Against all the odds, a solitary one-man Armit team has been visiting its vignerons to bring us insight direct from Burgundy. Nicolas Clerc MS was in the fortuitous position of holidaying in France and, by a stroke of luck and timing, was able to make that crucial diversion to the Route des Grands Crus. Having tasted a comprehensive range of Burgundy 2019, Clerc brings us the inside view into what is proving to be one of the most singular vintages that Burgundy has experienced in recent decades.
“In short, for 2019 you can buy the red wines across appellations and price points with absolute confidence, such is the outstanding quality – I have never come across a vintage so pretty and precise,” writes Armit Wines’ Nic Clerc MS.
The reds are truly unique, with huge ageing potential. It is rare to be moved by a vintage so early in its life. The singularity and precision of the wines is genuinely striking. The aromas are focused but meticulous, the freshness is tense and briny, the tannins are firm and delicate. Superb quality is there from the regional appellation to the Grands Crus, with the former presenting a genuine steal in terms of drinkability and value for money. Production is meagre, however, and accessibility will be limited.
White wine appellations saw even lower yields, and quality is heterogeneous. The 2019 vintage saw the rise of the cooler sites and villages so, if you like your white Burgundy lithe and precise, you might want to orientate your buying towards the villages of St Romain, Ladoix, St Aubin, Blagny and Savigny-lès-Beaune. Classic villages such as Meursault, Chassagne and Puligny have in general delivered a more serious and solid style, comparable to 2012.
The funny thing is that the less-well known appellations have benefitted more from warmer weather as a result of climate change – the Hautes Côtes de Beaune, the Hautes Côtes de Nuits, Bourgogne Village – sites which 20 years ago were very difficult to get ripeness in. The wines are now impressive and are great value for money.
Ladoix, for example, we all know and pass through it on our way to the Côtes de Nuits, this is traditionally one of the cooler sites, but we must stop there and explore, the last two vintages have been impressive. Marsannay, also, the wines are so fresh and floral. The 2019 vintage, the reds have a Japanese precision, not too complex but clearly defined with precise aromas, beautiful, chic and sexy!
In short, for 2019 you can buy the red wines across appellations and price points with absolute confidence, such is the outstanding quality – I have never come across a vintage so pretty and precise. For the whites, we encourage you to be a little more discerning.
How the season progressed, according to the winemakers
The winter was mild and dry. The lack of rainfall meant that the hydric reserves in the soils were not replenished, and the bud burst came early due to the temperature: two weeks earlier than it did in 2018 in the Côte de Beaune and eight days earlier in Chablis. The frost, which occurred between 5th and 15th April, wreaked havoc in the Chassagne and Puligny area. For Domaine Blain Gagnard, the Chassagne 1er Cru Morgeot suffered an 80% loss in yield, whilst the Grands Crus suffered a 10% loss.
The first flowers appeared in the first week of June at Bouchard Père et Fils. However, the cool, damp weather disrupted flowering, resulting in coulure and millerandage. Frédéric Weber at Bouchard noted that the remarkable phenomenon of 2019 was the heterogeneity in terms of vegetative development. Within the same plot of land, bunches of closed buds could be observed alongside bunches in full bloom, which made the harvest date difficult to anticipate.
June brought with it a summer of intense sunshine and heat, and the vines began to grow very rapidly. Most of the growers did not remove any leaves, so as to maintain maximum canopy cover as protection against the sun. According to Olivier Lamy at Domaine Hubert Lamy in St Aubin, 2019 was characterised by exceptional sun exposure: nearly 15% more sunlight during the day between April and September.
With the heatwave and lack of precipitation in July, the vines stopped their development due to hydric stress. Ripening was very uneven because the flowering was staggered and in particular because of the drought. In Chablis, the old vines with well-established root systems handled the weather better than the young ones, which suffered from the climatic conditions, according to Florent Dauvissat.
Both Etienne de Montille of Domaine de Montille and Frederic Lafarge of Domaine Michel Lafarge noticed in particular the positive effects of organic and biodynamic viticulture. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, their vineyards responded remarkably well to the lack of water – an investment in their vineyards and years in the making. As Etienne explains, “We started this principle in early 2000s, to get the vineyard healthy and resistant for the future, I am proud to see this has paid off.”
Picking dates are increasingly crucial
As we have become accustomed in recent years, the date of picking is now a key success factor for any domaine, as winemakers strive to preserve acidity and avoid high alcohol, knowing that the alcohol can quickly rise in a matter of days. Sabine Mollard of Domaine Marc Morey noticed that she needed to be careful about the quicker maturity in 2019, for the potential of alcohol was rising two degrees every three days versus one degree a week in a less solar year.
The lack of precipitation, hydric stress, and high temperatures at the beginning of September caused growers to start the harvest on the second week of September.
For white wines, the harvest stretched from 6th September for Domaine de Montille and Domaine Benjamin Leroux to 16th September for Christophe Roumier with his Corton Charlemagne. Like last year, the picking window for most producers was very short; to avoid over-ripeness producers needed to be fast and efficient. From mid-September, the temperature started to drop at night and rainfall rewarded some of the growers who held their nerves and harvested slightly later.
For the Pinot Noir, producers gathered their crops from 7th September at Domaine Simon Bize to the 18th September at Domaine Jean Grivot. The fruit was ripe and healthy. The skins were thick, firm, and rich in anthocyanins. There is a near mystical character to the reds: the sugar was concentrated, but also the acidity, resulting in a beautifully harmonious profile. It will be easy to compare the 2019 reds with 2016 in Piedmont for its homogeneity, for it is difficult to go wrong in quality. Ghislaine Barthod mentioned that she was surprised by the quality of the tannins and the acidity level, and Christophe Roumier welcomed back a return to identity for his Chambolles, with lower alcohol and a compelling, nervous energy.
So what about the prices of 2019?
Prices will be the delicate subject of the campaign. With some growers losing up to 60% of their crop, prices will be raised. However, we have noticed pricing stability with Bourgogne, Village and some 1er Cru appellations, but this will depend on the producer. The exchange rate is also less attractive than last year, which does not help.
The top appellations from the high-profile estates will be difficult to secure as usual, but for buyers looking at drinkability and pleasure, they will be thrilled by the likes of Domaine Leflaive in the Côte Chalonaise, the outstanding Marsannays of Pierre Bart, the delicious Bourgognes from Domaine de Montille, and the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits from Aurelien Verdet.
We are constantly hunting for new, artisanal talent in the region. Having added last year Domaine Trapet-Rochelandet in Gevrey Chambertin, Domaine Rebourgeon-Mure in Pommard, Domaine Comtesse de Cherisey in Blagny and Florent Dauvissat in Chablis, we are pleased to welcome this year Domaine Thomas Collardot in Puligny-Montrachet and Domaine Alain Burguet in Gevrey Chambertin.
In these trying times, we take comfort in the great many wines yet to discover in Burgundy, both for drinking and investing in. This is a region of joy and conviviality, where life is sweet, and life is carrying on.
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