Burgundy '09, '10 and '11

God given luck

When we started to deal in detail with Burgundy, we could hardly have hoped for such ongoing luck. In the history of Burgundy, which is noted for its notoriously capricious weather, it had possibly never before occurred that three consecutive vintages could produce such remarkable wines. The dream vintage of 2009 was followed by two outstanding, albeit significantly lower yielding vintages. From a wine trading perspective, we can count ourselves especially lucky that we are able to offer the wines of three exceptional vintages for a stable price in a time span when the quantity decreased while demand for them has grown dynamically.

With the arrival of the 2011 wines, we had the opportunity for the first time to taste side by side three different vintages of wines from four producers sold by Bortársaság. Thus, we were able to draw some conclusions. Regarding the countless combination of nuances served up by the various vineyards, vintages and winemakers, it would be a mistake to make sweeping statements but we do believe that we can see a few things clearer. 

Burgundia 2009, 2010 és 2011 Burgundia 2009, 2010 és 2011 Burgundia 2009, 2010 és 2011 Burgundia 2009, 2010 és 2011 Burgundia 2009, 2010 és 2011

Burgundy the beautiful and scary

Burgundy might appear like a religion to outsiders; a world of constant praying with sporadic revelations. It’s a wine region with no middle road, which one either loves or hates. What might explain the extreme reactions is that the stakes are placed exceptionally high. According to the believers, this is the most amazing wine region in the world and one to which everything else should be measured against. On the other hand, it’s also the world’s most expensive wine region. Even the entry-level wines of the better known estates cost more than the top wines from almost any other wine region. It’s as if anything affordable is to be treated with suspicion in Burgundy. Indeed, if the price isn’t enough to scare away curious non-professionals, then there is the labyrinth of Appellation Controlées to get to grips with – at the top end of the classification there are 33 grand cru and 635 premier cru areas – which results in a plethora of terribly long and unpronounceable names.

 

Why is it so difficult?

Well, it’s not only because of the long French names. The most acknowledged experts like to emphasize that in wine every road leads to Burgundy. We might also add that almost all wine roads also go through Bordeaux. Maybe it’s not even possible to become a Burgundy fan without having been a Bordeaux fan previously. On the other hand, the road to Burgundy is so long that many people give up half way, usually somewhere around Bordeaux. Have you ever stopped to wonder why?

It’s a lot easier to understand a big Cabernet or a Merlot than a Pinot Noir. With a bit of simplification, we could say that big Cabernets and Merlots are the polar opposites of the simple and cheap reds that we first got to know. Big Bordeaux wines tend to give a lot of what the cheap ones lack: colour, ripeness, weight, tannin, complexity and charm. As the polar opposites of the cheap and low quality wines, their greatness and value is easy to recognise. In this matrix, Pinot Noir would be closer to the cheap and poor-quality: its colour is very light ruby and Siller-like in its paleness, while a tolerable lack of ripeness suits it better than over-ripeness. It’s not full-bodied, neither heavy, nor tannic. It’s more of a ballet dancer than a boxer: more of a wine of choreography and composition than a knockout right hook. 

The secret to the recipe of a good Burgundy is not to add even more meat, or extra salt and spice. On top of that, it appears that in order to evaluate fine Burgundies not just good Burgundies are necessary, but also an experienced, composed recipient with sensitivity for more delicate tones. And of course, a good merchant is not a bad thing either, one who can defend from disappointments.

 

“The tricky thing about Burgundy is that quality can vary dramatically between producers, even when their plots of vines are adjacent. Pinot Noir in particular is such as tricky grape to grow and make that there's plenty of room for personal interpretation: room to fail as well as succeed. That’s why it makes sense to follow growers and négociants [merchants who buy grapes and wines from others, but often own their own vines, too] rather than vineyards or villages. There are certainly differences between, say, the wines of Meursault and Plugny-Montrachet or Volnay and Vosne-Romanée, but you should still focus on finding producers whose wines you like. Bad Burgundy, which ever village it comes from, can put you off the place for life.” (Tim Atkin MW)

 

The invisible hand is not that invisible

In Burgundy the terroir has godlike status. The myth and raison d’être of the wine region is based on the concept that quality is basically defined by the characteristics of the place of growth. The task of the grape growers and winemakers is to transfer these values and distinctive features to the wines – one can only make them worse but cannot improve them. This constellation suggests that apart from the obvious cases of incompetence, from the point of view of quality, the classification of the place where a given wine is from is more important than whoever made it. Weather is also more important than the human factor. In this pyramid, the territory is the basis, followed by the weather and finally the person.

Our tasting suggests differently, however. We gained the distinct impression that if we’d have had to taste these wines blind, we could have picked out the wines belonging to one winery a lot more easily than the identical vintages or those from the same appellation. Further, it would have also been easier to recognise the wines from the same vintage than those coming from one vineyard. Therefore, we have produced a brief guide that profanely inverts the pyramid. We hope that this guide will make it easier to find the way around the Burgundy labyrinth and helps in finding personal favourites.

  

Vintages:

2009 was the vintage of an unbroken warm and sunny summer. Many people crowned it as the vintage of the century, as early as the time of the harvest. “Now we’ll see if the best grapes really make the best wines,” as one of the winemakers stated. Well, in 2009, the Burgundians indeed achieved roaring success, while prices and demand both rose to unprecedented heights. The wines are dense, intense and full-bodied for Burgundy and in some cases they are hitting the very top in terms of quality.

For those who love indulgence, value rich ripeness and vote for fullness over freshness. 

2010 was the vintage that resurrected itself from the ashes. Having been abandoned by the weather, it initially seemed winemakers could only hope for medium quality wines after the harvest. It so turned out that the amount of heat was in fact sufficient for the ripening of the decimated grapes; the thick skin of the berries gave extra flavour and the substandard berries were discarded on the selecting table. The 2010 wines are precise, concentrated, elegant and fruity. Owing to the high quality of the acids and tannins, they can look forward to a long life.

For those who like well-structured, well-defined, classic wines with long ageing potential.

The 2011 wines ooze the freshness of spring. This was the year when summer came in the spring and spring actually happened in the summer. Yet, the overall picture shows a balanced vintage with long ageing potential. The wines are light, floral and fruity. The acidity is pleasantly refreshing, while the tannins are just tangible. The wines are ready to drink now and there’s nothing to suggest that it should be a vintage that actually needs ageing to improve. It was the most praised vintage at our tasting.

For those who seek freshness, lightness of touch, floral and fruity aromas and are not bothered about the lack of body and weight.

 

Winemakers and wines

David Croix had hardly received his diploma when he was already appointed as the head winemaker of Maison Camille Giroud, one of Burgundy’s leading estates. He founded his own winery in 2004, with the help of investors. The majority of the plots can be found in Beaune, grape growing has been organic since 2008, while the winemaking is carried out on the principal of minimal intervention. David Croix’s wines can be characterised by engineer-like precision and care, while in style he represents the golden middle way: not too light, nor too heavy. These are fruity, loveable wines with significant ageing potential.

For those who would like something tasty and sophisticated. 

View our complete Domaine des Croix selection>>>

 

Philippe Pacalet one of the flag bearers of the “natural wine” movement: he cultivates the grapes organically; there is no destemming during processing; he doesn’t use cultured yeast; and he only uses sulphur at the time of bottling. He doesn’t have his own vineyards, however, upon selecting the parcels he is about to cultivate, he makes sure that the vines are at least 45-years-old and are composed of the low-yielding pinot fin clone. His wines are possibly the most exciting and also the most fragile. It’s as if someone removed a filter from the lens of the camera: new tones of colours and flavours open up. The wines fragility is true both in a positive and in negative meaning since his wines are not just ethereally sophisticated but also vulnerable due to the low level of sulphur.

For those who are willing to take a risk, so that they can experience something extraordinary. Sometimes his wines are dominated by oxidative notes, at other times they provide a cathartic experience that opens up new horizons.

View our completePhilippe Pacalet selection>>>

 

Liger-Belair is a historic name in Burgundy, although Thibault Liger-Belair is a side-branch. Before founding his own estate in 2002, Thibault worked as a wine merchant. The core of the 7-hectare estate is made up by the vineyard in Nuits-Saint-George, but he also has grand crus as well (Richebourg and Clos-Vougeot). Thibault Liger-Belair cultivates biodynamically, he doesn’t use any chemicals, and wherever possible, he ploughs with horses. He is a not-to-be-missed member on the list of young talents of the wine region. It’s easy to fall for his wines as they are round, delicious, complex and vibrant. Unsurprisingly, he was the “winner” of our tasting, too.

For those who are not afraid of voluptuous body.
View our complete  Thibault Liger-Belair selection>>>

 

Domaine de Montille is the most mature winery in our selection, offering wines that don’t immediately reveal their inner beauty. While young, the Montille wines appear distant and reserved. Their classic virtues and beauty unfold only after long ageing. However, the wines of Maison Deux Montille and Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet, which we have acquired in their entirety, are less strict and a lot friendlier in price as well.

For those who appreciate classic elegance, aristocratic stature and are capable of waiting. Contrary to this, the good value Deux Montille wines are fruity, round and provide a complete experience even at a young age.
View our complete Domaine de Montille selection>>>