with a little less width. Occasional bourgognes have sometimes found it harder to cover the acidity with sweet fruit. Given the precocious nature of these whites it’s reasonable to question their longevity – there is so much balance, that provided they avoid premature oxidation (tough call!) I would have no qualms about leaving the 1er and grand cru wines in my cellar 10+ years – but they taste so good that that could be hard! The village and regional wines I would look to drink on the younger side.

Reds are a complex area! The wines are fresh for sure – 1996 fresh – what’s required for balance is plenty of ripe fruit. I’m happy to say that many wines provide it, but many also struggle. In terms of density some have it and others don’t; for example the wines of Dugat-Py are remarkable for their colour and density, yet sophisticated structure too, but there are no shortcuts, these are are 10+ year wines. One peculiar element of the vintage is a proportion of wines that show a green element on the nose. Why peculiar? Well usually it’s not really an unripe green pepper note, rather a herby, cedar, sometimes minty element, and peculiar because the wines seem ripe of fruit and tannin – but occasionally it’s like pine-needles and not very nice. The best wines are a wonderful mix of high-toned pure fruit, very well textured tannins and wonderful transparency – I’ve bought into these to a much greater extent than for 2003.

8 responses to “A Vintage Viewpoint”

  1. Dan Perrelli

    2004. Your white assessment generally tracks with my experiences, save in three particular instances: 1) Because of the nervy, high-pitched fruit/acid balance, the wines’ transparency favors Puligny over Chassagne, at least in terms of poise and suavity; 2) most Meurseults fall considerably short of past performance; 3) even in premier and grand cru vineyards, many wines have a biting “green” kernal in their finish, so despite often wonderful balance, laying down these bottles is fraught with great uncertainty — drink up unless you have tasted and are sure this flaw is not present. As you say, a vintage of great immediate enjoyment.

    2004 Red. I’d just add that the vintage is much better than generally offered in the press. Several producers have fashioned ravishing wines that could only be Burgundy from a specific site, unlike many wines from 2003. A repeat of 2001?

    Thank you for the most informative site on Burgundy.

  2. Ian

    Hi Bill

    Thanks for a very interesting news letter.
    Whilst I agree than many people have unfairly written down the 2004 vintage.
    We had a tasting of 6 whites and 6 reds with not one being less than very good. The whites particularly those of Jean-Marc Pillot were stunning and the reds showed even better than I expected. That said and with the “disclaimer” that I haven’t tasted the 2005s since the beginning of this year my impression is that whilst in the 2002 style, ie fruit driven, and probably why all the hype.
    I believe that at the majoprity of the 2005s are a marked step up on the 2004s. The 2004s varied for me in the spectrum of 2000 and 2001 (upper end, I love this vintage)in style , quality and terroir reflection. Some 2004s showed a bit of “greenness” and some had slight lactic character where malos of these high malic acids wines may not have been optimally handled.

    Regards, Ian

  3. Alex Bernardo

    Hi Bill,

    2004 is a bit difficult to generalize, isn’t it? While I’ve found many wines in both colors leaving a lot to be desired, I don’t see the vintage suffering from a lack of stellar wines. My observation is that vintages like 2004 is becoming rather rare in this age of global warming and in the ascendance of a forceful style. To my taste many of the best wines of 2004 are not exactly similar to 2002s or the better 2003s or even some of the 2005s that I’ve already tasted in bottle and barrel. What I enjoy most about 2004 wines in both colors is the purity even in the most concentrated wines.

    In the riper vintages of 2002 and 2005 you do find consistency, hence it’s easier to generalize. But while the fruit is luscious and attractive, the ripenes to my taste tends to dull the precision of the wines. In the generics I don’t find this a bad thing, but in the more expensive premier and grand crus, to get my money’s worth, I really like to taste the expression without being muddled by the overt ripeness.

  4. Tobias Gschwendtner

    Hi Bill, hi interctive users 🙂

    having several subscription papers on my desk dealing with the “fantastic”, “great” and so on year 2005, I wanted to know, if anyone has tasted the Boisset (Patriat) red wines of 2005 already from barrel? How do they taste, especially in comparison to the great 2004?

    Thanks for your help!

  5. Dan Perrelli

    Dear Alex – just read your comment and add my 99.9% agreement. The 02 and 05 ‘tenderloin’ premier and grand crus are generally going to have balance issues and lack the purity of the better 04s. Bob Collins re 2005: Buy high and buy low (elevations).

  6. Mike

    I’ve had very good experience with 2004, in particular Michel Gros 1st Cru Nuit St. George, Roumier Chambolle villages etc. There are many beautifully drinking 2004’s at reasonable prices.

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

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