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editorial

grands jours de bourgogne

Welcome to the Spring edition – amazingly it’s already in the sixth year of Burgundy-Report.

Although there are plenty of pages to this report, it’s not really in my preferred style – it’s mainly notes of tastings, rather than profiles put together with producers – why? Put it down to all those visits that I cancelled in January whilst in the midst of a 9 week cold. Tasting was at best, only an abstract concept that month.

Hopefully the Summer issue will be a little more varied!

The Grands Jour de Bourgogne
That I still have so much ‘material’ to publish is significantly down to my 3 days in the Côtes that overlapped with the GJdB – I even got a press pass! For a ‘journalist’ or someone from the trade looking to go deeper in knowledge it’s really without equal – the quality of the wines tasted is good, you taste them in the village of their production and their makers are almost always present. On the negative side, it can be like an England-France rugby scrum to reach your target table – I even heard that they ran out of wine in Chambolle! I managed to get only to the Volnay tasting and left when it started getting busy, but I had three days jam-packed with tasting – I could have added visits to Pommard and Aloxe too, but by lunchtime on day three my teeth were hypersensitive to the acidity – and you all thought it was fun! Still it’s just as important to talk with people and I think I got the balance right. I have a few reservations about the ‘Jours’ but overwhelmingly it’s a great excercise, and for a good purpose.

Vintage buys
I’ve been trawling the lists of brokers, and in the wake of pricey but successful 2005 and 2006 campaigns by the merchants, prices are creeping up for all the vintages in stock. Bargains are becoming hard to find, but the best values in the last 3-4 months seem to consistently be found with the red 2002 vintage, I even parted cash for a 12-pack of Vosne-Romanée 1er Petits-Monts last month…

‘Extreme’ quality of 2005
I noticed an interesting trend while discussing wine with owners and CEO’s of wine companies in Burgundy; 2005 was serially described as of ‘extreme’ quality – I’m interested in the use of the word ‘extreme’ rather than great, stunning etc., etc.. I have the impression that despite stocks being long sold, some would prefer that 2005 is not universally deployed as a benchmark!

The changing face of the 2006 vintage
REDS: Post-bottling, wine changes at its own, usually slow pace. Pre-bottling is something completely different – this was clearly emphasised in the first months of this year while re-tasting the 2006’s. Normally by March almost everything is bottled, indeed 6 months ago many producers were expecting to bottle their charming and quite sophisticated 2006’s before Christmas, to (as they say) ‘retain their freshness’. Well for a number of producers that didn’t happen. In the last months of 2007 the wines started to gain weight such that many delayed bottling, and quite a lot of Grand Cru juice was still not bottled by the middle of March. So what’s the consequence for those that read mine and everyone else’s barrel notes? The wines have a little more depth, but they also have a lot more obvious tannic structure than was the case in the last quarter of 2007 – or was apparent in those en-primeur sample bottles! Last year I opined that many were better than their 2002 counterparts because of the silkier quality of their tannins, for some they are now a little less silky than before, which requires a partial re-assessment of their place: At the end of 2007 I had these pegged as super early and mid-term drinkers which I would certainly be drinking in preference to 2005’s, but my short-term horizon is now a little challenged – maybe I’ll have to be taking the more successful 2004’s instead – these have not yet shown to be tightening for their slumber.
WHITES: This is more about my own take on the vintage, rather than a specific change in the bottles. Without exception my 2007 visits indicated good concentration, nice acidity and a quick shorthand of 2004 with a bit more ‘oomph’. Wider tasting this year has shown that quite a number of producers with a different slant; plump, concentrated but for me, less fresh and exciting. In the main, put this down to a couple of factors – later picking and batonage. My normal suppliers are still in-line with with my initial thoughts and I’ll be buying from them.

Pricing 2007
It is inevitable, and you’re not going to like it! Certainly if you buy from négociants, the prices are going up and ‘big-time’, and whilst the whites may be splendid, the reds are at best an ‘average to good’ vintage. You can point to yields and higher base grape prices, you can also point to the withering value of the US dollar and British pound versus the Euro, but in the end as one contact points out, it’s about supply and demand:

“we sold more wine than we made for the last two years so our stocks are depleted – our cellar is effectively empty so I have nothing I can sell for another 7 months, add to this yields of only 60% versus the historic average for many 2007 cuvées and prices will increase by at least 20%”

This was confirmed in the last days by Pierre-Henri Gagey (quote from Reuters):

“We have been absorbing the dollar decline for the past few years. The producers have given up their margin, the trade has sacrificed its margin and the importers have slashed their margins. But we have now arrived at a situation where we cannot take it any longer and from now on we will feel the full brunt of any further dollar weakness”

A Future for Beaujolais?
I’ve only really been ‘converted’ to this region in the last couple of years and this largely reflects my wish to avoid ‘further buying opportunities’ which I rationalise by saying that I’m ‘focused’…
The problem for the region is that their sales have gone down by about 5% in each of the most recent vintages. One well-known producer of burgundy and occasional Beaujolais shipper told me that he thought the only way forward would be to take the word Beaujolais from the label of the ‘Crus’, such is the lack of cachet from that nouveau-infected word. That would be tough, it’s like trying to avoid saying that Puligny or Chambolle are from Burgundy – but perhaps that is one possible route; ‘Fleurie, Grand Vin de Bourgogne’ anyone? Clearly as the prices increase in the Côte d’Or, cru Beaujolais from a fine producer is among the most outstanding values of ‘Greater Burgundy’ if not the greater world of wine; complex, age-able wine in a Burgundy style whose greatest bottles can be cheaper than some Bourgogne Pinot Noir. The regions and their merchants have a wonderful product and a wonderful market window opening up, but only they can get things moving – a marketing consultant anyone?
Email me if interested 😉

4 responses to “editorial”

  1. ed

    Interesting piece about the Beaujolais but to me the problem still is that a lot of the wines produced there are nowhere near the quality that can be made. Metras, Jambon cs. don’t have any problem selling their wine for premium prices. Metras is charging for his Fleurie cuvée Classique 2006 € 15,20!

  2. Michael Donohue

    Wow this is a conundrum. I am a pinot purist and ‘le mauvais’ gamay can have no stake on the Cote d’Or or Bourgogne labeling in my mind -as much as I too would love to support the fine wines of cru Beaujolais. And yet Beaujolais always will be there and have its schizoid history of some transcendent Pinot lookalikes (this is high praise),gummy CM dreck and pleasant quaffs. So yes, I say, to measured (how laden is that term? how will the tasting panel be kept independent?) Grand Vin de Bourgogne des crus Beaujolais. I’m going to look for a decent Chenas or St Amour ASAP!(and in NoCal that might be tough) It’s been a long while…

  3. becky wasserman hone

    Bill – I have been working with Beaujolais estates for 25 years now. The region has more old vines than any other and those tiny gamay berries have little in common with newer plantings. Several Beaujolais
    crus can be cellared for many years and tend to ‘pinote’. Lalou Bize once confounded a number of VIPs when she poured from magnums of a 1955 Moulin-à-Vent. This is not the point. Proper Gamay on
    granitic soil can produce wonderful wines. Thank you, Bill, for your good words.

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

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