There are elements of other vintages in 2019 but there is no vintage like 2019.
I have never seen Burgundy so empty in the autumn as it was this year. Usually, during the tasting frenzy in October and November, the place is awash with wine merchants from all over the world, anxious to get the inside track on the new vintage and secure precious allocations from both existing and new suppliers. However, during the month I spent there a few weeks ago, I barely saw a soul from the UK. Having ensured that I was safely settled in Beaune before new lockdowns either in the UK or in France became an issue, it was just a question of visiting as many of our numerous producers as possible. With all the new domaines we inherited as a result of the purchase of Domaine Direct on top of our already extensive list of suppliers, it was certain to be a full-on session. But it was not to be a chore in any shape or form. 2019 is a gorgeous vintage, in both colours, and tasting this unique millésime was both a great pleasure and an education.
There are elements of other vintages in 2019 but there is no vintage like 2019. The big surprise was just how good some of the whites were. The concentration of juice in the berries meant all the components of the grapes were concentrated, too. So not only were the flavours rich but the wines were vibrant and marked with often huge levels of dry extract, which brings longevity and sapidity to the party. Very few examples were overdone and the balance was a joy to behold. These are potentially great wines with a long future ahead of them.
The reds are marginally more classic in style, with richness and alcohol levels not overly inflated. But they too have great intensity of fruit, all projected by lucid energy and athleticism that brings the wines alive. As a whole, the wines were wonderfully fragrant, with a vitality that maintained both varietal character and terroir distinctions. Again, lots of matter in the juice, often a result of a plethora of small berries (poor flowing and dry conditions being the main cause). But, the level of crunchiness was the big surprise here.
There are various conclusions one can make from the various tastings. The importance of old vines should not be underestimated; they brought true ripeness to the mix, having not suffered from hydric stress thanks to their extensive root systems. Organic and biodynamic farming have added resilience and adaptability to the vineyards, which was vital in a vintage of extremes. The grapes may not have been big or plentiful in number, but they were generally wonderfully healthy. This also played a part in the increased levels of whole bunch that were used in 2019. Never has whole bunch played such a prominent or influential role in a vintage. Great phenolic ripeness meant growers could be much more confident with their percentages, and their extensive use brought more vitality and focus to many of the wines. The natural concentration of the fruit also allowed for a much more gentle and natural extraction by the growers. Pigeage was toned down significantly in favour of pumping over. With tannins and colours emerging from the berries with ease, there was no need to force the issue. Consequently, fine aromatics and svelte tannins are the order of the day. That is not to say that the wines lack substance or structure, more that they have not been adulterated to enhance those elements, resulting in purity and transparency never seen in such powerful wines. There are truly some memorable wines in 2019.
And we may have to re-think the hierarchy of Burgundy after a vintage like this, with villages such as Pommard, Beaune and Nuits re-writing their CVs and producing wines of nobility, fragrance and fine tannins. This is the vintage where the likes of St Romain, Auxey Duresses and the Hautes Cotes stood up to be counted. No longer second-rate citizens that produce lean, austere wines. Now, in the right hands, they are the source of fully ripe, more complex (extended hang time in good weather) wines, that will bear little resemblance to their ancestors of yesteryear. And certain grand appellations have flourished, too. Gevrey has hit the heights once again, especially in those cooler spots like the Combe de Lavaux, whilst Clos Vougeot has suddenly understood what we all meant when we demanded more refinement and finesse.
But perhaps, most of all, credit must go to the magnificent growers of Burgundy who have risen so majestically to the challenge. Diligent and adaptable in the vineyards, creative and thoughtful in the cellars, they have fashioned some of the most exciting Burgundies you will ever taste. Sadly, volumes are very small, at times frustratingly minuscule, yet, I think we would all agree that we would rather a vintage of small volume but brilliant quality, than a bountiful vintage of mediocre wines. And this is exactly what we have. You can buy with confidence, but you will need to be incisive to be sure to get what you want.
Jason Haynes, Director & Burgundy Buyer
My first pick is another new domaine to us that followed from the Domaine Direct deal. Founded in 2006, but from a tenth generation Chassagne family, Thomas Morey makes precise, mineral, focused wines of high quality. The price doesn’t reflect this, and the Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Chenevottes at £240ib/6 (a few magnums available at £252ib/3), for example, offers tremendous value from a village of scarce quantity.
Gearoid returned from Burgundy buzzing with excitement about this domaine, with a firm message that Pernand-Vergelesses was a village that deserved far greater attention. Climate change was a central subject during many of the en primeur zoom tastings, given the warm, dry vintage that we were looking at, and the vineyards of Rapet would seem to be ones that have benefited enormously. Look out for the Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Ile des Vergelesses (red), the Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Sous Fretille (white) and of course the Corton-Charlemagne.
Arlaud has for a long time been a great favourite of mine, but the 2019s are at a different level. When the understated Cyprien Arlaud goes on record to say that these are the best wines that he has ever made (surpassing his 2010s) then it is worth paying attention. The Morey-St-Denis 1er Cru Cheseaux sold out following the zoom tasting, but I was lucky enough to taste through the whole range after Jason drove back barrel samples in November. Hard to narrow things down but 2019 is a vintage to look up the hill, and Arlaud’s Hautes Cotes is the value buy. Given the strength of Gevrey, Charmes, village Gevrey and Combottes are all very exciting, if sadly not in the quantities that we might want.
This was one of my big discoveries from the series of zoom tastings. I was charmed by Thierry and his delicious Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Mouches, a wine we were immediately oversubscribed for. For those who missed out on that wine, I recommend putting your name in the hat for one of his 1er Cru Pommards, all three of which are superb. If, like me, you enjoy your Pinot packed full of energy (Thierry uses a high proportion of whole bunches across the range) with a core of vibrant raspberry fruit then V-G is the Domaine for you.
I continue to bang the Bichot drum with gusto. While I’m well aware that historically, big wasn’t always beautiful in Burgundy, and the large negoce houses had a reputation for quantity over quality, that is simply not the case anymore. The quality of the wines at Clos Frantin, the flagship Domaine for the Bichot empire, have been exceptional in recent vintages, yet prices remain very competitive. My top picks are the Village Vosne Romanee, Malconsorts and Echezeaux.
“Fixin has talent. It’s just not realizing its full potential. It remains the case that one grower is blazing a trail and that is…Amélie Berthaut of Domaine Berthaut-Gerbet.” Neal Martin’s words. Since my last visit in late 2019, Amélie has had her hands full. She’s become a mother, completed a major renovation at the winery in Fixin and cemented herself as the leading winemaker of the village. Her village Fixin wines, Le Clos and Les Crais are for me, the best value wines in the offer. While Fixin remains the beating heart of the Domaine, Amélie has quickly mastered production of her mother’s posh holdings further south.
Somehow I often overlook Chablis, but a bottle of 2015 Vaulorent by Nathalie & Gilles Fèvre earlier this year has ensured that I don’t make that mistake again. The Domaine came to us as part of the Domaine Direct portfolio and it was completely new to me. Colleagues had been raving about the wines and so I bought a bottle to find out what the fuss was about and it was a love-affair at first sip. The wines are textured, have incredible depth and are a reminder of the greatness that can be achieved with Chardonnay in Chablis. Much has already been written about the great quality of Chablis in 2019, and how it combines both the richness of the vintage, yet the saline minerality that is the signature of the commune. Husband and wife team Nathalie & Gilles Fèvre have created some beautifully terroir driven wines in 2019. Vaulorent, with its incredible location (an extension of the Grand Cru Preuses) will always be my personal pick. (Chablis 2019 pre-release offer)
Charles Magnien took over from his father in 2014 and the wines have been soaring since. The explosive aromatics on the nose and the carefully crafted complex palate with a distinct mineral streak are for me the hallmark of Domaine Henri Magnien under Charles’s stewardship. Yet, I don’t find the wines easy to taste en primeur and it has taken me a few years to understand what to look for in a barrel sample. When we tasted the 2019 Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Cazetiers barrel sample during our Gevrey Chambertin zoom, it seemed reticent, dark fruited with that signature granite minerality, yet with an hour in the glass it displayed that explosive red fruited nose and long finish typical of Charles’ wines. Gevrey Chambertin has been singled out as one of the top red communes in 2019 (together with Pommard and Nuits) and Charles has made an exceptional selection of wines with, surprisingly for the vintage, restrained alcohol.
I am always asked about my value pick and it has to be Domaine Jean Guiton. A small family producer in the Cote de Beaune that makes delicate, terroir driven reds. Guillaume Guiton, Jean’s son, is as charming as his wines and with little new oak (maximum 20% new), no pigeage and very gentle handling, these wines are as authentic as it gets and it is no surprise he gets such great reviews from La Revue du Vin de France and has such a loyal following among our customers. Putting aside a case of Savigny-Les-Beaune 1er Cru ‘Les Hauts Jarrons’ is guaranteed to bring joy in a few years, without the need to break the bank.