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All Smiles in Burgundy
By Michael Apstein
Nov 17, 2015
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There were smiles all around Burgundy--at least before the horrific events in Paris on Friday, November 13. And with good reason: The 2014 whites are stunning. And overall, yields in 2014 were closer to normal--70 to 80 percent--after four short harvests, though, as Frédéric Barnier, winemaker at Maison Louis Jadot, noted, “We are still looking for a full [normal] crop.” Barnier continued, “We knew from the outset we had something special with the [2014] whites, but the quality of the reds was surprising.” He said that the reds were initially difficult to assess because they went though malolactic fermentation very early--soon after the alcoholic fermentation--due to the unusually warm fall that year. He was pleased with them after this transformation had occurred.

Everyone involved in the wine trade was positively giddy about the quality of the 2015 vintage, especially the reds, often describing the vintage as “sublime.” Winemakers traced the quality of the vintage directly to the superb weather that marked the growing season and harvest. Grapes came to the wineries in perfect condition. Anne Parent, owner of one of the leading domaines in Pommard, calculated that they excluded only 0.05 percent of the grapes at the sorting table because the harvest was so healthy. Alex Gambal, proprietor of his eponymous winery in Beaune, remarked with a broad smile, “The sorting table was superfluous in 2015.”

In Beaujolais, which also enjoyed perfect weather, Pierre Savoye, a top grower in Morgon, modestly remarked, “The weather made the grapes and the grapes made the wine. The winemaker had nothing to do in 2015.” Audrey Charton, the head of the very fine Domaine du Clos des Garands in Fleurie and president of the organization that represents all the Crus of Beaujolais, was effusive in her praise, saying that the wines had incredible density and concentrated flavors due to the abnormally hot and dry growing season. She added that the Gamay, with its naturally high acidity, was a variety well suited to extreme situations. She summed it up by saying that vintage was one of the three best in the last 70 years, along with the legendary 1947 and 2009.

The 2014s

Consumers can close their eyes and point to select a white 2014. After tasting scores of them, there was hardly a wine that I wouldn’t recommend. It’s an exceptional and consistent vintage for the whites in all four major white wine areas of Burgundy--Chablis, Côte d’Or, Côte Chalonnaise, and the Mâconnais--as exemplified by growers and négociants alike. These are wines that will please everyone, from aficionados to those who just want a glass of a lively Chardonnay-based wine. The wines from the more prestigious appellations have the requisite balance and verve to evolve nicely with bottle age, especially now that most winemakers believe the problem of premature oxidation is behind them. The whites from less revered terroir, such as the Mâconnais, are ideal for immediate consumption when they become available.

Damien Colin, who runs the domaine Marc Colin et Fils in St. Aubin along with his brother and sister, poured a dazzling array of 21 wines, from a satisfying Bourgogne Blanc to his grand Montrachet, with stops at St. Aubin, Chassagne- and Puligny-Montrachet in between. All of them had precision and clarity. I’d be thrilled to have any of these wines in my cellar. The flowery style of the Domaine Paul Pernot in Puligny-Montrachet, which is dramatically different from the edginess of Colin’s, was also well suited to the bracing minerality of the 2014s. After tasting each of Pernot’s 2014s with David Netzer from The Wine House, an importer from California who had already purchased five pallats of them, we both smiled. I remarked that perhaps the only mistake he made was not buying more of them. At what will undoubtedly be more affordable prices, the Rully from Domaine Claudie Jobard were rich yet vibrant. The line-up of St. Véran and Pouilly-Fuissé from Vignobles Roger Lassarat was clear evidence of the vinous wealth of the Mâconnais in 2014.

Négociants were equally successful. Maison Joseph Drouhin’s whites displayed a captivating laciness combined with purity and power. And, of course, their Premier and Grand Cru wines from the Côte de Beaune were spectacular. At a more modestly priced level, consumers should grab Drouhin's whites from the Côte Chalonnaise, such as Rully, and the house's very reliable St. Véran from the Mâconnais. Drouhin’s Domaine Vaudon from exceptionally well-sited vineyards in Chablis showed just how well that appellation did in 2014. Their Chablis Réserve de Vaudon was a knockout and is typically well priced.

Under the direction of Bouchard's new winemaker, Frédéric Weber, their line-up, from a “simple” village Meursault Le Clous to their monumental Montrachet, was riveting. (Bouchard’s former longtime star winemaker, Paul Prost, now carries the title of Technical Director.) Whites from throughout the region--from Chablis to Côte d’Or to the Mâconnais and Côte Chalonnaise, reflected their origins and finished with a liveliness and crispness that amplified their definition.

Unlike those of Drouhin and Bouchard, none of Jadot’s 2014 whites that I tasted had been bottled. The samples drawn from individual barrels showed the grandeur and precision of the vintage with an uplifting freshness and acidity. Overall, the wines reflected their appellations and conveyed great purity and focus. Since Jadot has such a good track record and reputation, I would buy their 2014 whites without hesitation.

The 2014 whites remind me of--and are in the same top league as--those from the 2010, 2008 and 2004 vintages. My advice--buy them when you have the chance--even as a “futures” offering.

Many of the 2014 reds--Jadot’s were particularly thrilling--are excellent, but this being Burgundy, others were lean and hard and not showing so well at this stage. So, as always, in Burgundy, know and trust the producer or wait and taste them before you buy.

The 2015s

Though many producers to whom I spoke, raved about the quality of the 2015 vintage in Burgundy, others wanted to wait to give their assessment until after the malolactic fermentation had occurred. The thirty-two 2015 reds I tasted from the Hospices de Beaune and the handful of 2015 Beaujolais, obviously all barrel samples and not finished wines, confirmed how others had characterized the vintage: Darkly colored, ripe and rich, with, paradoxically for all the ripeness, lively acidity. The tannins were substantial, but overwhelmed by the lushness of the fruit, so tasting the wines was easy. A major problem for those of us who are not “one percenters” will be the prices because yields again were depressed by anywhere from 10 to 30 percent. Already the prices for the 2015s at the just concluded 155th Hospices de Beaune auction (La Vente des Vins) were up by about 40 percent for both reds and whites.

2015 Beaujolais Nouveau

Released on the third Thursday of November, Beaujolais Nouveau is often derided by critics and connoisseurs. It certainly has waned in popularity, at least judging by the production, which has dropped 50 percent in the last decade, according to Louis-Fabrice Latour, head of Maison Louis Latour, one of Burgundy’s top producers. Nevertheless, Latour notes that it still represents one-third of Beaujolais sales and the region could not survive without it. Though Maison Latour does not produce a Beaujolais Nouveau, Louis-Fabrice is a vociferous advocate of the region and is well versed in its charms and problems. I urge consumers to try the 2015 Beaujolais Nouveau to get a glimpse of the vintage and enjoy its fruity charm and easy drinkability. And, given the extraordinary character of the 2015 vintage, a Beaujolais Nouveau could well prove just the thing for your Thanksgiving table, all juicy, ripe fruit to go with the bird.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Burgundy or Beaujolais at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

November 18, 2015