Jason Haynes’ 2015 Vintage Burgundy Report
Whilst I was out in Burgundy last year tasting the 2014 vintage, it was already proving difficult to keep a lid on the enthusiasm that growers had for 2015. 'Hold on a moment' I would say, 'let's not distract ourselves from these brilliant 2014s. Yes the growing conditions were great, yes the fruit you harvested was great, yes it could be a great vintage, but all that sun, was it not too much for our fragile Pinot Noir friend?! Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Give the wines a year in barrel and we'll decide next autumn just how good they are'.
So back I went this autumn for several weeks' tasting pumped up with expectation, albeit diluted somewhat by a sense of typically English caution. Would these reds be my kind of Burgundies? Would they have the finesse, the purity, the complexity that makes Burgundy so thrilling?
Well, quite simply I needn't have worried. They had me at 'Bonjour'.
Comparisons with 2009 red wines are inaccurate. The 2015s are much fresher, purer, more Pinot in style. There are several reasons for this, including two climatic ones. Firstly, temperatures never reached the uncomfortable levels that they did in 2009. Sure, it was warm and sunny, but there weren't endless days over 40 degrees. Secondly, the warm weather arrived that bit earlier in 2015 and not when the sugar levels in the grapes were ready to rocket which helped keep potential alcohol levels in check. There were human factors, too. Lessons had clearly been learned from 05 and 09 and the grapes and juice were generally much more sensitively handled. Pigeage (punching down) was much more sparingly carried out than usual by many growers, who understood that they didn't need to force the extraction as there was so much natural concentration and matter in the wine already. Pierre Duroché can thank his daughter for being born during the harvest as it meant he spent more time at home with her and less time in the winery which was perfect for a vintage that was much more hands off than hands on. The effects of malolactic fermentation were much less dramatic than normal as there wasn't much malic acid to begin. Final PHs were lower than expected and generally at a good level. So we ended up with wines of undoubted seduction even succulence but, generally, always controlled and respectful of their cepage, region and vineyard.
The natural concentration I mentioned earlier has resulted in the entry level wines being gorgeously approachable and enticing whilst the more serious Crus have the stuffing to go the long haul. Some wines will close down and need time, others will remain open and inviting throughout their youth and into middle age. We may just have a vintage that suits both drinkers and collectors alike, allowing both to buy with confidence and abandon. Certainly the entry level wines should be snapped up wherever possible. A couple of times a decade we have a vintage in which one should go long on these humble Pinots and there has never been a more appropriate one than this. I am not sure I have scored so many Bourgognes and village wines so well from so many domaines.
The whites have proved to be a real surprise. Following on from one of THE truly great white vintages, the warmth of summer looked to be potentially problematic for 2015. However, do not despair, there are some fantastic wines around. Again, previous experience of rich vintages really helped and many of the wines look genuinely terrific. The key to success was picking dates. Many of our growers pulled forward their expected first day of harvest dramatically and began picking in August. With total phenolic ripeness, often thanks to low-yielding old vines, the emphasis was on maintaining freshness and vibrancy in the wines. As was the case with the red wines, the malolactic fermentation didn't reduce the overall acidity much and PHs stayed fairly low. Less time in new oak, more time in steel also helped maximise energy. Consequently, there is a real feeling that these wines could be rather good. Alex Moreau noted that he left some juice in a glass for a week and it didn't evolve at all and he hasn't seen stability like that since the 2003 vintage which had very little acidity. It's not just acid that maintains longevity, wines need to have material and extract, too and many of these 2015s do. They also don't have the heat and inbalance of the 03s and seem to have better harmony than the 09s. It is genuinely hard to make a comparison with any other vintage. We are lucky in that our growers tend to make racy, mineral driven wines with drive and definition, which is a real asset for this vintage. Yes there will be some flabby 15s, from some of the negotiants and less quality-driven producers (not ours!) but the good guys have performed really well and I can imagine being really surprised and pleased when drinking many of these in years to come.
Those who will taste our primeur wines in London in January are likely to be impressed with Burgundy producing a second excellent vintage in a row. Although it’s hard to imagine a vintage better than 2014, 2015 has managed to produce a range of exceptional wines. They are juicy, flavoursome and very pleasing, but not overly big, and on the red side in particular it is hard to go wrong. The result is a range of attractive and seductive wines which will please the regular drinker, restaurant customer, and serious collector alike. While some price increases are inevitable, we expect these wines to age in such a way that in a few years’ time the en primeur prices will seem cheap by comparison. Additionally due to the less challenging growing conditions the overall quality is high so there is also some particularly good value wines to get stuck into at the affordable end of the market.
By Jason Haynes