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The 2018 Vintage - Burgundy

(Twelve Domaines)

Année solaire - A sunshine vintage, which produced deep-coloured, concentrated wines, with no lack of acidity. The vibrant, rich reds, though highly concentrated, are recognisably Burgundian. Pinot’s unique elegant style, the varietal aromatic profiles, its fragrance and elegance, are retained in 2018. Jean-Marc Joblot . . “It was a vintage people expected to be rich and opulent because of the sun, but now we can see it is balanced with good acidity. Of course we have black fruit and richness, but not too much alcohol. It is not as heavy as we expected.” While certainly there are wines with high alcohol, there is limited evidence of this in the taste. The wines do exhibit dark colours, are deep textured and have high sugar levels. There is considerable extract and no shortage of substance. Traditional Burgundy followers will enjoy the elevated levels of concentration, supported by sufficient acidity, making the wines impressively balanced. Though the wines display exuberant juice, there is also restraint. The objective was to avoid any heaviness in the vintage. I particularly liked the fine tannins and floral aromatics. Chardonnay too, produced concentrated wines and though less exuberantly ‘fruity’ than 2017, resemble the ripeness of 2009 and the freshness of 2012. More savoury in style than elegant, but ample nonetheless. Damien Colin remarked a comparison to the 2009’s (critics had suggested they were too ripe to age well and were unlikely to shed the ‘puppy’ fat). Colin said the 2009’s surprised with age, producing unexpected tertiary aromas and nuances. Pressed on this, he predicts his wines have the potential to surpass the similarly textured 2009’s, many of which matured beautifully (he opened a Chassagne 1er cru ‘Caillerets’ 2009 to make the point. No hints of exoticism or ‘sur-maturité’ it must be said). The overall results though are born of a complicated growing season. As if preparing for what was to follow, the spring rains proved a reservoir for the summer drought to follow. Without this water reserve, dryness and over-extraction may well have been 2018’s hallmark. Indeed, hot vintages rarely produce ‘fresh’ styled wines. They produce extract and opulence, with a somewhat ‘soft’ texture. In 2018 we have concentrated wines, which exhibit ample extract yet also express a stylishness; this stylishness is due to the wines ‘retained’ freshness. A balanced view will caution that though deeper coloured, deeper texturally and with high sugar levels, wines exhibiting 13oC – 14.5oC alcohol are not uncommon. Phenolic ripeness was slower and so sugar levels were high. Critically, the evidence of high alcohol in the taste is grower dependent. Extraction in 2018, or the lack of it, was key in 2018. There are many examples of heavy wines and buyers will need to be savvy in their purchasing. Though the PH (acidity) was modest (in early analysis), there is no lack of energy. Sometimes this energy comes from the tannins. However with many producers moving to the ‘infusion’ style, the only evidence of a hot and dry summer lies in the fruit’s sweetness and the softness of the tannins. Infusion is, for the most part, use of whole bunch clusters in the making. Pumping over is another, if a much softer method. Many did both, though limited the percentage of whole bunch clusters. (Punching down was the exception). There is usually a difference between wines with and without whole bunch. The whole bunch has the potential to make the resulting wines more aromatic and infuses the juice with extra freshness, which nicely balances the sweet fruit. The wines can feel more energetic, though they can also taste more tannic and or sappy (it is a risky ‘business’). The de-stemmed wines on the other hand, focus on the suppleness of texture. They are smoother and easier and apparently more silky. Many domaines used a percentage of whole bunch for a sensation of freshness and increased aromatics. Although stems absorb some acidity (a danger in 2018), they also absorb some alcohol and that was desirable in 2018. The sugars were well advanced and sufficiently ripe by mid-August. However, the tannins were not. To have sufficient phenolic ripeness you simply had to accept the higher alcohol levels. You simply couldn’t separate them out. To try to do so resulted in wines finishing green on the palate. Phenolic ripeness is arguably more important than the natural degree of sugar
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.

PINOT NOIR

Many reds have spice, are full-bodied and have plentiful soft tannins. The fruit colour spectrum is more black than red. There is much more variation in style in the reds than the whites. The most representative style of the vintage is the often extraordinarily dark and opaque colour for pinot, which is full bodied, with somewhat elevated alcohol, though sufficiently fresh and with plentiful rich tannins. Many are richly aromatic, sometimes exotically so (mocha, Asian spice, coffee etc.) The Gevreys are big and muscular, especially on the east facing slopes, where temperatures got quite high, resulting in vigorous wines. However, they have a punchy vibrancy as the clay keeps the freshness of the fruit. In Beaune, where soils are generally lighter and have as much limestone as clay, the older vines (deeper roots) produced beautifully balanced wines, with a Cote de Nuits texture and a Cote de Beaune mouth-feel. I note the number of journalists who (correctly) singled out the regional wines (Bourgogne / Hautes Cotes etc) as having ‘out-performed’; especially the ‘vieilles vignes’, who were better equipped at shutting down during the heat and have deeper roots with which to reach the water table. Many of the wines, both red and white, on page 8 punch above their title. This is a very good year for Pinot Noir and the wines may well exceed initial ratings with age.

CHARDONNAY

The plentiful harvest was a saving grace for Chardonnay. This diluted the sugar with beneficial effect. Many expected there to be little juice, but were pleasantly surprised. There is nothing really to resolve in the wine, no big structure or richness to slim down or acidity to integrate. 2018 is an adaptable vintage. Because there is good substance, the wines have the ability to age; mostly for the medium term. The clean fruit at harvest bodes well in this regard. The wines are somewhat like 2017, but fuller and rounder. The alcohol is about the same. The acidity is a little higher in 2017, but not a lot. For the moment 2017 is more elegant. 2017 was much more fruity in a way and certainly fresher, while 2018 is drier, denser and more savoury. It is not as opulent or rich as 2015, though it does display some of the riper aromatics of that vintage. Who would have thought that the second hottest summer on record this century would have produced ripe, medium bodied, fresh and rather energetic whites? Florent Moingeon put it as follows . . . “We saw the potential of the vintage and we did some pigeage to realise the aging potential. We didn’t press much, only a very soft press as there was plenty of juice - settling just overnight at 10 degrees. We like to keep some lees in the whites. The yield was important, it was high, but not as high as in 2017. The higher yields give the balance. . . . . and then we had the rain too and this all helped. It has the quality of the 2015 for white and it is denser than the 2016s. It is a big advantage in a hot year like 2018 to have old vines because they suffered less . . . and they were productive!”

SEASON / HARVEST

Considerable rainfall fell between January and June. It was to prove a blessing. Flowering commenced in the first half of May over a comparatively dry period, which had the effect of aiding the flowering. What followed in both July and August was days with very high temperatures; sometimes hitting 35oC. In fact, the summer proved to be the second hottest in recent decades, after 2003. Average temperatures between April and harvest were two degrees above normal (see section on climate change on next page). Rain during those two months was 60% below average. It was a virtual drought in areas. Vines were stressed (shutting down in places), leaves wilted and berries began shrivelling. Spring rains , which had fallen in abundance, were to prove a critical reservoir on which the vines could draw. In particular the old vines, whose reach and resilience were to prove vital. Old vines invariably grow deeper and as a result are better equipped in reaching the vital water table; where younger vines struggle to do so. Some rain fell in late August also, rehydrating parched vines. Grapes quickly swelled and Chardonnay in particular (a rather hardy grape, which grows easily), produced large volumes of juice. Chardonnay is more bountiful in 2018 than Pinot. Pinot Noir seemed to suffer more. Dried grapes needed removing and early July hail hit in southern NSTG; almost in isolation to everywhere else. As a result volumes overall for Pinot were more moderate, which was needed – preventing them from becoming too heavy / over concentrated.

STYLE

Sugar ripeness, as has been pointed out earlier, is less of a challenge in recent years. Arguably, the same could be said for phenolic ripeness too. Retention of freshness is increasingly important. Pinot’s style is ‘fragrance and elegance’. Chardonnay is more multi-faceted though in Burgundy in particular, it should reflect minerality, citrus fruits and roundness. To achieve these styles savoir-faire (know how), experience and ability are critical. Flexibility too, in being able to adapt to weather changes and what it bestows. Every vintage will be different and so to try to alter vintage character would be a mistake. The summer of 2018 was hot; at times very hot indeed. The impact on the wines is unquestionably noticeable. They are ripe, full, in places rich, tannic and fruit-driven. To try to produce something different would be to deface the wines. 2018 is unique. The style which reflects the vintage is one of quite opulent black or dark red fruit with plentiful ripe tannins, softer acidity, but no lack of freshness and a lovely density of matter. Some of the black fruit character can be very appetising with a bitter chocolate / cocoa note to the finish. This oxymoron (bitter / sweet) is a vintage character, a combination resulting largely from good quality tannins. You will note this very appealing characteristic in many 2018 reds. The descriptive adjective ‘savoury’ has already been used in the introduction to describe the whites. It is best explained by comparing the wines to its nearest neighbour, 2017. The 2017’s were marked by energy, fruitiness and digestibility. Given the summer of 2018 you might be forgiven for thinking it would be like 2006, yet there is very little that is similar. It does bear some resemblance to the early vintage of 2011, sharing a certain elegance and texture, demonstrating a lovely terroir definition. Indeed both have good balance, although neither are super fresh. However 2018 has much more substance than 2011, is richer, has more definition and is more interesting. It has an almost unique dry minerality. It is difficult to find another vintage with a similar palate shape and weight allied to this minerality. Two growers I spoke to suggested the 2005 as having some of this character?

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