James Davy and Tim Wood have just returned from visiting the Côte d’Or to taste the new 2016 vintage. Here’s a brief account of what it’s like to taste from barrel at the domaines…and why it’s so important to do so.
Our 2016 Burgundy En Primeur offer will be released at the beginning of January 2018. In the meantime, visit our Burgundy En Primeur pages for more information, updates and a guide to buying En Primeur.
“Tasting the latest vintage is always a joy, not to mention a privilege. For the best part of a week we drive from grower to grower, tasting in chilly cellars, with samples drawn from barrels using a pipette. Sometimes the winemaker blends samples from two or three barrels in the glass – a dash of this, a dash of that – to mimic the finished wine when finally bottled, in 8 or 10 months time.
Caroline Drouhin drawing samples for us at Domaine Drouhin Laroze
The etiquette is to taste only as much from your glass as is needed, all involved are very mindful of the insanely small quantities made. It’s not uncommon for a domaine to make only two or three barrels of a given Premier or Grand Cru, which could give just 600 odd bottles, some of which will find their way to restaurants and cellars in France, the UK, the US, the Far East…and across the world.
With each new sample tasted, we hurriedly scribble tasting notes in a notebook or laptop, precariously balanced on a handy barrel, trying to judge how the wine will show in 2, 3, 5 or even 10 years time. The wines may be very different now from how they will ultimately taste when aged, but with experience, it’s possible to get a feel for the subtle balance of tannin, fruit, acidity and aromatic complexity which will determine how the wine develops.
Visiting five or six domaines each day and tasting up to a dozen wines at each, it’s remarkable how vividly the character of the winemaker affects the wines, almost as much as the land. Two Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Crus from the tiny Lavaux St Jacques vineyard may be unmistakably from the same soil, and yet have very distinct personalities. With the wines commanding such high prices, it’s essential to taste every wine we think of buying, but just as important to meet the people behind those wines.
Tasting with Jean-Pierre Charlot at Domaine Voillot in Volnay
The 2016 vintage was hit by a devastating frost on the 26th of April, almost unique in living memory. Frost is a familiar hazard in Burgundy, but on that morning as the sun rose, it shone through the frost, which acted like a lens, causing the sunlight to burn the half-formed fruit beneath. The effect was haphazard up and down the Côte d’Or, leaving some vineyards untouched and others decimated. A common opening remark at each of our visits was “moins de cinquante pour cent”, or whatever particular percentage loss that grower had suffered.
A traditional vine cutting burner in Meursault
The loss of volume was only offset by the corresponding increase in quality and concentration of the fruit which remained. If a vine has just a few hundred grams of fruit, it will receive the benefit of all the nutrients the root system can provide. Our general impression was of an excellent, if tiny vintage. The reds showed full, ripe tannins and lots of fruit, less rounded and approachable than the 2015’s but possibly they will live longer too. The white wines had plenty of acidity and fruit concentration.
Burgundy is in a ‘golden age’ at the moment, with better wines being made by more growers than ever in the region’s history, which goes back to at least the 8th century! At the same time, worldwide demand for the top wines of Burgundy means that prices are on the rise. Buying en primeur, when the wines are first released, is more relevant now than ever before. Look out for our forthcoming offer, in the meantime you can book tickets here for our Burgundy 2016 Cask Tasting – Wednesday 10th January 2018 at The Boot & Flogger, SE1.