The 2017 Vintage - Burgundy
Vincent Rapet’s description of the 2017 vintage summed it up perfectly - “gourmand, tendre et flatteur” – gourmand, supple and flattering. The dictionary will tell you that gourmand means a person who likes eating and sometimes eats too much. Burgundy 2017 Pinot Noir is irresistible and is so supple, friendly and fresh that it is all too easy to drink it straightaway. This is certainly a vintage where you can do just that. Indeed, you can drink 2017 before both 2016 and 2015; if you wish. Don’t be misled though – these are lovely wines that have good structure, ample fruit extract and are joyously fresh. They happen to be wines which can be consumed early. The best will undoubtedly keep and Francois Millet is one winemaker (Comte Georges de Vogué) who recommends that despite the immediacy of these wines, they deserve some time . . . . “to rush these wines is a mistake. You can drink them for sure, but they will surprise you too”.
Good as Pinot Noir is in this vintage, Chardonnay has fared even better. We have a beautiful vintage of juicy, succulently fresh, medium-bodied wines that will appeal to all palates. There is classic Burgundian mineral citrus fruits, together with fine, mature acidities and a stonemasons chiselled spine that excites. These are highly digestive, immediately appealing wines that flatter your first taste impressions. Like their red counterparts, there is a ‘more’ish’ appeal to these whites, but a little patience here too will be rewarded (a year or two is all that is required in most instances).
After the despair of 2016 and that year’s unforgettable and destructive frosts, 2017 was one of the easiest vintages in modern times to cultivate. A year that the vignerons of Burgundy merely had to observe, coach and intervene on rare occasions only. April frosts threatened and Burgundians worried momentarily, but they didn’t dwell or impact. Heat through the summer months created thirst and some vines protested, shutting down; though again, only very briefly. Most importantly, overall sanitary conditions were excellent (oidium and mildew barely got a look in), resulting in seductively ripe, well sugared grapes with good skin/juice ratios, that was one of the best for years.
Most important of all, mother nature produced very respectable volumes. As if guilt-ridden after six years of small to tiny yields, she produced a plentiful crop of ‘seventeens’ and comparable volumes again in 2018. At last Burgundy has wine to sell. The sense of relief and satisfaction was evident everywhere. Happily, two very good vintages to boot. Consumers too will be glad to read that many growers have lowered their prices.
Like 2015, the 2017 harvest was early and while the wines do not have quite the concentration or firm structure of the 2015’s, they have excellent fruit, charm and freshness nonetheless. They are certainly ripe, but not rich (2009, 1999). They are rounded (meaning, they fill the mouth with amplitude and softness), but not full bodied. The hallmark is more one of freshness than depth. They have moderate intensity, are very approachable and exhibit a more ‘relaxed’ style than the energetic 2016’s. They have lovely Pinot expression, are classic in style and express a ripe summer fruit mouth-feel. They are deliciously easy to taste.
In the northern sector of the Cote d’Or (Cote de Nuits), the wines have a silkier, satin finish, with impressive ripeness. The wines exhibit damson, cherry, light plum notes and are invariably generous. Importantly, there are no hard edges to this vintage and so the fruit’s exuberance impacts fully. We have nice ripe tannins and where whole bunch clusters were used, there is a palpable sense of volume in the mouth. The wines taste and finish ‘comfortably’ – there are no surprises.
South of Comblanchien, as we enter the Cote de Beaune, the wines reflect summer pastille flavours of strawberry, raspberry and pomegranate. This is red fruits territory. There is also balanced acidity giving a lovely sensation of freshness. The wines are generally lighter here (as you would expect) than further north, though there is no shortage of extract. Tannins are softer, if smoother. This makes the wines irresistibly easy to consume. Both lower yields and later picking, where practised, produced lovely results.
The quality and quantity for Pinot Noir are inextricably linked – too generous a yield and Pinot becomes dilute and loses its freshness. Conversely, if there had not been sufficient quantity of fruit for the vines to ripen (i.e. if the yields had been too small), the grapes could easily have over-ripened and the resulting wines would lack balance. The ‘caveat’ for consumers is that in 2017 there will be some thin and lean wines; particularly where growers succumbed to the temptation after 2016 to produce quantity (and you could – especially if you didn’t ‘green harvest’). Just because it was a hot vintage does not mean that all reds will be rich and rounded. Some grape bunches were huge, with high sugar and low acidity. So it very much depends on yield.
The growers listed in this offer are not just conscientious, they are highly reputable and are unfailingly quality-driven. Consumers will need to be mindful and selective in 2017 and caution is urged when buying from domaines without a history of best practice!
As one reputed grower put it . . . “2017 may not have the pillar-like structure of either 2016 or 2015; it is however much closer to 2016 and 2015 than 2007 was to 2006 and 2005. It may not be considered a great vintage but it is certainly a very, very good vintage. It is 2014 plus, but definitely in the style of the accessible 2014’s”. . . . . Vincent Charleux (Maranges).
If the Pinot was successful, Chardonnay thrived in the hot weather. 2017 white Burgundy combines elements of the finely chiselled, beautifully fresh 2014’s (if less structure than in 2014), with the impressively ripe, succulent, delicious 2015’s. Like 2014, these 2017’s are intense. Like 2015, these 2017’s are also irresistible. But you should wait. While you do, delight in the Saint-Veran’s, Bourgognes, Santenays and Maranges of 2017, which deliver in spades.
There were vibrant, succulent vintages before 2017 of course, but the balance in this vintage is very impressive. There is no sense of over-ripeness either. These wines are trimmed, with medium body and medium alcohol. They have good energy, but not the tension of 2008 or 2014. The fruit is peach-like, though there is plenty of citrus and lime too. The wines are digestive. The acidities are present but not intrusive. They keep the broad, expressive fruit charged with energy and fine balance. This level of acidity gives the wine excellent vivacity and tension, without the slightest hint of ‘wince’. White Burgundy is on a role since 2010 and 2017 is ‘up there’ with the best neighbouring vintages; if different. These are medium term wines, with many drinking before the 2016’s.
Top growths are very impressive, displaying a depth and length that makes your nose feel glued to the glass. For those for whom such prices are beyond reach, there is some excellent value in the middle ground, with elegant Pulignys and luscious Meursaults to turn to. Indeed, it is not inaccurate to say that white Burgundy almost everywhere in 2017 has much to offer. In a word – they have freshness, precision and minerality. They also display juicy peach, apple and lemon fruits, with terrific definition and firm, stony, vibrant notes. Even if you are more a red Burgundy fan than white, my advice is “don’t miss them”.
The caveat is the same as for reds. Where over-cropping occurred, some whites display leanness and lack proper balance. Bear in mind that for many growers in Burgundy the temptation to make a lot of wine in 2017 was hard to resist. After five years of low volumes many growers were financially stretched. Because 2017 was so ripe and plentiful in terms of bunches, some growers succumbed to high yields. They made a lot of wine, but thin wine. Conversely, lower yields produced very good wines, richly mineral (which gives the wines the perception of being concentrated. They are, but not to the extent of 2014 – which is an exceptional vintage for white wine). Marion Javillier said . . “though it was a sunny vintage, yet when you taste it has fresh tasting acidity”. She also commented on the distinctiveness of each terroir. The point here is that sunny vintages usually produce wines with ‘gras’ (fat), extract, ripe fruit with tropical nuances. 2017 didn’t. Though a sunny vintage, it produced ripe, mineral, airy wines that display energy, balance, steeliness, charm and above all, very good quality.
Final word to Damien Colin - “2017 is a vintage not rich, but expressive and digestive, so in this vintage even my Bourgogne is very good with high levels of minerality and salinity. The balance in the analysis was very good from early.”
SEASON / HARVEST
A largely uneventful growing season, it must be said. January through to April were normal for the time of year, though a forecasted late April frost resonated with 2016 and the worrying possibility of a ‘déjà vu’. It was not to be however, as temperatures didn’t go much below zero and lasted for less than 48 hours.
Flowering was early due to warm May / June temperatures and overall good drying conditions. However, between late June and mid-August rain volumes overall fell by 28% on the previous year. On the occasions that it did rain however, there was sufficient rainfall to catapult growth in the warm, sometimes hot conditions. There followed in late August a mini heat wave, with hot nights causing some stress and blocking in maturation as the vines shut down. As if to round off what can only be described as an excellent growing season, some rain ensued shortly before harvest which helped finish the ripening process.
Certainly a balanced year with heat / rain / light in good proportion and though frost impacted a little in Morey-St-Denis (losses were only between 3-5%), for most it was a generous vintage. It is worth noting that 2017 did not have the very high temperatures of 2018 (and we shall see how that impacted next year). It was warm but not the ‘chaleur’ (heat) of 2009 or 2003.
The ‘vendange’ started just after the late August rainfall (30 / 31 Aug) and some growers began to pick. The grapes were in rude health and exhibiting excellent sugar levels. Tannins too ripened very quickly in that last 10 days. By and large grapes were showing 13 degrees potential, even if the skins still had just a little ripening to go.
By the time harvesting started in earnest (the majority of growers began somewhere between 02 - 07 Sept) the fruit was very healthy overall – beautiful berries and ripe skins. Many growers suggested that it was not necessarily their best vintage but that their grapes were in perfect condition. Satisfaction across the board.
Note: - this was a very good year for whole bunch fermenting (can be high risk). The sanitary conditions were excellent and the acidity from the pips and stalks added sufficient ‘bite’ to counter the sweetness of the sugars. As a result, the wines have good punch and energy, without compromising the intrinsic ‘fresh, mineral, sumptuous’ character of 2017.
This is a vintage that can certainly be approached early (immediately for regional wines and indeed many village wines too). This was an early vintage, from flowering to harvest and they will drink early too. The foregoing notwithstanding, there is no reason that the wines will not age in the medium term and possibly longer than we think - Francois Millet and Frédérique Goulley have no doubt that their wines (de Vogué and Sérafin) will age well.
Jean-Marc Joblot . . . “the wines have a near instant harmony. . . . there is no reserve (except perhaps Grand Cru) . . so you won’t have to wait long. Even if they were consumed very quickly it would not be tragedy, because they are not hiding anything . . . they are emerging ‘well finished’ . . . but my wines can keep 10 years if you want to keep them . . it is up to your customers”!