One of the clear highlights of the superb 2020 Burgundy vintage is the quality of the whites. The Wine Gurus were all blown away when tasting the new vintage, and it seems we’re not the only ones to get excited! Critics are raving about the wines, with Jasper Morris reporting “an almost universally successful vintage for the white wines!” and Allen Meadows praising them as “elegant, pure and fresh with very little exotic influences”. Each appellation has produced exceptional wine, and you’re unlikely to hear people saying “this is a Puligny vintage” - if you like a particular village, you will be delighted with the wines produced by its wonderful vignerons. Head Wine Guru Tom reports that "the best are notably dimensional – with both length and depth but focus and freshness too".
So, what contributed to these ground-breaking results? Whilst this was yet another dry, solar vintage, winemakers are getting used to working in these conditions, and perhaps the vines are too, digging ever deeper into the soil to refresh their roots. The growing season took place during the infamous age of lockdown. While most of us were stuck inside our homes and behind desks, or sunning ourselves on our balconies, the vignerons were hard at work without the constant distractions of tourism, tastings and importers. This vintage required more attention than most due to the heat, and this was in fact the earliest harvest in Burgundy ever, with flowering and budbreak taking place unprecedentedly early (though still within touching distance of the desirable 100-day goal relative to harvest).
In short, this is a benchmark vintage for the whites, and the only negative is that we would all have liked there to be more of them!
The Growing Season
The introductory months of 2020 were fairly mild, with average temperatures reaching 7.9°C. Although January and February were followed by a chillier March, bud break had already arrived - and very early. Chardonnay was spotted bursting into life around 19 March, nearly a month earlier than 2019. With hardly any rain, beautiful blue skies and an all-encompassing lockdown, April welcomed more stunning sunshine. The vines survived with plenty of water in their reserves, in time for a welcome top-up with showers in May, when the blossoms came into play - again, a month ahead of schedule. June was a mixed bag, with some wind and some rain, though not enough to cause any alarm. It was July and August when things really ramped up.
The summer of 2020 was very warm & dry, and not dissimilar to 2003, so the grapes ripened very quickly and picking began as early as 18 August. Fortunately the grapes had retained high acidities to balance the warmth of the vintage, and the solar conditions also meant that there was practically no mildew pressure. The resultant fruit was very promising, with De Montille’s head winemaker Brian Sieve telling us shortly after the harvest that “2020 is another wonderful, beautiful year. Why the whites are as beautiful and elegant as they are, I have no idea how to explain it. 2020 has a food profile, a concentration, an acidity profile. It’s like 2014 – acid through the roof, PH as low as it goes, the texture has a quality to it. The potential of the 2020 vintage is excellent”. Hats off to Brian for predicting the beauty of 2020 that early on! For Tom "The early promise was there, despite the summer’s extreme heat and drought, with growers acknowledging that both they and their vines were far better adapted to such conditions than back in 2003, the previously earliest harvest on record".
Opinion is unanimously in praise of the resultant wines, with Allen Meadows thrilled to write that “the textures are refined and almost delicate with good if not high acidities with markedly dry finishes. Importantly, they clearly convey their underlying terroirs, and, in this sense, they offer the best clarity of expression since perhaps 2014”. Indeed, the whites have beautifully delineated fruit, and the real delight in this vintage is the unwavering brightness and structure that brings these flavours into a league of their own. These wines have tenacious vivacity, plenty of balance with wonderful freshness and vibrancy.
Much like the legendary 2014s, Neal Martin says affirmingly “the whites do not exude richness; rather, there is plenty of dry extract that lends weight and attractive textural sensations on their finishes. One of the great attributes of the vintage is that at least in barrel, the best whites almost shimmer with mineralité, especially those grown on more calcareous soils”. Due to the warmth of the vintage there was little malic acid, but the levels of tartaric acid were high, which is what has introduced a bright crunchiness that remains both refreshing and highly aromatic.
It’s a special vintage that our buyer Nick has thoroughly enjoyed tasting both in Burgundy in November and January in London. In fact, he's delighted to report that “these whites stand out as the best I have tasted since the epic 2014 and I wonder if they will surpass them in time. Throughout Burgundy, from Chablis to the Maconnais, you will find wines that will offer great enjoyment in their youth but will have the stuffing to age beautifully for many years”.
We are not alone in our admiration for these 2020 white Burgundies, and in the words of the Wine Advocate’s William Kelley, a “feeding frenzy” is sure to ensue. Within the context of lower yields in 2020 down by up to 30% on 2019, and then some tragic losses in 2021 due to the already infamous April frosts (yields reduced by over 50-80%++!), there simply isn’t going to be enough white Burgundy to go around.
Some domaines will understandably want to recoup their losses from reduced production. That being said, the whites released this far into the campaign look very attractive indeed, and whilst it is in our nature as a Wine Club to say, “stock up!”, if you like white Burgundy we really do mean it! This is an absolutely five star vintage for the whites, and remember - there won’t be much next year and in two years the prices certainly won’t be as generous.
Top 4 Best Buys of 2020
Quality is stratospheric across the board, but if you had to ask us, here are our top picks for the vintage for under the radar gems worth snapping up, including our exclusive UK Meursault Criots, a fan favourite at our EP tasting.
Vincent Girardin Bourgogne Blanc "Terroir Noble" – You will not find a better value Bourgogne. Enough said! ‘Terroir Noble’ indicates the hallowed appellations of Meursault, Puligny and Chassagne from where the grapes are grown. Elegant, fresh and zingy with citrus, lemon and lime, and a silky finish. Tremendous value for money from this stellar white vintage.
Domaine Long-Depaquit Chablis 1er Cru 'les Vaillons’ Chablis 1er and Grand Cru offer incredible value at the best of times, and in this stellar vintage, this is more obvious than ever. Decanter's Andy Howard MW states that in the case of top Chablis, including those from Domaine Long-Depaquit, this is nothing short of a five-star vintage.
Domaine du Pavillon, Albert Bichot, Meursault Criots - A very special organic plot indeed, we are lucky to have secured the UK exclusivity here. A classic Meursault that offers tremendous value.
”From a limestone rich lieu-dit almost on the northern border with Volnay, this is a super site for Meursault and in 2020 the wine really shines. Like Bab Bear’s porridge – everything is just right: Orchard and citrus fruits plus a little spice on the nose, then you get the intensity of concentration of the vintage and plenty of ripeness and mid-palate density, but also cooler fruit and a fresh salty vein of acidity. Really pleasurable now, but will doubtless evolved with another year or so in bottle.” Head Wine Guru Tom
"Powerful mid yellow. The bouquet combines rich sunshine fruit with something cooler, fresher, stonier. Interesting mix of ripenesses in the fruit on the palate, some bacon fat, some yellow fruit, some salinity.” Jasper Morris, Inside Burgundy
De Montille, Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Chalumeaux – There is so much intensity, depth of fruit and complexity in this biodynamic Puligny - it punches well above its weight. “Pure, fresh nuts, intense, some ginger syrup and red apple. Palate has plenty of matier but a citric acidity and stony length that impresses, built on energy not mass. Linear and long and great salty minterals on the finish.” Head Wine Guru Tom