The 2011 vintage in Burgundy runs the risk of being forgotten despite producing very fine wines. The first strike against it is that it was sandwiched between two stellar vintages, 2010 and 2012. The 2010 vintage in Burgundy was superb for both whites and reds, and some of these wines remain on retailers’ shelves. Though the 2012s are still a year away from the retail market, they are developing beautifully and have already received high praise, justifiably so judging from my tastings in Burgundy last month. Strike two is the price of the wines. Poor weather resulted in low yields in 2011, forcing prices up. And even lower yields in 2012 put further pressure on the prices of the 2011s. Once producers saw that yields were down by an astonishing 50 percent in 2012, many raised the prices of their unreleased 2011s because they knew they couldn’t raise the prices of the 2012s sufficiently to accurately reflect the paucity of wine.
Nonetheless, the 2011 Burgundies should be embraced. Despite the pressure on prices, there are some fine values in the marketplace. I recommend ten exceptional value-packed wines in this column. The most expensive red is $25, which for Pinot Noir in general and Burgundy in particular, is a steal.
While the 2011s will never have the stature of the wines from 2005, 2009, or 2010, most are charming and provide enormous pleasurable drinking now. Laurent Drouhin, the U.S. representative and a member of the family that owns the top-notch négociant firm, Maison Joseph Drouhin, describes them overall as “restaurant wines,” meaning they will be ready to drink much sooner than those from more revered vintages. He thinks they will give “much pleasure” as Burgundy fans wait for their 2009s and 20010s to mature. And, as always the case in Burgundy, some producers made superb wines in this less-heralded vintage. Indeed, Jacques Lardière, Maison Louis Jadot’s legendary winemaker who retired after the 2011 vintage, notes, “some 2011s will be better than the 2010s.” Indeed, after tasting their wines from barrel last year, it was crystal clear that Jadot made an exciting lineup of wines in 2011. And given their history of reasonable prices, I expect there will be bargains among them. I’ve not included any in this column because I prefer not to recommend wines based on tasting barrel samples, which are, in effect, unfinished, incomplete wines. I will post reviews of these wines in the Reviews section of WRO in the coming months after I’ve tasted them from bottle.
Hard to Generalize
Generalizations about Burgundies are hazardous because even in this small area, there are vast differences in soil, climate and winemaking philosophy. Two producers making wines from grapes grown in the same vineyard can produce vastly different wines. Even the seemingly simple question, which were better in 2011, reds or whites, is met with a Gallic shrug and, “Cela dépend” (it depends). Lardière and Philippe Prost, the very talented winemaker at Bouchard Père et Fils, another leading négociant, favors the reds over the whites, while Bernard Hervé, the CEO of Domaine Faiveley, another of Burgundy’s best producers, is enthusiastic about their whites. He agreed there was great variability (as always) depending on when people harvested. Laurent Drouhin thinks that Chablis did very well in 2011.
Erwan Faiveley, the president of the eponymous domaine, summed up the vintage by saying, “they were born of difficulty (referring to the weather) and happy to see something nice from it.” Faiveley, never one to over-hype his wines, described the vintage in his typical understatement as, “very nice.” Jeanne-Marie de Champs, a broker with an extensive experience in Burgundy and a superb taster (unlike a critic, she stands to lose both money and reputation if she chooses wrong), describes the reds as “a friendly vintage, not for aging for 20 years because they are a little bit lighter.” She noted that Domaine Méo-Camuzet, one of the growers she represents, opted to limit extraction to capture the fruit and delicacy of the vintage. Laurent Drouhin echoed that sentiment when he told me that they bottled their 2011 reds a little earlier than usual to capture the lovely fruitiness the vintage delivered.
Alex Gambal, a transplanted American whose small domaine and négociant business is certainly one to watch (and who made terrific wines in 2011), assessed the vintage on his website with his usual unadorned candor: “The question I am asked … at harvest … is how ‘great’ the vintage will be. Most of the time (and all honest winemakers will say the same thing) we have no idea. Yes, once every twenty years of so we know we have perfect grapes (2009) but this is the exception, not the rule. Thus 2011 was a typical year in Burgundy because we saw everything; perfect grapes, under-ripe grapes, and rotten grapes. You will hear of those who harvested early, in the middle and late. Each person will tell you that their decision was the correct one. Some will be extolled as ‘brilliant’ but I can assure you that it is all wishful thinking. You must taste the wines in bottle.”
More Uneven Than Usual
Based on my tastings in Burgundy last year and last month, I found the 2011s even more variable than Burgundies usually are. Most reds were forward, charming and delectable now, but some were structured, concentrated and balanced, suggesting years of cellaring would be necessary before pulling the cork. I had similar difficulty generalizing about the whites. Most were forward, with low perceptible acidity that made them immediately accessible. However, a surprising number were full of vibrancy and energy, comparable to the whites from a more structured vintage, such as 2008 or 2010.
In addition to my usual reminder that the single most important thing to remember when buying Burgundy is the producer’s name, I have listed 10 wines—6 reds and 4 whites—from 2011 that are standouts for the price. All of the wines I have recommended below are based on my tasting the finished wines that had been bottled. Watch for more recommendations in the Reviews section of WRO over the next several months.
Maison Joseph Drouhin, Bourgogne Pinot Noir, “Laforêt,” 2011 ($16): Drouhin’s Burgundies always please. Their lacy, not-over-extracted style is perfectly suited to capturing the nuances of Pinot Noir. And they succeed admirably whether they are making a Grand Cru from their own vineyards or this, their simple Bourgogne Rouge from purchased grapes. The 2011 Laforêt has the charm and delicacy of authentic Burgundy and is perfect for drinking tonight.
Château de Raousset, Chiroubles, 2011 ($18): Don’t forget Beaujolais, in 2011, especially the crus, like Chiroubles. Good ripeness has imparted depth with undertones of dark, bitter cherries. This is serious stuff, not your typical grapey light-hearted Beaujolais.
Maison Joseph Drouhin, Chorey-lès-Beaune, 2011 ($23): Similar to Savigny, Chorey is a small village just outside of Beaune that can be an excellent source for reasonably priced red Burgundy, such as this one. It has more stuffing that Drouhin’s Laforêt without sacrificing any of the charm. Lacy and fragrant, it is remarkably concentrated for a wine from this village. Véronique Drouhin attributes the concentration in their 2011s to the low yields.
Domaine Bart, Marsannay, Echezots, 2011 ($23): Marsannay, a tiny village almost in the suburbs of Dijon, is a treasure trove of well priced Burgundy. It’s one of those rare villages where the quality of the wines has far outdistanced the price because the pricing structure is rooted in the prestige of the appellation—and Marsannay, which claims not a single premier cru vineyard, has no prestige. But it has terrific wines from a handful of hard-working producers, one of whom is Domaine Bart. Bart’s 2011 Marsannay Echezots is mineraly, expansive and long. And a bargain.
Domaine Bart, Marsannay Les Saint Jacques, 2011 ($23): Les Saint Jacques is one of the best sites in Marsannay, but with only two owners, it’s unlikely there’s enough political oomph to raise it to premier cru when (and if) the authorities ever get around to it. So the price will likely remain reasonable. An alluring combination of deep, sweet, cherry-like fruit offset by an intriguing earthy component makes this wine a spectacular value. Don’t miss it.
Domaine Bart, Marsannay Champs Salomon, 2011 ($25): Martin Bart believes that if any vineyard will be elevated to Premier Cru status, it will be Champs Salomon because it is well situated in the middle of the slope. Similar to Bart’s other wines from Marsannay, it’s impeccably balanced, showing both the sweet and savory side of Burgundy. Perhaps there’s a touch more going on here, but frankly, I’d gladly buy any of Domaine Bart’s Marsannays.
Bouchard Père et Fils, Bourgogne Blanc ($16): Bouchard Père et Fils, one of Burgundy’s leading producers, made an engagingly fruity Bourgogne Blanc that your guests—and you—will embrace. It’s hard to beat this Chardonnay-based wine for the price.
Domaine Michel-Andreotti, Montagny, “Les Guigunottes,” 2011 ($20): Montagny, a village in the Côte Chalonnaise, is a good place for well-priced white Burgundy like this one. It delivers slightly creamy, stony flavors. Philippe Andreotti attributes the unusual concentration of a Montagny village wine to a hailstorm that markedly reduced yields but did not harm the grapes.
Domaine Sainte-Barbe, Mâcon Villages, “Les Tilles,” 2011 ($21): Domaine Sainte-Barbe is a good name to remember. Their whole lineup of 2011s is stellar and easy to recommend. This Mâcon Villages, for example, has unusual depth and character for a wine from that appellation. It will be hard to find a better $20 Chardonnay-based wine.
Domaine Paul Pernot et Fils, Bourgogne Blanc, 2011 ($25): Paul Pernot, a top grower in Puligny-Montrachet, uses his grapes from three parcels that are near that village, but lie just outside the Puligny-Montrachet appellation. Lovely to drink now, it has minerality and a hint of creaminess.
E-mail me your thoughts on the 2011 vintage in Burgundy at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein