The 2016 Vintage - Burgundy
Frost is Burgundy’s greatest enemy and in 2016 it was merciless on the night of 26/27 April. After five small vintages (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 & 2015), what greeted the Burgundians on the morning of the 27th April 2016 (more anon) heralded devastation. Or so it seemed!
Though it took almost three weeks to materialise, what ensued was a second budding, an extended growing season, culminating in a small / tiny crop of very lovely, high quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. Though this was consoling, it was no compensation. Overall there was very little produced in 2016. In the context of the very fine quality that prevailed, this is un grand dommage!
Rather like 2012 where all manner of weather hurdles had to be surmounted before exceptional wines were eventually produced, 2016 has given us excellent, sometimes outstanding wines based on even lower yields than that lovely vintage. They have wonderful definition, are classic in style, with the haunting fragrance that only Burgundy can produce. Ultimately, it is these very thrills that we seek when we drink Burgundy and 2016 will give you plenty of those.
The reds are truly classic Pinot, with ripe, airy, extraordinarily fresh, transparent and impressively well balanced wines. They are structured too and should age well. Mother nature atoned for the destruction by producing wines which will give considerable pleasure to Burgundy lovers. This is a cool climate region and Pinot thrives in these conditions, subject to good light, some heat (July & Sept) and correct ripening conditions when needed most (June and Aug/Sept). The Chardonnays too are strikingly fresh. Though acidities are slightly on the low side, they exhibit ripeness and good depth. The immediate impression is one of vibrancy and persistence, aided by the fact that the musts fermented out dry, thus eliminating the impression of sweetness that higher levels of alcohol tend to confer on the finish.
Despite the frost, Burgundy has produced some very lovely red and white wines that will impress even the most ardent sceptics. It is fascinating to witness and understand the challenges the region’s weather imposes, the resilience of its growers, the incredible quality that Burgundy can produce, even in the most difficult of circumstances!
Why Pinot Noir is at its best in Burgundy is a much asked question? Most definitely the soil / terroir is, essentially, the answer. However, the soil in which the vines grow are weather dependent and timely so. (The grower is of course very important, but only as a mid-wife and the objective is that the delivery be as hands-free as possible). The weather in Burgundy is as much a victim of climate change as anywhere. Such change presents challenges. Today we have more precipitation and higher temperatures. In early summer, when cold air masses from the east or north meet warm air masses from the south and west, the outcome is often hail. Sometimes the hail is brutal. Frost, equally cruel, is welcome from Dec to early March. Thereafter, the impact from unexpected late frost can be devastating. It can hit with no particular topographical plan, falling gently in one vineyard; brutally in the next (2016).
The key point here is that Burgundy is a relatively cool climate region, with potentially 8-10 weeks of warm, possibly hot weather. Otherwise, the climate is cool, fresh, temperate.
These are the conditions in which Pinot Noir grows and in Burgundy’s soils, thrives.
Too cold and the grapes do not ripen sufficiently. Too hot and they produce wines which are atypical. Let me give you an example. The 1990 vintage was greeted as a ‘great’ vintage. It was a hot year and the grapes showed very early promise. Continued good weather throughout the summer had observers and journalists effusive. The colour, extract and fruit dimension was impressive. Indeed, the wines have aged well, with some grand crus still ‘on the go’ today! Though they have continuously exhibited impressive depth and length, there has always been residual heat / cooked nuances on the finish. The ‘fat’, opulent fruit character never masked the ‘burnt’ nuance. Though deemed to have Californian style ripeness and depth, to my palate these wines have never been classic; despite the eulogies.
Pinot needs climatological balance. It can withstand extremities, though not for long. Incredibly resilient, it can withstand most challenges and there are recent vintages to demonstrate the point. Excessive rain in 2012 (lovely, elegant vintage); hail in 2014 (ripe, plush, easy vintage with excellent fruit) and frost damage in 2016 (fresh, transparent, energetic, beautifully balanced wines). As Vincent Dancer once said, “essentially, once we get three good weeks in August or September and the flowering has been successful in May / June, we can make very good Pinot Noir”. Dancer makes it sound straightforward and while we take his point, it is not always so simple (notwithstanding the very impressive results of the past 10 years).
Today Burgundy has healthier grapes, better soil treatments, skill, resilience and more than anything, the knowledge to deal with mother-nature’s artillery. My 30 years of experience in Burgundy has demonstrated that the quality emanating from this region is better than ever and the 2016’s are proof; if proof was needed?
Chardonnay, a hardier grape than Pinot, was equally challenged. Though thicker skinned and slightly bigger in size, the armour was not enough to withstand the frost. Not everywhere was equally affected however and though some communes / parcels were hammered, others were virtually unscathed. The explanation? There is none. There was no consistency. What mattered is that those vines that were left untouched have produced very fine characterful wines. Appellation pedigree and flavour is preserved and customers can expect Saint-Aubin’s, Chassagnes and Maranges to taste of their origin. Less opulent than 2015 (a warmer, drier year) for sure; more a cross between the fresher 2012 and the structure of 2008 (ripe acidities). It should be noted that they have good keeping qualities.
Oidium and mildew were a significant threat up to late August for both Pinot and Chardonnay. The delicate decision between spraying often or not to, posed a dilemma. Spraying was unquestionably necessary but using judicious quantities was too. As ever in Burgundy, address is king and the achievements between domaines with healthy vineyards, necessitating less spraying and ‘mediocre’ addresses, will be evident in the results. There will be poor wines from Burgundy in 2016, but they are avoidable if you know where to look. What follows in the offer are vibrant, crisp whites, with impressive aromatic profiles, good ripeness levels and mouth-watering freshness. They energise your pallet and leave a lovely, fresh-acid, tingling aftertaste. The 2016’s show at their core plentiful ripe lemon and grapefruit, accessible aromatics and signature Burgundian saline qualities on the palate.
The Pinot fruit profile is predominantly red berry and in almost every appellation. Think raspberry, strawberry, pomegranate and red cherry. As you would reasonably expect, black fruits abound in areas like Gevrey and Morey, though 2016 exhibits a more red cherry profile than would normally be expected in these appellations.
The wines are elegant and fresh. Though the plusher 2015’s are perhaps more impressively endowed, there is no lack of substance in the 2016’s. They are sumptuous, with cool, sweet red fruits and suave, velvety tannins. They coat the pallet and are extraordinarily pure. A small number of winegrowers rated their 2016 wines above their 2015 counterparts.
The Chardonnays offer white orchard fruit and hawthorn blossom on the nose. This is the vintage character according to Vincent Rapet. What follows on the pallet is lots of lime / lemon and stony, earth nuances. Fresh, airy acidities inject a vibrant, pallet-coating finish that salivates the mouth. Oak percentages were reduced to prevent the citrus fruit expression being over-powered. The correct balance between oak and fruit is paramount in 2016. Most of the vignerons below averaged 10%-30% new oak and tastings confirm the vignerons understanding of exactly what their wines can and cannot handle.
Weather / The Frost of 26-27 April 2016
Early Spring (Mar and early Apr) was both wetter and warmer than normal – an occurring theme in the northern hemisphere. Burgundians prefer early frost before the sap rises (cold kills bugs). Early on the morning of the 27th April, vines which had been rain-soaked the previous day, were subjected to a rapid drop in temperature and the cloud base disappeared. When the sun rose, vines now coated in frozen crystals, were thus exposed to a strong sun that magnified the crystals, effectively burning the new buds and killing them! Tens of thousands of vines up and down the Cote d’Or were brulé (burnt off). More remarkably, the incidence varied from 20% to 70%, from appellation to appellation and within some parcels / ‘fields’ the rate of attrition mirrored that of the appellation itself! Incredible and also inexplicable. Damien Colin in Chassagne / Saint-Aubin lost between 20% and 80% depending on where. Vincent Charleux in Maranges lost between 10% and 15%. Comte Georges de Vogué lost 70% of their Musigny and 60% of their Bonnes-Mares. Jean-Marc Joblot in Givry incurred 5% loss in Pinot and 35% in Chardonnay. This gives the picture.
What followed from May to the third week in Sept (when the harvest began) was a see-saw of cold / warm / wet / hot weather, ideal for mildew. Spraying was not just desirable, it was imperative; especially if you were pursuing homeopathic or bio-dynamic practices. The vines needed defence measures. A case of needs must. Finally the gods smiled bringing warm to hot weather in late July, right through to a superb September. Bear in mind that the delayed, second budding, effectively ensured a lengthened growing season and ultimately late harvest. Most growers commenced the ‘vendange’ in or around 22-23 September. The vines were well ripened, with 12.2% to 13% + potentials recorded everywhere. Though not many, what grape bunches there were on the vines were showing excellent sugar readings, good sanitary condition and excellent phenolic ripeness levels that gave cause for hope. The result was very little chaptalizing (a little more in white than red), averaging 0.5% for the growers I spoke with (Colin and Joblot were two). In one sense, with the exception of volumes, 2016 experienced a very happy ending.
Both red and white have mid-term cellaring potential. Though most are already friendly, this may change. There is ample ripe fruit and sufficient ripe acidities to enable these wines to benefit from aging in good storage. Some will definitely need time, though most will be somewhere between 2-10 years; top wines will unquestionably age even longer.
Though ‘premox’ is still in evidence in older white wines and even though the numbers are unquestionably diminishing (based on scientific evidence), regrettably it is still a case of caveat emptor for wines stored in excess of five years.
In some addresses volumes are tiny (Dancer / Anne Gros / de Vogué). In others, small (Chevillon / Javillier / Colin). For most, below average. To give you some indication as to the definition of tiny in 2016, consider this – we list six different wines in this offer from Domaine Dancer. Out total allocation is 126 bottles! Presumably, this makes the point.
This will be a difficult vintage in which to fulfil all orders. Some customers who may have purchased the same wine for the past 2-3 years, may not receive any of this wine in 2016. We will be forced to go back through purchasing histories. We would ask that customers be understanding. The good news is that in 2017 Burgundy has produced its biggest harvest since 2009. Not as big as 2009, but quite decent. 2016 is an exception and for some wines, availability will be problematic.
Note that on page 22 we are offering a small number of magnums; some from the current 2016 vintage, plus a limited amount from the 2015 vintage.
In addition, we are offering two interesting mixed cases from older vintages, giving customers an opportunity to purchase small quantities of attractively priced mature wines.
Finally, a very small offering of mature NSTG 1er Cru (no longer available) from Robert Chevillon that we have secured. Drinking perfectly, with no hurry. Standard bottle size.
As mentioned before in previous vintage offerings, the Burgundians price according to two vintages; the one on offer and the quantity of the upcoming vintage in their cellars. Prices had already increased for the 2015’s and volumes notwithstanding, 2016 prices have largely held up. Do bear in mind that the 2016 vintage pricing was already factored in when the 2015 prices were set. ‘C’est la vie en Bourgogne!’
Prices for the 2016’s are by and large similar to 2015. There are exceptions; Chevillon & de Vogué notably. The latter suffering catastrophic losses.
Cognisant of the pricing now commanded in Burgundy and in the knowledge that an increasing number of fine Burgundies are out-reaching more pockets, we have put together
a list of impressive, well priced, affordable wines, that offer excellent quality and value (Charleux, Corsin, Joblot, Colin, Rapet, Dancer, Gros). Such prices are comparable to Pinots and Chardonnays coming from other wine regions across the globe.
In addition, we have ‘bundled’ some wines within estates. This permits cross range purchasing in small quantities and also offers an opportunity to taste a whole range of wines within a particular domaine, without having to buy full cases.