Christine Austin toasts the vignerons’ handiwork as she tastes her way through the best 2015 Burgundies.
If you want to buy any of the fabulous 2015 Burgundies you need to act quickly. Many of the wines are on allocation, so unless you have previously bought from your chosen merchant you are unlikely to get on their list of potential customers and, even then, quantities are low and demand is high so you may need a few second choices in mind just in case your top choice is already sold out.
I’m not talking about bottles on supermarket shelves here. This is the en primeur Burgundy market which has become fiercely competitive and very expensive.
The wines themselves are still in cask in Burgundy and most will probably not see the inside of a bottle for another year. What you are buying when you pay up front for en primeur wines is the promise of a delivery of a wine a year or even two years later. At that point you will need to add on the cost of duty (around £25) and VAT, and unless you have excellent storage at home, you will probably need to pay to keep your wine in store at your merchant until it is ready to drink. This is not the market for occasional drinkers. Sales are by the case, although some merchants now sell six-bottle cases, especially for top-end wines.
Last week the vignerons of Burgundy were out in force, pouring samples of their wines to the trade and press, and I was dazzled by the sheer quality. Admittedly many are unfinished and still in cask but in the reds there is a depth of fruit, resonance of flavour and lift of freshness on the finish indicating that these wines are here for the long haul. Tannins are ripe, supple and in many cases, structuring on the finish, again indicating a long life ahead.
The whites too are showing well, with ripe fruit and fullness of flavour, and while they are not as linear and fresh as the 2014 wines, they show great concentration and finesse. The characteristics of 2015 are driven by the weather which provided plenty of winter rain, then a dry and at some times hot summer, although cooler night-time temperatures gave the vines time to rest. Most of the harvest was completed without rain and berry sizes were small, ensuring good concentration.
Burgundy is one of the challenges of the wine world. Unlike Bordeaux where you can place a château on the map and have a fair idea of where and on what soil the grapes are grown, Burgundy is almost a puzzle. It is a patchwork of vines stretching roughly from north to south, between Dijon and Lyon. And it is small. Even including the powerhouse of production in the Mâconnais, it is still only around a quarter of the size of Bordeaux. Instead of vast estates, Burgundy is made up of individual growers, each with small parcels of land, many spread across different vineyards within a particular appellation.
Even remembering the appellations is trickier than Bordeaux. Burgundy’s vineyards were classified almost a hundred years ago, by terroir, into the top wines, known as Grands Crus and a second tier of Premiers Crus within the many communes of the region, which can also be used as the name of the wine. Overlaid across all this is the importance of the producer who in many cases has far more influence on the quality of the final wine than the appellation.
The only simple thing about Burgundy is that, in most cases, the whites are made from Chardonnay and the reds are Pinot Noir.
So far in Yorkshire, only Bon Coeur (www.bcfw.co.uk) has launched its Burgundy offer and if you are interested in tasting the range it will hold a tasting on February 3 and 4.
Meanwhile, from my notes at several en primeur tastings, these are the 2015 reds I gave my highest marks to, without straying into oligarch territory. Retail prices are still emerging but are high.
Bourgogne Rouge, Rossignol-Trapet: The first step on the quality ladder from an excellent producer. Dark fruits and a fresh structure. Great quality for early drinking.
Gevrey-Chambertin, Les Cazetiers, 1er Cru, Maison Louis Jadot: Deep dark fruit immediately on the palate, fading into savoury complexity. Terrific grip on finish.
Chambolle-Musigny, Les Cras, Domaine Michèle & Patrice Rion: Surprisingly intense in style, with elegant, precise fruit and a soft, gentle finish. Good acidity.
Vosne-Romanée, Domaine Sylvain Cathiard & Fils: Smooth and silky with savoury fruit and rounded tannins.
Vosne-Romanée, Domaine Jean Grivot: Pale and seemingly light in style, then follows through with depth of flavour and persistence.
Nuits St Georges, Les Pruliers, 1er Cru, Domaine Jean Grivot: Subtle on approach, with delicate, refined fruit that builds across the palate. Gorgeous.
Nuits St Georges, Aux Thorey, 1er Cru, Domaine Sylvain Cathiard & Fils: Rich, powerful dark red fruit flavours, balanced by silky, but structuring tannins.
Beaune, Clos des Ursules, 1er Cru, Maison Louis Jadot: Intense redcurrant and cherry fruit, then herbal notes and silky, structuring tannins.
Pommard 1er Cru ‘Les Rugiens’, Domaine du Pavillon, Albert Bichot: Inky dark with ripe, red fruits and firm tannins. Structured, intense and elegant.
Volnay, Domaine Comte Armand: Pure raspberry nose, followed by darker flavours, with a firm core of tannin.
Mercurey Rouge 1er Cru, ‘Clos des Myglands’, Domaine Faiveley: Faiveley wines are showing really well these days. This is a powerful, fruit-packed wine, with savoury depth and good backbone.
Rochegrès Moulin-à-Vent, Domaine de Rochegrès, Albert Bichot: A single block of vineyard with old vines gives this wine terrific depth of flavour and a serious edge. Outstanding.
If you miss out on the 2015 Burgundies, and I must admit the prices are as eye- watering as the flavours are delicious, then you can always wait for the 2016 Bordeaux campaign which will start in April. The harvest was large and the quality is good, but with Brexit devaluation don’t expect prices to fall.