Burgundy Week, which hit London at the beginning of January, was a treasure trove of great wines for the Burgundophile with 10 tastings occurring on one day alone. For the wine expert it can be quite a challenge getting round as many tastings as possible as well as getting a clear picture of a vintage from largely barrel sample wines. When the vintage is as tricky as 2016 was then that job becomes even harder, as Justin Keay reports from Berry Bros, ABS and Stone & Vine tastings.
“This isn’t a vintage that can be easily likened to another, but it balances the best of the ripe fruit characteristics of 2015 with the racy freshness of 2014.”
If I’m quite honest, Burgundy week fills me with a certain apprehension.
It’s not that I’m not looking forward to trying the wines – on the contrary, comparing this year’s vintage to last year’s and the one before is one of the great joys of tasting en primeur wines from the region. It’s not even the recurring realisation that really, you will never know as much as you would like about the producers and villages and clos (unless you are a serious Burgundophile, which I’m not).
It’s not even the dizzying number of tastings that fill the London wine calender in the second week of January: on one day, by reckoning, there were 10 tastings, enough to sate the most dedicated taster: some, including Berry Bros, featured over 120 wines.
No, the apprehension stems from being able to get a handle on what sort of vintage you are dealing with.
Last year, with the 2015s, it was easy: this was pretty much all around a full and fruity vintage with many of the reds almost ready for immediate consumption, although the whites were pretty uneven. 2016?
Well, we’ve all heard about the night of April 26 when severe frost preceded by heavy rainfall conspired to destroy as much as 50% of the buds on vines across much of the region, with Savigny-lès-Beaune and Nuits-St-George particularly affected, whilst Chablis had the worst vintage for some 60 years. Yet the quality of the reds that actually made it – and an almost textbook perfect growing season in June and July ensured quite a few did, despite the earlier ravages – is pretty impressive.
So what did I discover – aside from the fact that volumes are understandable small and (no surprise here), prices far from inexpensive?
Here are six producers whose wines really stood out from the crowd.
Domaine Faiveley rarely disappoints and so it was with the 2016s, despite the ravages that struck Nuits-St-George. The most impressive of the range that I tasted was their already bottled Gevrey Chambertin, a delicious, well-balanced and surprisingly fruit-forward wine with lovely complexity on the nose and a light spicy palate. Their Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru Les Porests Saint George was also impressive, with dark berry fruit on the palate, but it needs to settle down a bit. Both wines available from Stone and Vine & Sun, £336 and £258 respectively for a case of six.
Domaine A.F. Gros celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and it should be pretty delighted with the quality of its wines, almost all of which are tasting well, from the Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Nuits 2016 (£33.75), surprisingly serious for the money, with lots of fruit on the palate and good complexity, through to the pricey Richebourg Grand Cru 2016 (£513.25). For my money though, the stars were the two Pommard Premier Cru, Les Pezerolles (£82.50) and best of all, the sumptuously rich, dazzling Les Arvelets (£81.50) which will be quite stunning with a few years behind it, but was already tasting pretty well here. (ABS Wine Agencies).
Joseph Drouhin impressed at both ends of the price scale. Their good value Côte De Beaune rouge cuvee spent 13 months in barrel and was made with a chunk of fruit from the younger vines of the Premier Cru vineyards, which probably explains why this had such roundness and spice. Great value at £135 for 6. At the other end of the scale, the Chambertin-Clos de Bèze (£2200 for 6) was the ultimate Grand Cru – very complex, quite full-on tannins, but with hints of the pleasures that lie ahead, in some 5-7 years. (Berry Bros)
Domaine Sebastien Magnien isn’t a name I’m familiar with, but I will take note after trying his delicious, rounded and fruit-forward Pommard Les Petits Noizons 2016. Good value (by local standards) at £156 for 6. (Berry Bros).
Domaine Jean Guiton has also had impressive results from a severely diminished crop; winemaker Guillaume says volume in 2016 came in at around one third of the normal 60,000 bottles “but what is there is excellent”. And so it is, with the surprisingly robust Volnay Les Petits Poisots and the full on, forceful dark fruit-powered Pommard both scoring high on my sheet, and good value to boot. Guillaume had his 2014 Volnay and 2015 Pommard on hand too, with the 2016s to my mind scoring higher than either. (Stone and Vine & Sun, enquire for price).
Benjamin Leroux seems to have had a pretty good year quality-wise too: his Gevrey-Chambertin (£192 for 6) and his Pommard Rugiens-Hauts 1er Cru (£400 for 6) were both impressively structured and distinctive, though for me the Volnay Clos de la Cave Des Ducs 1er Cru was the winner with delicious floral red berry fruits and distinct, racing acidity. (£315 for 6, Berry Bros).
And some great Beaujolais….
Domaine des Marrans is one of the most respected producers in Beaujolais and his 2016s were tasting really well. Star of the bunch for me was the lovely, approachable Chiroubles Vielles Vignes, beautifully rounded with soft berry fruits and soft tannins. Great expression of Gamay – reallys put the Beau back into Beaujolais. £20.25 from ABS.
And so in summary?
So how do I assess 2016? Few of the whites impressed, I must say; even some of the rounder and more approachable ones seemed shy and slightly watery. But the reds? I”ll hand over to David Roberts MW, buying director of Goedhuis, who has written of 2016:
“This isn’t a vintage that can be easily likened to another, but it balances the best of the ripe fruit characteristics of 2015 with the racy freshness of 2014. The reds have a beautiful pinosity; they are vibrant, alive and full of energy.”
For a vintage that in many ways is all over the place, but has distinct hints of greatness, that pretty much sums it up.
Photos: Jason Lowe