When we visited Burgundy in July last year, we met a lot of rather stressed vignerons. Spring and early summer in 2012 were extremely challenging: wet weather and humidity meant that the vines needed constant attention to keep diseases in check. Dramatic hailstorms at the end of June not only destroyed part of the crop, but also made for yet more work in the vineyards to ensure what remained was not further damaged. One might think the last thing the Burgundians would want at that time would be visitors, but it seemed that most were pleased for the excuse to take a break.
So how did the wines turn out? Fortunately, although hail struck again in August, the weather improved for the end of the season, and in most cases grapes were harvested in good conditions. However, the combination of hail and selection meant volumes were small and initial demand has been high - the advent of a third small harvest in a row pushed prices in the November Hospices de Beaune auction to record-breaking levels. To get an insight into what the wines actually taste like as early as it is sensible to do so (that is soon after the malolactic fermentations have finished), FINE+RARE made a trip to Burgundy last week.
The wines were still difficult to judge and are much more backward than the 2011s were at the same time last year with higher levels of malic acid in the 2012s which, coupled with exceptionally cold winter temperatures, ruled out an early finish to the malos. What can be said is that the 2012 reds are firm in acidity and tannin, and the most frequent vintage cited as being of a comparative style was 2010. However, several growers noted that acidity is less forcefully present than in 2010, despite technical levels being similar. The vintage is also less ripe than 2009; some growers harvested at around 12 degrees, and it is likely that there was chaptalisation at some domaines. Final yields vary widely by domaine - some cuvees have been almost totally obliterated, while others have volumes much closer to the yearly norm. The Cote de Nuits (which suffered less from hail than areas further south) fared much better than the Cote de Beaune, in this respect.
What about 2013? After three very small harvests, there is much anxiety in Burgundy about the forthcoming vintage. Challenges this year have come in the form of floods in some areas in early spring – the Cote d’Or has not escaped the rain that most of Europe has seen – and also a very late flowering as a result of cool temperatures. The good news is that flowering, when it finally happened, went well, paving the way for normal yields. However, the season remains several weeks behind schedule and the critical question, with harvest predicted for early October, is whether the grapes will ripen before cooler weather arrives in autumn. The Burgundians will be crossing their fingers for an Indian summer.
Finally, we also took the opportunity to taste a number of 2011s from bottle, and this is a vintage that is now even more seductive than it was from barrel. The wines are pure and fresh, and most have developed a silkiness that appears to be a hallmark of the vintage.