As last week’s look at 2019 white Burgundy revealed, the vintage is rapidly proving to be one of the most exciting in recent memory. Here Sophie Thorpe reports on the reds – wines of outstanding balance that have a long future ahead of them
As we’ve already discussed in our pieces on Chablis and the whites of the Côte de Beaune, 2019 in Burgundy is a remarkable vintage – shaped by an unusual growing season.
After a week tasting the length and breadth of the region, low yields and high quality are the headlines: frost and bad weather at flowering led to coulure and millerandage, essentially fewer and smaller berries per bunch. This in itself leads to more concentrated fruit, but it’s the warm, dry conditions that were really key. As water evaporated from the berries in these conditions, everything was concentrated – acidity, sugar and flavour.
The resulting reds are both intense and fresh – the fruit pristine and perfectly ripe, without straying into jammy. The tannins are supple, soft and seamless – so much so that, even at this youthful stage, the wines are a joy to taste; a tannic structure that Frédéric Barnier (Louis Jadot) said is almost more reminiscent of Gamay or Oregon Pinot, and rather atypical for red Burgundy. But don’t let this approachability fool you – the structure is there, just stylishly disguised, and there’s everything the wines need for a long life in the cellar.
Thanks to the “solaire” growing season, the grapes had high natural sugar levels, meaning correspondingly high alcohols – tending to sit between 13.5 and 14.5%, increasing as you move up the quality ladder. But, despite this, the alcohol didn’t stand out anywhere; it’s balanced effortlessly by the wines’ equally high concentration and acidity. Each village shows slightly sunnier profile, the tannins shaking off any rusticity, the fruit tending to be a little more generous – but without losing a sense of place. The wonderful acidity that runs through the wines makes them deliciously moreish – a sappy salinity filling the finish and making your mouth water; they are classically “digeste” or “gourmand”.
It’s almost impossible to compare as a vintage. For us, the wines truly taste unique – unlike any other vintage we’ve tasted en primeur, with the balance of freshness and ripe fruit really separating it from its peers. Most producers were unwilling or unable to draw comparisons – as Frédéric Barnier explained, it’s hard to find a vintage with the same colour, richness and balance. He briefly considered the 2015s, but feels the 2019s are much more approachable. Marion Raphet modestly described the vintage as more “agréable” than 2018. Olivier Bernstein feels the 2019s are the best wines he has ever made, while at Domaine Joblot, Mickaël Haratyk described the 2019s as “absolutely gorgeous”, but couldn’t find a comparable year. The consensus is that they’re a step up from 2018 – much more classically styled and terroir-expressive. There’s a rare balance at play, offering more freshness than 2018 and more balance than 2015.
Everyone agreed however, as Frédéric Weber of Bouchard Père & Fils said, 2019 is “a huge vintage for the future”. For him, it is a little bit like a cross between 2015 and 2017 – with the concentration, roundness and “sucrosité” of 2015, and the delicate aromatics of 2017; but it also reminds him more and more of 1947 – a superb vintage, he told us, that had similarly high alcohols but amazing purity of aroma (and, as an indication of the wines’ ageability, it’s still drinking beautifully now).
For Philippe Jouan, the vintage’s hallmark is the amazing consistency found along the Côte, as well the purity of fruit found in the wines. From our tastings, we couldn’t agree more when it comes to consistency: while yields vary, the high quality is a thread that runs through the entire region. Sadly there simply isn’t much of the wines – with producers down by as much as 50%. In general, it’s the Bourgogne and village wines that were hit the hardest in terms of volumes, and mostly yields seemed to be lower the further south we tasted. The result? It’ll be harder than normal to get your hands on these fantastic wines.
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Read our full report on Burgundy 2019 here, or all our coverage of the vintage here.