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Remarkably concentrated and balanced in character, superb in quality
THE DEFINING CHARACTER OF THE 2019
BURGUNDIES IS THEIR EXTRAORDINARY
CONCENTRATION AND BALANCE.
Made from very low yields (approximately half a crop for whites, and 70% of a normal crop for reds), their density and intensity of flavour are seldom seen. The vintage is superb in both colours. Geographically and hierarchically there is widespread success.
Although this was statistically a very warm year, the flavours are within the normal Burgundian register. Some mitigating factors, outlined later, attempt to explain this.
The character of each terroir is preserved. Like all vintages of high maturity, the lesser vineyards which struggle to ripen in a cool year have done proportionately better, but not to the extent that the quality hierarchy is upset. I think there are some exceptional village wines this year. However, to be clear, these are very good but are not better than premiers crus. Some of the wines will be approachable young but will keep very well. However, I think these wines are worth keeping in order to develop their full potential.
The only character that shows this is a year of high maturity is the alcohol levels, which are a little higher than usual. They are commonly between 13.5 and 14% and there are rare cases of wines at 14.5%. However, there is so much fruit concentration that one is virtually never aware of it.
I really like the 2019 vintage. These are dense and powerful wines, yet they have a certain tension. I think all Burgundy lovers, and especially those beginning their Burgundy journey, will enjoy them. Their concentrated flavours make them very approachable. Burgundy can make wines like this with controlled power, or more delicate wines in cooler years. The joy is to be found in the variety and uniqueness of each vintage. However, if you like very austere and delicate wines, these may not be for you.
It is difficult to go wrong in 2019. The whites are mineral and appley, and occasionally they reach into the white peach register. Only a few wines show very ripe characters and virtually never are they in the exotic, honeyed spectrum. The perceived acidity is fresh due to the relatively low pHs for this level of maturity. Again, it’s the concentration which is exceptional. I think the Chablis grands crus are remarkably good this year. All the grands crus are situated together on a hillside particularly rich in Kimmeridgian clay, which retains water, beneficial in a warm year, and gives structure to the wines which supports the concentrated fruit.
Value for money: the Mâconnais, Chalonnais wines like Montagny and entry-level Chablis remain good value. In terms of growers, look to Prudhon and Jean-Marc Vincent.
These are uniformly good too. The quality of tannins is remarkably good. They are soft and suave in character. The wines have a mix of red and black fruit with no jamminess or raisiny flavours.
I think it’s a very good year for village wines, and especially those on clay soils. Village Nuits-Saint-Georges from Domaine de Bellene and Jean Chauvenet are exceptionally rich and dense with sweet tannins. Village Gevrey-Chambertins from Maume, Tawse and Mortet are outstanding and new supplier Lécheneaut have a very successful line-up of village wines. Cooler vineyards like Pernand-Vergelesses, or appellations with clay soils like Nuits and Pommard are also very successful.
Value for money: I think Marsannay, from both Sylvain Pataille and Château de Marsannay, offers great value for money, along with the lesser wines from Domaine de Bellene and Jadot, and the wines of Jean-Marc Vincent.
The key events were as follows. A frost on 5th April in the Côte de Beaune and a few hailstorms reduced the crop severely. Some poor weather at flowering further reduced the crop and caused millerandage (‘hens and chickens’) and coulure (shot berries). Apart from that, it is was generally an easy vintage for the growers with little disease. The small crop and warm weather produced the concentrated grapes which characterise the year.
A paradoxically well-balanced year: mitigating factors
Heat and drought
2019 was a year of variable temperatures, some heatwaves and some lows and some very dry spells. The timing of the heat was important as some of it did not directly translate into ripeness. Warm weather before véraison (grape colour change) has only a small effect on flavour ripeness. So the hot weather in February and March, before the vines had even flowered, advanced the cycle but did not directly affect the ripening of the grapes.
Heatwaves occurred in June and July where the temperature reached 40°C. But above about 30°C the vine goes into survival mode and shuts down. Because water is evaporating faster from its leaves than it can pump water from its reserves, it closes its leaf stomata to preserve its water and help it survive. Ripening stops. As long as it has enough leaves to protect its grapes from sunburn, and the hot spell is not so excessive that the vine loses its leaves, it opens up after the spell has passed and continues ripening normally.
The year was also very dry, with 60% less precipitation than average over the summer. When this is severe the vine shuts down for hot weather.
So, counterintuitively, a vine’s ripening capacity is reduced in very hot and dry conditions like 2019 because it shuts down. In less severe conditions with lower but more constant temperatures and humidity its ripening cycle continues unaffected.
Wind and millerandage
The relatively good acidity and smooth character of the tannins are noticeable in 2019. Many growers report it was a windy year in summer and autumn. Wind evaporates water from the grape berries and so concentrates the sugar and the acidity.
Tannin quality and structure are aided by millerandage, grapes that form but stay small. There was a lot of millerandage in 2019. These small berries have no or perhaps one pip, compared to three to five in a normal berry. Pips have bitter tannins, so when there are fewer, the tannin quality is better. Such berries also have higher levels of sugar and acidity, and due to their small size have a large ratio of skin to pulp, which increases colour.
Putting this report and our offer together
Covid meant I had to cancel my trip to Burgundy three days before I was due to leave. I have managed to taste most of the wines as samples were sent to my home. Please note that:
- There has been less time to discuss the vintage with growers, so some notes are a little shorter than normal.
- These exceptional circumstances mean I have not been able to taste the wines from certain domaines. I am therefore very grateful to Jasper Morris MW (insideburgundy.com), Neal Martin (vinous.com) and UK agent Corney & Barrow whose notes I have relied on for some of these wines and used with their permission, and made clear where this is the case.
- The only domaines without tasting notes are Cathiard and Gagnard, as so few people have been able to taste these wines. However, in all cases the drinking dates for the wines are mine.
We also feature three suppliers online only
where stocks are very limited: Cathiard,
Roumier and Domaine Leflaive.
Buyer for Burgundy