2005 Burgundies: Don’t Miss ’em, But Bring Your Wallet

Are the 2005 Burgundies as extraordinary as first reports indicate?  The Burgundians themselves are heralding the 2005 vintage–but that’s not news in and of itself, since wine producers always rave about the vintage they have to sell.  However, based on multiple tastings of 2005 Burgundies (during visits to the cellars of Bouchard Père et Fils, Louis Jadot, Louis Latour and Joseph Drouhin in Beaune last September, another visit to Beaune last month, samples from 20 producers imported by Frederick Wildman, and a retasting of Jadot’s wines in New York in January), I believe this is an extraordinary vintage for the reds and excellent one for the whites.

Outstanding Reds

It’s an outstanding vintage for reds.  The wines have a purity of fruit and, when not overly manipulated, they accurately reflect the individual vineyards or villages.  In general, the wines have ripe tannins balanced by vivacity from excellent levels of acidity.  Marvelous and easy to taste even at this young age–the fruit is so succulent and fresh–they should develop wonderful complexity over the next decade or two.

Great vintages, such as 2005, show depth at all appellations, even the lowliest ones, such as Bourgogne Rouge.  Certainly that is the case in 2005 when many simple Bourgogne, which often have a tendency to be thin, are rich and flavorful.  As an example, Faiveley’s 2005 Bourgogne Rouge is excellent and full of character.

Vincent Avenel, Faiveley’s new export manager and part of the new team aiming to reinvigorate this classic négociant, describes the 2005 vintage as a cross between the 2002 and 2003, with the voluptuous fruit of the later combined with the freshness of the former.

Despite the overall quality of the vintage, there is variability–after all, this is Burgundy we’re talking about.  Although most producers felt the 2005 reds were better than the 2002s, I found the 2002 vintage to be more consistent–and far less expensive–and urge consumers to buy whatever 2002s are still in the market.

Excellent Whites

While I believe it is a better vintage for Pinot Noir, the white Burgundies in general are excellent, especially those from the Côte Chalonnaise, Côte Mâconnais and lesser appellations, such as Bourgogne Blanc.  Producers were divided regarding their preference for 2004 or 2005 white Burgundies.  Many producers to whom I spoke preferred the racy, vibrant character of their 2004s, while others felt the added richness and opulence of the 2005s gave that vintage an edge.

The Weather Was Key

Nicolas Potel–whose range of 2005s was superb–felt the weather was superior in 2005 compared to 2002 allowing for consistent, even maturation.  In 2002 the maturation lagged, especially in the Cote de Beaune, until drying winds just prior to harvest concentrated the fruit, raising the sugar levels.   Jacques Lardière, Louis Jadot’s wizard winemaker, noted the lack of rain stressed the vines in 2005.  The unstated implication was that wines made from younger vines, whose roots do not go deep to the water table, will reflect the stress.  Jadot made outstanding reds in both the Côte de Beaune and the Côtes de Nuits in 2005, which are well priced by Kobrand, Jadot’s owner and importer.  I have a special affection for their wines from Beaune because they are more affordable and I think Lardière achieves greater things from them compared to the more exalted real estate further north.

Martin Prieur of Domaine Jacques Prieur said the weather throughout the year was ‘perfect.’  As a result, the grapes came into the winery in impeccable condition.  As a way of comparison, during the 2004 harvest, they assigned 10 workers to perform triage (a final inspection and opportunity to remove diseased grapes before they are crushed), whereas in 2005 they needed only two–who mostly had nothing to do.

The Wines from Beaujolais are Great in 2005

Don’t overlook the 2005s from Beaujolais.  They are superb across the board, as in the case of DuBoeuf’s wines, which excel from his village wines to his single estate bottlings.  Jadot’s 2005 Beaujolais-Villages is as good a Beaujolais-Villages as I’ve had–and I loved their 2003.  Jadot’s estates in Beaujolais (Château des Jacques in Moulin-a-Vent and Château Lumières in Morgon) turned out great wines.  The Potel-Aviron collection and the Morgon Charmes from J. J. Vincent, both imported by Wildman, are brilliant examples of the quality of the vintage in Beaujolais.

A Hysterical Market

Alex Gambal, an excellent small négociant based in Beaune, described the atmosphere of the market for the 2005 vintage as ‘hysteria.’  Quantities are down by at least a third in most appellations and demand is frenzied.  Practically all of his wines have been sold already even though most haven’t been bottled yet.

Burgundy producers must have looked at the prices of the 2005 vintage in Bordeaux and decided, ‘Why not.  If they can do it, so can we.’  Retail prices in the US are high.  I recently saw Bouchard’s Volnay Caillerets Cuvée Carnot, one of their flagship wines, advertised on the East Coast for $80 a bottle.  I remember the 2002 vintage of the same wine selling for half that.

Aside from pricing issues, you should also beware of a disturbing trend toward bottling wines with a village, but not a premier cru appellation, under vineyard names–lieux dits–and selling them at a higher price, when in reality, the particular plot is not sufficiently distinctive.  For all the faults of the French appellation system, it has missed very few vineyards that have the potential for producing great wines.

The Limitations of Barrel Tastings

Most of the wines I tasted were barrel or tank samples and are a good way to get a sense of the overall vintage. They are less useful for recommending individual wines because–in the case of barrel samples–the final blend has not yet been determined.  Even in Burgundy, where only one grape is used for each wine, the final product is still a blend from different barrels.  Tasting wine from the same vineyard, but aging in different barrels, as I have had the opportunity to do in Jadot’s cellars, shows a potential for dramatic variation.  The wine in some barrels may not develop precisely as the winemaker had hoped and will not be used in the final blend.

Furthermore, wine in barrels–even that wine destined for the final blend–is a work in progress.  Tasting wine from a barrel that has been racked recently can give a misleading impression of the final wine.  A good example of this potential for a false impression was Jadot’s Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St. Jacques, consistently one of their best.  Last September, I tasted it soon after racking and was unimpressed, finding it closed and angular.  In January in New York, it was positively marvelous showing all of the power and class expected from that vineyard.

Tank samples offer a better approximation of the finished wine, as the winemaker has completed the final blend and the wine is resting in an inert steel tank prior to bottling.

My General Recommendations

I’ll recommend specific wines in a future column.  For now, here are a few general recommendations:

–Quality in Burgundy is so variable, I rarely buy them before tasting them after they are bottled.  However, for the 2005 vintage, many wines will be sold only as ‘futures’ or on a pre-arrival basis because the quantities are so small.  If you wait expecting to see them on retailers’ shelves, you will be disappointed.  Therefore, I suggest buying wines from producers you trust and whose wines you’ve liked in the past as soon as you see them advertised.

–Wines from the lesser appellations are appealing in this vintage because they are less expensive, but still reflect the quality of 2005.

–Search for 2004 whites, especially if you favor the racier style of white Burgundy.  Although they come across as leaner now compared to the more opulent 2005s, the best will develop beautifully over the next several years.  Louis Latour’s whites, for example–and especially their Corton Charlemagne–are extraordinary (see my reviews in the Archives section).

–Snap up any remaining 2002 reds and white both because they are far less expensive, especially by comparison, you can taste the finished wine before buying in quantity, and in general, the vintage is as good.

–And finally, consider preparing yourself for the expense of buying the 2005s by getting a nice, big shot of novocaine in advance.

April 10, 2007