Having had a few days back in rainy London to digest last week’s trip to Burgundy to tase through the 2018s we have come to a number of conclusions; some of which would have been a surprise to us if you’d told us them before we’d departed. Namely, this isn’t the homogeneously great vintage we were lead to believe and a number of reports we’ve seen cultivating exactly that notion have caused us more than a few raised eyebrows, especially as this wasn’t a claim made by any we spoke to ourselves. Growers were enthusiastic about the vintage but for the most part their classic Burgundian restraint kept them from overstating the quality.
Firstly, the good news: the growing season was an easy one as we discussed in our previous article with one of the prime concerns being soaring alcohol levels. Those who picked early were rewarded by-and-large with wines that made the most of the ripe fruit and concentration that the vintage offered without the saccharine glycerin-driven viscosity that proved a pitfall to a number of domaines.
We are fortunate at Cru that we are able to go down to the region and get a feel for the vintage ourselves and are pleased to see that most of our favourite producers managed to make the right decisions, giving them both freshness and a slightly augmented sense of ripeness and forward intensity that is no bad thing. Producers like Ghislaine Barthod and Henri Gouges, where wines are often particularly well-structured and can take some time to open up, that forward ripe fruit helps elevate these wines to a new level.
“2018 was the hottest vintage since 2003 as well as a very dry one.”
Another spot of bright news is the white wines. We were led to believe that 2018 was definitively a red-wine favouring vintage, purely by virtue of the heat and potential for high ABVs, but this is Burgundy; nothing here can be so simple. We found that the whites are intense, structured and loaded with bright, whistle clean citrus fruit and plenty of acidity to keep them lifted. It’s not in the same league as the legendary 2014 vintage for white wines, but in our estimation it is better than 2015, 2016 and 2017 for the whites. We started our trip with Jean Chartron in Puligny-Montrachet and ended it with Marc Colin in Saint-Aubin, two inimitable white wine specialists and were completely enthralled by their brilliant wines.
The drawback is of course, that the richness and intensity of alcohol in the wines made by those who picked late has lead to some domaines dialling up the proportions of new oak and in our opinion this is a bit of a cop-out. Winemakers had every opportunity to take full advantage of the gifts the vintage offered them; offered on a silver platter. If any long-suffering, hail-and-frost-stricken Burgundians haven’t learned by now to make hay while the sun shines then it is clear that the years ahead with unpredictable climate developments and harsher seasonal shifts will hold more than a few nasty surprises.
Once again, though, we are grateful that for the most part our favourite domaines managed to pick their fruit early on - more than one domaine had their earliest ever harvests - as early as August 27th.
This is a vintage that in many ways serves as a welcome chapter to Burgundy’s recent history. It is a generous harvest with a relatively large amount of wine made. The wines that we will be focussing on this year are successful, faithful interpretations of both their crus and the vintage’s conditions.