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A Tale of Two Vintages
By Michael Apstein
Mar 6, 2012
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Is it hype or is it true?  Do 2009 and 2010 represent back-to-back great vintages for Burgundy or is it just another case of the French crying wolf with yet more “vintages of the century?”  My vote goes to truth rather than hype, although the two vintages couldn’t be more different.

Both vintages are currently available for purchase.  The 2009s have just arrived on retailers’ shelves along with a few whites from 2010.  Most of the 2010s are currently being sold as “futures” (pay now to reserve the wine and receive them in a year or two). 

Buying futures is risky because nobody, neither the consumer nor a critic, has the opportunity to taste the final bottled wine.  Young wines, especially tasted from barrel, are extremely difficult to evaluate.  Although barrel tastings allow one to assess a vintage in general, recommending specific wines based on those tastings is tricky because the wines are not finished.  The final blend has not been made nor has the total effect of barrel aging been seen.  Furthermore, red Burgundy seems to change more than other wines after bottling.  Tasting Burgundy from barrel is like looking at a single frame of a motion picture and predicting the ending of the film.  Nonetheless, I advise Burgundy fans to buy the 2010s as futures from your favorite producers because the quantities are down significantly and many of the wines will not be available unless they are reserved in advance. 

Those who lament the stratospheric prices of Burgundy have plenty of reasons to be happy with these two vintages because they provide plenty of satisfying and authentic Burgundy at reasonable prices.  (See Ed McCarthy’s recent column for more good advice about buying Burgundy: http://winereviewonline.com/Ed_MCarthy_on_Affordable_Burgundy.cfm).

2009s

The 2009s were the product of a perfect growing season, with plenty of sun to ripen the grapes, just enough rain when it was needed, and ideal weather during harvest.  Producer after producer told me they needed very few people working at the sorting tables because the grapes were in such healthy perfect condition.  Jérôme Faure-Brac, Drouhin’s Technical Director said “the 2009 vintage was a present of nature.”

The Reds

The reds were sumptuous, lush and, with their silky tannins, easy to taste when they were in barrel.  Despite their opulence, the wines are not high in alcohol because the tannins ripened simultaneously with the sugars.  I’ve often said--and still believe--that you can’t have too many ‘09 reds in your cellar. 

If there are criticisms of the vintage for the reds, it is that they are inconsistent and are so easy to taste they can’t possibly develop and reward cellaring.  Well, Burgundy is rarely consistent because Pinot Noir is an especially fickle variety.  And some growers, unhurried by the threat of rain during harvest, waited--and waite--and waited for maximum ripeness before harvesting.  The result for some was that the grapes were overripe with low acidity.  Those growers made overblown and out of balance red Burgundies.  So yes, there is some inconsistency among ‘09 reds, which reinforces the 11th commandment when it comes to Burgundy:  “Know and follow thy producer.” 

My notes from visits to cellars of major négociants, small producers, and the Hospices de Beaune in November 2009 and June 2010 reflected how their plushness made them easy to taste from barrel. 

Since then I have re-tasted scores of ‘09 reds after they’ve been bottled.  Indeed, I just opened Jadot’s 2009 Beaune Theurons and 2009 Beaune Bressandes because Zachy’s was selling them at the give-away price of $29 a bottle and I wanted to see if I wanted more for my cellar.  (Zachy’s often has “pop-up” sales.  It’s worth getting on their mailing list regardless of where you live.)  The wines were nothing like I remembered them from my tastings in Jadot’s cellars.  Mind you, they were still terrific wines--I picked up more for my cellar--but the lush baby fat that made so easy to taste was gone, replaced by a firm structure.  It was the reverse of the 2008 red Burgundies, which were lean and angular when sampled from barrel, but pleasantly fleshy when tasted from bottle.  Those who question whether the ‘09 reds have requisite structure to age, need not worry.

The Whites

The 2009 whites are fleshy and ripe.  Similar to the reds, they too have taken on more structure than I appreciated when I tasted them from barrel.  Still, they are more lush and more forward than the whites from 2008, which for me, along with 2004, remain the best years of the decade for whites.   The 2009 whites are open and delectable now.  The question, similar to that asked about the 2009 reds, is, will they develop into grand white Burgundy?  Who knows for sure--I’m putting my money on the 2008s--but with the ongoing anxiety about premature oxidation in white Burgundy and resulting hesitancy even among Burgundy experts about buying white Burgundies to age, it’s gratifying that the ‘09 whites are so seductive now. 

2010s

The weather during the growing season created havoc in the vineyards.  Frost, followed by cool rainy weather reduced the crop and allowed rot to potentially poison the harvest.  Meticulous sorting to remove rotten fruit before pressing was essential.  As a result, the crop was much reduced, down anywhere from 30 to 50 percent compared to 2009. 

The Reds

The 2010 red Burgundies are as attractive as the ‘09s, but in an entirely different style.  From barrel, the 2010s lacked the plushness the ‘09s had at a comparable stage.  But they are no less enthralling.  The 2010s are classically structured and proportioned and reflect their vineyard sites beautifully.  The wines from the Gevrey-Chambertin, for example, evoke the flavors of Gevrey-Chambertin while those from Beaune deliver the profile of that village.  All the wines, whatever their origins, are racy and fresh with firm, not hard, tannins.  They show the incredible flavor-without-weight combination unique to Burgundy.  In short, they are exciting young wines.  They will need appropriate cellaring to allow their glory to show.

I found the reds, all barrel samples, from Domaine de Bellene and Maison Roche de Bellene (new estate and négociant business, respectively of Nicolas Potel), Bouchard Père et Fils, Faiveley, Jadot, Latour, Domaine Méo-Camuzet, and Domaine Jacques Prieur especially captivating.

The Whites

2010 is the first vintage since 2002 in which the whites and reds are showing equally well at this stage.  With their vibrancy, tautness and balance, the whites remind me of the 2008s.  Although tight now, they are not lean.  The 2010s deliver plenty of flavors, just less overt fruit and more minerality.  Similar to the 2010 reds, the 2010 whites reflect the opposite style of the 2009 whites.  Tightly wound and racy at this stage, they need cellaring to unfold.  Which vintage is better?  It depends which style of white Burgundy you prefer--the more forward and lush 2009s or the racier and more mineraly 2010s.   You can enjoy the 09s while waiting for the ‘10s to open.

A Few Recommendations

Buy lesser pedigree ‘09 reds, such as AOC Bourgogne or wines from villages that are slightly off the beaten track.  The warmth and ripeness of the vintage helped these AOCs enormously.  And don’t forget Beaujolais from 2009.  Jadot’s 2009 Beaujolais from Chateau des Jacques are stunning.   In 2009, Bourgogne Rouge from Domaine du Château de Chorey, Domaine Bart or Domaine Gabriel Billard, Marsannay from Louis Latour, Drouhin’s Côte de Beaune, and Alex Gambal’s Chorey-lès-Beaune, to name just a few, are easy to recommend and not expensive.

Higher on the price and prestige ladder, look for any of Jadot’s Beaune from Premier Cru sites, Latour’s marvelous Volnay En Chevret, their superb Corton Clos du Roi or Corton Grancey, Bouchard Père et Fils very classy Volnay-Caillerets Cuvée Carnot, Domaine Rapet’s charming Beaune Clos du Roi and Drouhin’s lacey Beaune-Grèves or their riveting Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru.  I could go on and on.

But mainly, buy as many 2009 reds from producers you know and trust as your budget allows.  Ditto for 2010 reds.

Bourgogne Blanc did very well in 2009 because the added ripeness of the vintage helped enormously in ripening grapes grown in the less-than-glorious sites that are the sources for wines at this modest level.  Look for either respected grower’s Bourgogne Blanc or Bourgogne Blanc from leading négociants, such as Drouhin’s Laforet, Jadot’s Bourgogne Chardonnay, or Latour’s Cuvée Latour. 

Bouchard Père et Fils made a series of spectacular wines from Meursault, from village to Premier Cru, in 2009.  They are not to be missed.

Drouhin’s 2009 Chablis at every level, from village to Premier to Grand Cru, are simply gorgeous.  Frankly, I was surprised I liked them as much as I did given my enormous enthusiasm for their 2008s.  But these two great years in a row for them.  The 2009 Chablis from Simonnet-Febvre were also outstanding, showing great verve and minerality.  Also in 2009, look for wines from the Mâconnais, including Pouilly-Fuissé and St. Véran, from both négociants, such as Jadot, Latour or Vincent, or small growers such as Auvigue.

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E-mail me your thoughts about these vintages at mapstein@winereviewlonline.com