Burgundy 2018 Vintage Report

2018 is a solar vintage, with a third more sunlight hours than the warmest ever – 2003, observes Brian Sieve of Domaine de Montille, but with less of that vintage or 2009’s extreme temperature spikes. 
Also, as Pierre Duroché remarked, the water reserves from the sodden winter, and then twice as much rain in March as usual, meant that the vines were not overly affected by drought in the long, hot summer. A warm, dry, late spring ensured flowering was regular, leading to an abundant fruit set and so a prodigious vintage, with many recording their largest harvests since 2009, although growers had to be careful to avoid dilution through over-cropping. After a hot, largely dry summer, picking began at the end of August but lasted a full month, one of the longest harvests on record (twice the length of 2017), finishing late September. As a result, in many cases alcohol levels are above average, and although 2018 is not a vintage that will be recalled for its acidity, in the better wines - thanks to cooler September evenings, there is sufficient, in reds along with balancing broad but juicy tannins, to underpin the ripe and generous fruit.

Whites are generally rich and deep fruited, and the better wines, especially from sites with older vines and good water retention, have sufficient structure and length to balance their weight and generosity. Generally they don’t have quite the same definition and tension as 2017 or 2014 but there is more phenolic maturation than 2015, more charm and balance than 2016 (and more bottles!), and they will present very attractive mid-term drinking at least. Philippe Colin points out that high yields (50-60hl/ha) are good for Chardonnay, enabling greater varietal and regional typicity and avoiding excessive concentration in hot years.
Certainly the top whites are exceptional and will ride out the vintage – de Montille Corton Charlemagne, Ballot Millot Meursault Perrieres, and Colin’s Chassagne En Remilly (next to Chevalier) for example, warrant spaces in any serious wine lover’s cellar. We have been especially rigorous in our choice of whites this year, avoiding chunky, broad-shouldered efforts and focusing on a brilliant, much narrower selection of stars that will mature beautifully and be ready to drink before the 14s and 17s.
For reds the warmth of the vintage has ensured the opportunity for fulsomely ripe, sweet fruit covering plush, juicy tannins. The option of when to pick and what to do with bunches subsequently (from 100% destemming to 100% whole bunch) has led to a variety of expressions of the vintage. Like a game of chicken - a handful of domaines played it safe, perhaps too safe, picking so early for fear of dropping acidity that, if allied with over-cropping, the end results are a little underpowered and overly herbaceous: Not bad wines but neither are they necessarily a true reflection of the full potential of the vintage. On the other end of the scale a few growers went at it full tilt, ending up with alcohols above 14.5% and with no stems adding savouriness. Again, these are not bad wines but more Carneros than Corton.

Pierre Duroché, whose wines even in 2018 show trademark purity, energy and deftness, likens the ripeness levels to those of 2015 but with better balance and more freshness, observing that after a succession of hot years (15, 16, 18 & 19), growers are increasingly capable and experienced dealing with higher temperature vintages. Romain Taupenot observes that solar vintages can soften more abrasive, rustic tannins, smoothing out the harder edges of less polished appellations. His Saint Romain 2018 “like a Grand Cru on paper” (with reference to pH and alcohol) is a fine example from this increasingly “one-to-watch” village. Similarly in Mercurey and Rully, wines from Francois Raquillet and Paul and Marie Jacquesson, white and red, showed impressive class and precision, continuing to drive the elevation in status of the Cote Chalonnais.
From the blue chip villages in the Cote d’Or there is a lot to love and the reds from the best crus will surely sit alongside the legends in the pantheon of great Burgundy vintages. The richness of some of our selected wines will have an appeal that goes beyond just Burgundy lovers. A lot of them will be sleepers; less approachable in early tastings than those ‘ready to drink’ 2017s, but maturing superbly over the long term. Philippe Pacalet says the vintages combines density and freshness, resembling 1990 but with more structure, and indeed cross the appellations, he has made some of his most thrilling wines ever.

In the south, there are bold, compelling wines from Beaune, Volnay and especially Pommard and Corton, where a tendency towards power over finesse is countered by seductive fruit and satin-smooth tannins. De Montille has made extremely impressive wines across all of these appellations and Comte Armand’s Clos des Epeneaux (tried as usual in its constituent parts, pre final blend) is magnificent.
Further north, vineyards in Nuits Saint Georges continue to yield ever more impressive, sophisticated wines, none more so than from rising star Guillaume Tardy, as do the 1er and Grand Crus of Morey Saint Denis, shrinking any remaining perceived gaps in renown with their neighbours Vosne Romanée and Gevrey Chambertin: Whilst the excellent value Grand Crus from George Lignier retain an elegance and charm, Clos des Lambrays 2018 is monumental.
It’s definitely a tremendous year for Gevrey Chambertin: from Jane Eyre and Pacalet’s village wines, to the lieu dits and expressions of Lavaut Saint Jacques and Petite Chapelle from Duroché and Domaines Bichot respectively, from Taupenot-Merme’s “Baby Beze” Bel-Air to pretty much every drop dead gorgeous barrel in the cellars at Dugat-Py, the wines have an hauter, a deeply-perfumed plush, ermine-lined swagger. Our selection from Gevrey’s Grand Crus, and the top vineyards from Vosne are worth remortgaging your house for.
There were some who approached this year’s 2017 Burgundy campaign with a degree of reservation, as were “keeping their powder dry” for 2018: They/you can now confidently prepare to charge, all guns blazing…
You can find our selection here.

Tom Harrow
Wine Director, Honest Grapes