Neal Martin: “So you would like the lowdown on the 2019 Burgundy vintage.”
Reader: “If you wouldn’t mind… So, is it any good?”
Neal Martin: “Yes. It’s very good.”
‘The bottom line is that I love the 2019 vintage for both whites and reds, however, it is not a faultless vintage. Quality surpasses winemakers’ expectations…the 2019s manage to retain that clarity and vivacity then these will give enormous pleasure…we can enjoy a vintage that defied the growing season and bestowed Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and lest we forget, Aligoté, at their full terroir-driven best…The fact that quality is high and that the 2019 vintage will bestow so much drinking pleasure is testament to both vine and winemaker. It remains a magical wine region that casts a spell over anyone who visits’
Neal Martin, Vinous, December 2020
… the absolute miracle was how many completely delicious 2019s have been made. If 2019 reds have a fault it may be that burgundy purists may find some of them just a bit too sweet and fruity without marked tannins, but they should not be disappointed by the whites…Overall the juice-to-skin ratio was low and everything in the grapes was concentrated, including the acidity, particularly in the Chardonnays…There were lots of delicious wines from cooler appellations within Burgundy…This may not be the most long-lived vintage but it should give a great deal of pleasure, and what on earth is wrong with that?’
Jancis Robinson MW
The year 2019 for the great wines of France will be forever linked with the year that followed it, 2020, and all that has entailed! Simply put, tasting the 2019 wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy – tasted during 2020 of course – has been an occasionally fraught, or at best dull, experience compared to the annual predictability of pleasant regional visits. The Covid 19 crisis overshadows much of our lives currently and for many a diligent taster and fine wine lover it has presented problems of timing, travel and logistics. For us it presented the unusual situation of a first missed Burgundy visit in 15 vintages as ‘Lockdown – Part Deux’ began to bite across Europe. The always alluring prospect of late autumn producer visits in Burgundy cellars, the bonhomie of Beaune suddenly replaced with the rather more prosaic job at hand of tasting small 187cl sample bottles couriered to wherever the ‘WFH’ location might be! Quel dommage – but small beer in the scheme of things we would readily concede.
And yet this somewhat stale, purely ‘scientific’ tasting experience, compared to a normal year spent in situ, has provided the unlikely and radiant shaft of light to lift the spirits in these difficult times. The 2019 Burgundies – as the attestations of Neal Martin and Jancis Robinson signal – are bright, sumptuous wines to lift everyone’s spirits and arrive in tandem with the promise of an antidote to the continued Covid gloom. They are the product of a sunnier times and sunny climes – a ‘happy’ vintage, albeit one released in less than happy circumstances. The curious process of tasting 2019 elicited an extended metaphor from Neal Martin based on The Clash’s ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ lyric in detailing his travels, trials and tribulations. Our own potential Burgundy 2019 soundtrack changed from the darkness of The Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’ as we eyed up unenviable prospects in a shut-down Beaune, to the jauntier, unlikely Jeff Beck number ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ when we tasted these memorable wines!
The 2019’s we have tasted to date exemplify the feelgood flavours of a warmer growing season in a period of climate change along with the knowhow that Burgundy growers have gained in recent years in dealing with an entirely different set of elements to their predecessors. The lush, generous 2019’s produced in both red and white colours are marked also by soft, well integrated tannins, unexpectedly fresh acidity and moderate, well-managed alcohol levels in the main. Jancis Robinson extolling the wines generosity and approachability describes the wines thus: ‘charming, full of fruit yet with great energy too.’ That is a concise and fair assessment. It is rare that we pay the game of comparing previous vintages as each growing season in Burgundy is unique – but the sweetness of fruit, soft tannin in the reds and rounded generosity of the whites brought to mind the 2009 vintage more than most. Add to them a fresher lick of acidity in both colours than in 2009 (and might be reasonably expected in 2019’s warm growing season) and a supremely attractive vintage awaits the drinkers and collectors out there.
The growing season contained several key elements. Firstly, it was a dry, mild winter – increasingly the norm in Burgundy – with timely rain in April that was to help alleviated hydric stress later in the year but exacerbated an unfortunate slump in temperatures on 4th / 5th April. This severely affected Chardonnay, whose buds had already burst, more than it did Pinot. Quantities were markedly down in Chassagne and St Aubin perplexing, yet again, many of the region’s great white growers. June rains levelled things up in the that respect with flowering on both the Cote de Beaune and Nuits badly hit and millerandage causing significant potential crop losses. A steady early summer ensued with 2 heat spikes in late July and early August adding to grower’s stress levels. The earlier April precipitation was repeated in late July relieving things and the spikes were thankfully not long-lasting like 2018, so conditions were not overly torrid. Light and sun hours were long but less threatening than drought which was the greater worry. As ever soil composition and vine age were important factors in producing successful wines, however cooler nights benefited growers with the all-important preservation of acidity. And just before harvest a cool Northerly wind, reported by growers including DRC’s Aubert de Villaine, provided a crucial aspect to the vintage. This was felt to concentrate all the key grape components and reduce the juice content through evaporation. As Jancis Robinson reports ‘everything, including acidity, was concentrated in the distinctly non-juicy grapes that characterised 2019.’ Fruit concentration is evident in whites and reds and in both the Cotes – Beaune and Nuits. The curious acidity given drought, warmth and concentration from lower yields is also put down to low levels of malic acid converting to similarly low lactic acid levels post-malo. This partly explains the 2019’s freshness as does a greater prevalence of tartaric acidity found in the analyses.
The style of the red wines is opulent, fragrant with a core of unusually sweet plump fruit. They will be popular and accessible when young and bear little relation to vintages like 2016 and 2010, sharing more commonalities to years like 2009 and 2015. There appears to be more terroir transparency than in those vintages and the individual communes seem to show their classic characteristics in abundance. Vosne shows its violets, Chambolle its rose petals, Gevrey its cassis and ‘reglise’ notes. Further south Volnay demonstrates ripe raspberries and Pommard deep strawberry core fruit. The tannins seem finer than 2018 and alcohol levels similarly half a notch down. Growers exercising regimented picking according to the stopwatch, electing for ‘infusions’ over pigeage and less reliance on oak where barriques might once be over-used simply because they had been pre-purchased, show lessons that have been learned in this warmer era.
As with recent warm vintages 2015 and 2018 wines from the lesser classifications and cooler terroirs did well. It is a good year for Bourgogne Rouge and village level wines from normally less favoured spots as long as growers marshalled their pickers to best effect. Conversely, it was easy to miss the pinpoint timing on these naturally later ripening regional parcels. The wines show the silkiest textures and a surfeit of deep fruit allied to generous mouthfeel and body and the more favoured 1er and Grand Cru sites, depending on individual topography and location showed their mettle and inevitable… well…grandeur.
For the whites, like last year 2019 is a big surprise. It is a year that is richer than a 2014 or 2017, of course, but the wines marry excellent intensity and surprising freshness. Orange and ripe lemon signatures are evident in the great Cote de Beaune villages not peachy white fruits. They have a more traditional white Burgundy feel to them. Generosity is term that inevitably comes up when tasting them but with the requisite balance. Those naysayers and ‘acid-freaks’ who decried 2009 whites unduly early will be making the same mistake if judging the 2019’s similarly. The earlier vintage has shown its depth and strength as time has passed. The 2019’s have real depth and matière and will reward keeping. Like 2018 they are seriously gourmand affairs with excellent presence, scale and definition and they will drink a little earlier than higher acid years. Their innate power make them creatures to watch on a longer term basis too. Overall, we would say that 2019 Burgundy provides a flamboyant antidote to dark times. They are not angular or austere. They have flesh, vibrancy and a joie-de-vivre to put a smile on the face of wine lovers again.
We will be offering wines on a grower-by-grower basis as we finalise allocations and prices. As allocations are down significantly in 2019 we urge clients to strike while the iron is hot, the wallets still a little fuller from a year of fewer visits to our favourite restaurants and coffee shops during the great lockdown.