If 2017 could be characterised as ‘a new classic Burgundy vintage’ in the context of several early harvests in a changing climate – then what of 2018? A similarly early harvest, with picking in Cote de Beaune commencing in the last week of August, 2018 has been heralded with epithets such as ‘the ideal vintage’ and producers using the term ‘rejoicing’ to sum up their view of this potentially great year. Having spent an extended week in late November tasting the region we think that this may be an oversimplification, but where the wine producer was diligent then certainly many great wines have been produced and should be purchased in 2018. And, remember…we only deal with diligent, top class growers!
The normally onerous task of comparing with previous Burgundy vintages is, as usual fairly redundant and most producers would not commit to exact comparisons. They employ the term ‘annee solaire’ to place 2018 within a broader stylistic range. There is no one obvious vintage that it recalls directly. Variety of vintage is the order of the day in Burgundy and 2018 has its own separate identity but continues the run of successful recent years for the region. While 2018 was a sunny vintage the style of the wines, both red and white, came as a big surprise. The term ‘Belle Surprise’ was one we heard repeatedly from growers all week, encapsulated in the beautiful freshness and superfine tannins of the wines emerging from this warm vintage. We preferred the style of the red wines to recent years like 2015 and the fragrance found in them was often stupendously pretty. Violets and frequently delightful rose petal scents were the notable high points in aroma and the fruit profile tended to red and blue fruits on the palate. This attractive array in the glass over, perhaps, an anticipated surfeit of deep black fruits provided the big and beautiful surprise. This is what excites us in 2018. The array of fresh fruit allied to nice acidity and the supreme finesse of the tannins in the wines. Compared to 2009 or 2015 a greater transparency of terroir could also be detected in many of the wines.
The ‘Belle Surprise’ was borne of a summer of extended sunshine – 9 % higher than average – yet the Cote d’Or saw less than further North in Chablis and the wines, while full of charm, yet retain more classicism than their counterparts in the Yonne. It was a warmer summer than average then, with the greatest heat occurring in late July and early August. The temperatures calmed as harvest approached towards the end of August and exceptionally healthy fruit was picked and brought to the sorting tables. Prior to the summer warmth, however, the region like France as a whole saw high levels of winter rain – 120% higher in January and 190% in March. The replenished water table proved key to the healthy progress of the vines as summer tightened its grip. Additionally, there were more bunches on the vines in 2018 than in some recent years, depending upon individual de-budding and green harvest strategies. However, growers seemed very happy that the water reserves and additional potential yields helped control the maturation of the grapes allowing for a hugely successful eventual harvest. This factor also proved instrumental in the success of the whites of the Cote de Beaune and Maconnais with several growers contending that larger yields nearly always benefit Chardonnay allowing an optimal picking window and retention of the all-important acidity. This was a refrain in Meursault, Chassagne and Puligny and among the great growers of red wines further North several of them felt the wines they produced were the greatest since the similarly generous and now hugely feted 1999 vintage.
It was not a deckchair vintage or a walk in the park. There was springtime mildew as a result of the prevailing early season rain costing some growers around 20% of potential yields. And just as the French were about to celebrate a second Word Cup football win, some growers in Nuits St Georges were met with the curious and agonising sight of 3cm of hail lying like snow, in late July. Yields were significantly reduced but few in 2018 faced a repeat of 2016 or 2017’s decimating frosts. Instead the trickiest issues began with the marvellous health of fully mature grapes. Speedy and well drilled picking at the correct moment was utterly crucial in 2018. Acidity in reds as well as whites was key to the success of the vintage. With Pinot Noir a further factor was the balance between sugar levels and phenolic ripeness and, in virtually all cases the growers we represent, showed their true mettle in this regard. In the hands of less responsive or less organised growers this balance was less evident and on occasion the fuller body and generous plumpness of the fruit turned to excessive power and alcoholic warmth where grapes were picked too late. The sugars were naturally high and stopped fermentations were problematic even at the best addresses. But winery knowhow and knowledge of their terroirs allied to the canny use of whole bunches produced wines that managed alcohol, acid and tannic structure beautifully. The resulting wines show the silkiest textures, complex fruit profiles, generous mouthfeel and beautiful fragrant charm. Add to this the freshness and tannins based on exceptionally gentle handing – ‘remontage no pigeage’ was the common mantra – then one can understand why growers consider 2018 an exciting vintage.
Substantial yet perfumed wines, 2018 should be of great interest to those who love and collect Burgundy. The warm summer conditions had to be managed by diligent growers but where they did finer, more sumptuous wines were produced than 2015 and with greater terroir transparency than those in 2009. As with these earlier vintages wines from the lesser classifications did well (depending on picking regimes.) It is a good year for Bourgogne Rouge and village level wines from normally cooler terroirs, where growers marshalled their picking troops to best effect. Conversely, it was easy to miss the pinpoint timing on these naturally later ripening regional parcels. Due diligence in buying also required! There is no shortage of great 1er and Grand Crus, of course, for the long term. Broadly speaking the vintage success applies to both the Cote de Beaune and the Cote de Nuits. For sure there is variability in the vintage but the heterogeneous aspect of 2018 has more to do with the dedication and skill of the individual growers than intrinsic variability between communes or between the 2 Cotes. ‘Producer, producer, producer’ – as always this is the story and the key to Burgundy.
For white wines the ‘Belle Surprise’ could be extended to ‘Grande Surprise’. We have a year that is richer than 2017 with excellent density in the mid-palate but one that shows superb fresh, ripe citrus notes. Think orange and ripe lemon signatures in the great Cote de Beaune villages not white fruit. They have real depth but the reverse gradient of sun hours from north to south meant that conditions were not as ‘solaire’ as in Chablis a few hundred kilometres further north. This reversal of warmth north to south extended to Maconnais where some stunning whites were produced and the freshness was even more pronounced than in 2017 in some of the wines. There are some great wines to be had and the whites provide the biggest and happiest surprise of the 2018 vintage. They perhaps resemble brighter, fresher 2015’s or fall somewhere between 2009 and 2010 to an extent in style – good weight, wines of scale with freshness and yet definition. While they may lack the cut of, say, the great 2014 they are seriously gourmand affairs and they will drink a little earlier than 2017. The white grapes reached good concentration levels at higher than normal yields and many a grower expressed delight at this state of affairs, suggesting the vintage success depended on this unusual balance. 2018 provides an extremely interesting canvas for the best growers to show their skills. The best growers have produced fine, concentrated and aromatic whites that show clear terroir characteristics and an exceptionally bright core to them. Flamboyant is too strong a term but they are not angular or austere. They have flesh allied to the necessary vibrancy to put a smile on the face of wine lovers.
2018 continues an excellent run of recent vintages and where the producer was at the top of his (and increasingly so ‘her’) game there is cause for ‘rejoicing’. It has a chance of greatness. As Burgundy modernises and younger winemakers take charge they are learning to juggle the generally warmer climate with real aplomb. It was noticeable also that our domaines with a strong female presence produced some blinding portfolios in 2018. This is the future guys! 2018 shows that a supremely sensitive approach produced wines to delight the senses. The violets and roses you will find in these wines will reaffirm your love of great Burgundy. 2018 is a unique and a potentially brilliant vintage.
Buying 2018 Burgundy from Brunswick
2018 is a silky, sumptuous and very collectible vintage for red wines and a surprisingly bright, fresh, full one for whites. Burgundy remains THE item pursued by collectors worldwide. Quantities in 2018 are relatively generous compared to some recent years, however the follow on vintage 2019 is meagre in comparison, with losses in production of between 40 -55 %. This will surely impact upon prices – either sooner or later. At the time of writing we have pricing from only a few of our producers, although some have shown modest increases in the light of next year’s inevitable income shortfall or, in some cases, due to the enhanced worldwide status of a particular grower. In spite of the rollercoaster of recent world economic events affecting the fine wine market and a prolonged Brexit process in the UK, Sterling has, since the UK election a few days ago, bounced back to a 3-year high. If this situation persists it may well present some of us Burgundy lovers an opportunity to balance these price increases from source.
Taking into account demand and the intrinsic quality of the wines we have tried to obtain as much wine as our growers will allow. We ask for a little help and patience, in balancing orders, where required and will try to help you get the wines you ask for.