30 November 2021

2020 Burgundy Vintage Part 2 – Reds

As my final week in Burgundy draws to a close, I feel I have a much more robust understanding of this fascinating 2020 red Burgundy vintage than I had at the start of my trip. Having got my head around the whites’ remarkable freshness, they became quite easy to assess and appreciate, displaying a pleasingly consistent vintage character alongside strong terroir definition and respect for vineyard classifications.

In contrast, the reds have required more thought and more reflection. Perhaps because there are more human variables in making fine Pinot, the influence of nature has been less stark, though no less significant. And there is little doubt that the very best reds are very, very good indeed.

As with the whites, picking dates were crucial and incredibly varied, resulting in some wines coming in at under 13 degrees whilst others were nudged comfortably above 15. Whole bunch had a large part to play in this vintage, the ripeness of the stems encouraging growers to up the percentages in places to maintain a refreshing edge to the wines. One very encouraging development was that with so much natural matière in the wines, vignerons were free to operate with a much gentler hand than in recent vintages. Infusion was the new buzzword as opposed to extraction. Many growers reduced the amount of pigeage (pumping down) to minimal levels, relying on the more delicate approach of pumping over. With both colours and substance coming easily from the bunches, there was little need to force the issue, and whilst the wines lack neither intensity nor richness, what really strikes home is the purity of fruit, definition of flavour and classicism of style. There is plenty of tannin and structure in the wines, but the tannins are svelte and energetic, adding drive and distinction rather than drying them out in the slightest.

Burgundy Vintage 2020

In terms of longevity, this should be a vintage that does well in the cellar. The best examples are harmonious, with their various components well balanced.

One central character of the vintage is how well traditionally awkward areas for Pinot Noir have done. Appellations such as Beaune, Pernand Vergelesses, Savigny, Auxey Duresses and even Pommard have struggled at times to achieve total phenolic ripeness in the more recent challenging vintages, never being quite able to shrug off some slightly unwelcome green aromas and flavours, which may mellow in time but don’t always disappear completely. However, in 2020, the greater ripeness and more respectful resulting vinification have brought many of these forgotten vineyards to life. Often less exposed and higher up the slopes, these plots have suddenly become the envy of their neighbours and are not just surviving but positively thriving in these sun-drenched times. Suddenly red Chassagne’s are full of colour and dark fruit flavours. Maybe the trend to replant much of Chassagne to Chardonnay will be reversed now.

Obviously, much of the credit must go to the latest generation of vignerons, who, in general, have embraced the recent challenges of climate change and worked with their vineyards to be more adaptable and flexible. Burgundy certainly seems to have come a long way since we all got bulldozered by the then very early and very hot 2003 vintage. In 2020, most people picked earlier than they did 18 years ago, yet the wines show little or no trace of the heat that so ‘tainted’ the 2003s.

A great vintage

And are there enough great wines for 2020 to be classed as a great vintage? Perhaps most importantly, there are undoubtedly enough great wines of a classical nature to keep the purists happy, which is a perfect place to start. Terroir has not been sacrificed in the heat of the midday sun, and arguably, it’s been nurtured as never before by a generation of winemakers with the confidence to trust in the subtlety and nuance of this very special grape.

Aside from the once unheralded appellations I have already mentioned, which will, no doubt, offer genuine great value for money, where else should we all be looking to for the success stories of 2020?

Well, there are no prizes for originality here I’m afraid. Diligent, responsive, creative, hard-working growers full of passion and energy are the ones who have flourished in 2020. And when you come and taste in January at our primeur tasting, you will see how lucky we are to have a room full of these superstars in our portfolio.

Jason Haynes, Burgundy Buyer