With Burgundy Season beginning ever earlier, and some allocations soon to be confirmed, we are taking the opportunity to set the scene and give you our initial thoughts on the vintage and those of our growers. This year, due to the growing number of domaines we are working with, we split our visits in to two trips: Club Wine Buyer Nick headed out in early November to visit half of them (with slightly more focus on the white wine specialists) and then Nathan and I went out later in the month to see the remainder and also bid (successfully!) for our Hospices de Beaune 2021 barrels.
Heading to Burgundy at the end of last month, I was filled with a sense of expectation. The 2020s I had already tried were mostly limited to the cuvées from the Hospices de Beaune and Nuits and at a much more nascent stage, twelve months prior. 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. However in 2020 reds show off as many red fruits as black fruits (unlike 2003) and, whilst very concentrated, have much brighter acidity. Tannins too are generally smooth and sweet, making the wines enjoyable to taste en primeur with the weight of ripe fruit behind them, but clearly these are reds with plenty of staying power and a long future. Meanwhile the big surprise is the whites, which have turned out brilliantly, better than initially anticipated, with real energy and precision. The best are notably dimensional – with both length and depth but focus and freshness too.
Once again, picking date and rate of harvest was key in 2020, with earlier and speedier pickers being rewarded with freshness and finesse. For Loic Dugat, whose team commenced harvest on 20th August at Dugat-Py in Gevrey Chambertin (and was all done in eight days), 2020 “is in the top three vintages of the decade, alongside 2010 and 2016”, offering the same richness and density as 2018 but “fresher and with better balance”. Benoit Stahly at George Lignier in Morey-Saint-Denis calls 2020 “a stratospheric vintage”. Equally enthusiastic last year about his 2019s, he nevertheless suggests his 20s have more purity and vivacity. Anne Sigaut was the first to harvest in Chambolle Musigny (and only in the morning as was too hot by lunch time) leading to a well-delineated, elegantly perfumed, sweet pastille-fruited set of delicious wines.
Philippe Pacalet sums up the vintage as “Gourmand et frais” – and his preference for 100% whole bunches has helped the wines retain vitality and delineation alongside their usual richness and power. Jane Eyre is using more whole bunches this year and both she and Philippe noted that alcohol levels were slightly less than in their 2019 wines. Jane’s wines seem to be becoming more statuesque, with a plushness and opulence that is beguiling and her 2020s could be her best vintage yet. We loved them! Meanwhile a kaleidoscopic tasting with Laurent Delaunay commenced by again demonstrating the continuing rise of the Haut Cotes de Nuits, took us through various choice terroirs and hidden gems of both colours in the Cote d’Or, with an inevitable focus on Nuits Saint Georges, including our Hospices de Nuits barrels. We joined Laurent and wife Catherine for dinner the following evening and were blown away by a 1933 Maison Delaunay Gevrey Chambertin – a fine example of a rare bottle that was as much of a pleasure as a privilege to drink.
We also had a lot of wines to taste through with Etienne de Montille, including our Hospices de Beaune red and white, and our exclusive cuvées (which happen to be kosher). Brian and the team have done a great job again this year with both colours, cementing my belief there is no domaine more even-handed in quality for red and white Burgundy. Good friends Pierre Duroché and Charles Magnien have made quintessential expressions of Gevrey Chambertin from their respective sites, Pierre’s cuvées as ever defined by their energy rather than mass and with startling purity, where Charles’s wine have a velvety plushness and opulence which is rewardingly hedonic. Pierre harvested 20hl/ha in 2020 (rather than 30hl/ha in 2019) so allocations will be contested more furiously than ever. Domaine des Lambrays is biodynamic from 2020 vintage with Jacques continuing to ring in the changes by vinifying each of the grand vin’s parcels separately prior to blending them all back in. Despite the price repositioning of Lambrays last year we foresee no shortage of demand for this exceptional wine. Our first visit to Pousse d’Or, one of the great icons of Burgundy, was every bit as thrilling as we’d hoped and we are very excited to be getting our first en primeur allocations from the domaine.
Back in London the tasting of Maison Bichot (including the wines of Domaine du Clos Frantin, Domaine Pavillon and Domaine Long-Depaquit) revealed some impressive wines across the spectrum of properties and sites, with any gap between negoce and estate wines never less noticeable. The colour of some of the reds is extraordinarily deep (The Vosne Malconsorts looks like Syrah!) with winemaker Alain Serveau noting there are higher levels of polyphenols in the wines even than 2015 and that minimal pigeage was done in the cellar to avoid excessive extraction. It’s certainly a bumper year for Bichot!
Club Wine Buyer Nick's Report
During the first week of November I ventured down to the Côte d’Or for a 3 day whistle stop tour of some of our favourite producers. I even managed to stop off at a few new producers to find some special additions to our EP offering this year.
Chatting to the vignerons, still anxious about the recently finished, very challenging harvest (2021), their eyes brightened up and their smiles returned when the subject diverted to their 2020s. Undoubtedly an excellent vintage for both reds and whites, most of the domaines I visited had turned out unique wines of style, concentration and great terroir expression.
In the Côte de Beaune, the whites demonstrated precision and wonderful balance of ripe fruit, refreshing acidity and vigorous tension, particularly for such a warm vintage. In Puligny, I visited Sylvain and Quentin Bzikot as well as another père et fils duo, Alain and Corentin Chavy. Both domaines were delighted with the vintage, having enjoyed near normal yields and had produced beautifully pure, ripe and fresh wines across their range. Down the road in Chassagne, the quality of the vintage was re-confirmed as I tasted across the entire range at HG favourite Philippe Colin.
Speaking with Lydie Boillot at JM Boillot, she couldn’t explain the wonderful freshness from this solar vintage but certainly felt blessed to have produce such a good and ‘large’ vintage. (sadly the same cant be said for some of her neighbours in Pommard).
The reds in 2020 are equally excellent although the quality is a little less consistent and the styles also vary greatly. The smaller water reserves in the Côtes de Nuits created a lot of hydric stress which in one part reduced yields by up to 50% for some domaines, but on the other hand created uniquely ripe berries, concentrated in sugar, aromas and above all acidity. A hallmark of this vintage will undoubtedly be their freshness along with ripe concentrated fruit, which bodes well for long term ageing.
Many of the winemakers I spoke to were delighted with their wines. Romain Taupenot’s only grievance was what might have been had there been just one afternoon of rain throughout July and August; it might have been his greatest vintage yet! He produced wonderfully concentrated, rich wines, with stunning purity and silky tannins, sadly too many in small volumes. There is almost no Chambolle Musigny Combe d’Orveau in 2020.
Charles Magnien at Henri Magnien is incredibly proud of his efforts, expressing delight with the “never before seen” levels of acidity. There is a harmonious balance between concentration of fruit and fresh minerality. He really believes this year is his greatest edition for his famed 1er Cru Les Cazetiers.
The hands off approach at Jean Tardy has provided beautifully floral and fine wines with stunning purity. These elegant wines provide a nice balance to some of the richer, broader wines of the côte and goes to show what can be achieved by picking extra early in such a dry and hot vintage.
It is next to impossible to draw comparisons to any other single vintage; 2020 is certainly unique in its own right. The whites demonstrate the precision of 2014 and freshness of 2017 but with more richness. The reds boast the tension of 2016, the intensity of 2010 and the concentration of 2018.
Needless to say, these are very exciting wines and considering the worryingly low yields of 2021, now is the time to fill your cellars before the Great Burgundy Shortage begins.