Everyone was smiling during my visit to Burgundy last
month. The cellars were, after all, chock full of wine after two
good-sized vintages. At Maison Louis Jadot, the barrel cellars were
filled to the brim. For the first time ever, barrels were stacked three
high in a cellar designed for just two tiers. They even had rows of
barrels–3 and 4 high–in the winery. The 2017 vintage was normal in
volume, but is considered large by comparison to the five short vintages
that preceded it. The 2018 vintage was copious as well, which explains
why the cellars are so full. Frédéric Drouhin put it succinctly:
“Burgundy is back. We have wine.” The 2018 vintage, just finishing its
alcoholic fermentation, is already being hailed–somewhat prematurely
in my view–as exceptional. François Labet, President of the BIVB (Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne),
the organization that represents all Burgundy growers and producers,
said–with barely contained enthusiasm–that “It’s shining in Burgundy
just like our 2018 vintage, which is ideal . . . close to 1947.” His
enthusiasm was not isolated. Sales of the 2018 wines at the annual
Hospices de Beaune auction set a record.
Let’s start with the white wines from the 2017 vintage. My assessment
is based on recent tastings of hundreds of wines from growers and
négociants from Chablis in the north to the Côte Chalonnaise in the
south. Many of the whites were already bottled or in tank awaiting
bottling, whereas most of the reds were still in barrel. As readers
know, I do not review specific wines still in barrel because they still
have a long way to go before they are finished. Barrel samples do,
however, give a good sense of the vintage in general. (see link below,
which explains the drawbacks of barrel samples.)
The whites are consistent and excellent, delivering energy and a sense
of place. Not as tightly wound as the 2010s, the 2017s are more similar
to the charming and thoroughly enjoyable 2014s. It’s hard to wrong with
them, especially if you buy from producers whose wines you’ve liked in
the past. Just don’t expect the prices to come down because of the
relatively large crop. Producers are still trying to catch up from the
short-falls of the previous five years.
But bargains still abound. Look for well-priced examples from Maison
Joseph Drouhin–their 2017 Mâcon-Lugny “Les Crays” (88, $16) and
Saint-Véran (90, $18), both reviewed this week–as well as Paul Pernot’s
lacy and flowery Bourgogne Blanc (91, $27).
Indeed, Pernot, one of the most consistent names in Puligny-Montrachet,
made exceptional white wines in 2017 that are zesty, penetrating and
powerful but retain Pernot’s hallmark of finesse. You could buy any of
their wines from their Bourgogne Blanc up to their Bâtard-Montrachet,
and be thrilled. Of special note is their mineral-infused and lively
village Puligny-Montrachet (94, $55), which gives more enjoyment and
precision than many producers’ premier crus at a 40 percent lower price.
The 2017 Chablis from Drouhin’s Domaine Vaudon provide excellent value.
Véronique Drouhin raved about the “beautiful fruit at harvest.” She
explained that they left lots of lees (spent yeast) after pressing
because the grapes were so clean. She ascribes the brilliant acidity in
the finished wines to very little conversion of malic to lactic acid
during the malolactic fermentation. A reduced crop in 2017 marred the
otherwise excellent report from Chablis, the only region of Burgundy
where crop size was smaller than usual because of two severe frosts on
April 18 and 29. Drouhin’s 2017 village Chablis from their own
vineyards, bottled as Réserve de Vaudon, is flinty and long (91, $34).
It’s a stellar example of how invigorating village Chablis can be, in
the right hands. A step up are their citrus-tinged and mineral-y
Chablis 1er Cru Sécher (93, not yet released, hereafter “NYR”) and their
fuller, yet still flinty, 1er Cru Mont de Milieu (93, NYR).
I’ve always liked the wines from Domaine Lafouge, an under-the-radar
producer based in Auxey-Duresses. They vinified their 2017 whites in
their recently completed winery in that village, which may explain why
they are so stunning across the board. Their whites from Auxey-Duresses
and Meursault were impressive, all showing their clear origins and
distinctiveness. The Auxey-Duresses “Les Boutonnières,” a perfumed and
snappy village wine, should be an especially attractive value (91, the
2017 is not yet priced, but the 2016 is about $36). Lafouge’s 2017
village Meursault from the lieux-dits of Les Meix-Chavaux (94,
NYR, the 2016 is $50) and Les Casse-Têtes (93, NYR, the 2016 is $60) are
exciting, spicy and a delight to drink.
Though Domaine Parent is known for their stellar red wines, they also
produce note-worthy whites, especially their Monthélie Blanc, an unusual
wine since 90 percent of the wine from that village is red. I am a big
fan of Parent’s Monthélie white, made from purchased grapes, and their
2017 confirms my enthusiasm. Both creamy and zesty, this white
Monthélie conveys both power and restraint (93, NYR, the 2016 is $60).
It’s quite an amazing village wine.
In the Côte Chalonnaise, Domaine Jobard consistently produces stunning,
well-priced wines from Rully. That streak continued in 2017 with her
Rully “Montagne la Folie” (91, NYR, the 2015 is $22). It’s clean and
bright delivering the classic stony character of Rully enhanced with a
hint of creaminess. Claudie Jobard said that the key to making
excellent wines in 2017 was to limit yield to avoid dilution. Her wines
showed that she did just that.
Michel Bouzereau, one of the very top producers in Meursault, made
spectacular 2017s. To emphasize the origin of the grapes, he opted to
label his Bourgogne Blanc with the new appellation, Côte d’Or,
indicating that all the wine came exclusively from that part of
Burgundy. In his case, he told me that the wine came from his 11 acres
of vineyards, comprising almost one-third of his domaine, that lie just
outside of the official confines of Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault.
After tasting it, you’d never know it’s a “simple” Bourgogne Blanc
because of its depth and riveting acidity that amplifies its
considerable character (94, NYR, the 2016 is $34). His village
Meursault from Le Grand Charrons (94, NTR, the 2016 is $58) and Les
Tessons (95, NYR, the 2016 is $67), with their spicy notes, also punch
well above their weight class.
The most eye-opening producer I visited this year was Pernot-Belicard.
The Pernot part is Philippe Pernot, the winemaker who learned at the
side of his grandfather, the famed Paul Pernot, one of the leading
producers in Puligny-Montrachet. When Philippe married, his wife
brought family vineyards with her, the grapes from which had been sold
to négociants previously. Though the Pernot-Belicard domaine was
founded less than a decade ago, the vineyards had been in the Belicard
family for generations so there are plenty of old vines. The 2017 wines
from Pernot-Belicard are spectacular. Those who love white Burgundy
should buy as much of them as their wallets allow, including their
extraordinary and well-priced Bourgogne Blanc (93, $22, likely the best
wine for the money I tasted this trip), their old-vine village
Puligny-Montrachet (94, $55), and their racy and stony
Meursault-Perrières (96, NYR, the 2015 is $85).
Let’s look at the reds. I tasted far fewer bottled reds than whites,
and will leave specific recommendations to another time. However,
extensive barrel tastings and discussions with producers did give me a
sense of what I will call a bi-polar vintage. Make no mistake, the 2017s
reds are very good. The problem for consumers is that there are two
distinct styles of wines–charming and forward or denser and more
structured–depending, in large measure, on yields. Both styles are
very good, but consumers will need to realize that some of the wines are
seductively charming for drinking over the next several years while
others will reward extended cellaring.
Anne Parent, a top producer in Pommard, bursts with enthusiasm described
the 2017 reds, “The fruit is really amazing.” The vintage produced
good quantities of healthy grapes, requiring producers to discard few
grapes before putting them into fermenting vats. She notes that the
wines are “charming;” they lack the structure of the 2015s, 2016s or
2018s, but will be very enjoyable soon after release.
I found many wines that fit that description, but I also found wines
with density and structure, often within the same cellar. At Maison
Louis Jadot, for example, their Santenay Maladière, newly acquired with
their purchase of Domaine Prieur-Brunet and their Pernand-Vergelesses
Croix de la Pierre, were charming and forward. I could easily envision
enjoying them in a few years’ time. In contrast, Jadot’s
Chambolle-Musigny Les Baudes and Les Fuées were dense and structured.
Similarly, their wines from Beaune showed good concentration and
structure. At Méo-Camuzet, their reds all had presence and power
appropriate to the appellation.
Frédéric Barnier, Jadot’s talented winemaker, noted that many of their
wines have taken on far more structure and density since they have
completed what turned out to be a very early malolactic fermentation. I
wonder whether critics who tasted the wines earlier in the year,
proclaiming them to be light, will be surprised by the weight they have
put on recently.
As always when speaking of Burgundy, it is dangerous to generalize.
That’s certainly the case with the 2017 vintage, especially the reds.
It’s what I’ll call a “wine writer’s” vintage because consumers will
need advice, in contrast to selecting the 2015s reds when they could
point with eyes closed and be happy with their selection. So, stayed
* * *
E-mail me your thoughts about Burgundy in general or the 2017s in
specific at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter
December 5, 2018