While some producers and importers have shied away from saying whether Burgundy 2020 is a ‘white vintage’ or a ‘red vintage’, Armit Wines’ brand manager Nicolas Clerc MS has come down firmly on the side of the white wines. The whites he says have “tension and precision balanced by generosity. Many will be delicious in their youth, especially across the Bourgogne and Village appellations.” The reds will need to have more time in the bottle for a proper evaluation. Here he gives us his insight with contributions from Christophe Roumier, Domaine de Montille and Domaine Bart.
“We suspect pricing will also be a cause for discussion, especially given that the incredibly low volume across the board for 2021 is at the forefront of our producers’ minds,” writes Clerc.
To see the 2020 vintage in context, we might return to 2019, which experienced mild autumn and winter months. Notably, only seven days fell below freezing. This mild weather, the effect of climate change, continued into 2020. Flowering began at the end of April, which was unusually warm, and summer ushered in a warm ripening season. It became very hot towards the end of June, followed by torrid weather throughout July and August.
Drought brings its own challenges and, perhaps surprisingly, opportunities. In particularly hot conditions, there is the risk that vines shut down completely. In 2020, however, dehydration had the welcome effect of concentrating both sugars and acidity – specifically, tartaric acid – a defining and unexpected character of the vintage, in which both ripe fruit and refreshing acidity are at play.
This was particularly the case with the white wines. They stood out for their precision, tension and balance. As Sabine Mollard at Marc Morey in Chassagne-Montrachet told us: “It was a beautiful vintage, surprisingly fresh for a solar year. There is structure and tension. We feel that the vineyards have adapted to climate change.” Several vignerons likened the character of the whites to 2017 and 2014, but with a touch more richness.
At Domaine de Montille, the balance of phenolic ripeness and tartaric acid was paramount to producing top quality wines. As chef de cave, Brian Sieve explains: “Harvest started on 21st August, with the wish to retain strong fruit character, concentrated acidity, and brightness and chalkiness – that fine line of phenolic ripeness. Dry conditions prevailed which, with the warm weather generated more tartaric acid… The whites are simply miraculous, superb!”
Domaine Bart in Marsannay and Jean-Luc and Eric Burguet in Gevrey-Chambertin noted the tiny size of the Pinot Noir berries. Sunshine also thickens the skins, reducing the ratio of pulp to skin. For reds, the resulting wines are rich, concentrated, deep in colour, and show a firm tannic structure. Yields were low, although perhaps not as low as initially expected. By August some terroirs saw sugars rising quickly, and for some domaines Pinot Noir was harvested before Chardonnay. Adapting to the conditions was essential, and the challenge was to harvest before the sugar levels were too high but ensuring skins and pips had ripened fully – all whilst retaining that all-important acidity.
Christophe Roumier pointed out the high diurnal range – the difference in temperature between warm days and cool nights, which helps retain acidity: “We are happy and surprised at the high level of quality. It was a solar vintage, with high temperatures. It was a little crop, 30% down. The diurnal range helped a lot. It was the same approach for us as in 2012.”
So in conclusion…
Burgundy 2020 has yielded many superb wines. For the time being, the vintage defines itself as a stunning white vintage, with tension and precision balanced by generosity. Many will be delicious in their youth, especially across the Bourgogne and Village appellations.
For the delicious, beautifully-balanced reds, with their concentrated sugars, deep colour and firm tannins, time will tell how they develop in the bottle. We look forward to revisiting them. Tiny berries – a consequence of dehydration – mean that volumes will be down. We suspect pricing will also be a cause for discussion, especially given that the incredibly low volume across the board for 2021 is at the forefront of our producers’ minds.
The great domaines will always be highly sought-after, which is why we are always on the look-out for young, artisanal talent. This year we are delighted to welcome Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair and Jean-Baptiste Jessiaume to our offering. We also welcome the much-anticipated return of Domaine Darviot-Perrin. The wines are, quite simply, stunning, and amongst the finest whites we tasted.
You can follow Bourgogne Week on social media at @BourgogneWines on Twitter and @vinsdebourgogne on Instagram. You can find out more about the Bourgogne Week and what tastings and events are taking place at Bourgogne Wines website here.