Burgundy 2012 – the Houdini vintage

Burgundy wines have been appearing on our shelves for a good few years now. Pinot Noir is hardly a straightforward phenomenon since at times it can be truly discreet, secretive, fragile, yet colourful and exciting. We fell in love with it when we set off for the Côte d’Or with a small team in the autumn of 2011 and visited a few winemakers. The journey inspired us to take a look at Burgundy and follow it every year, to dig into the current vintage and of course to open a few bottles from the previous ones. Now, the time has arrived for the third annual report and the 2012 vintage.

After the abundant quantity and perfectly ripened fruit that characterised the 2009 vintage, subsequently came the horror conditions of 2010, but there was still some solace to be found nonetheless. What goes around comes around, they say: the severe weather had decimated the crop, although whatever was left hanging managed to ripen nicely, even in the sporadic sunshine. By the time the 2010 wines were bottled, it turned out that a different style compared to the previous vintage had evolved, although wines of similar quality had been made. In 2011, solace was required yet again. This was despite the fact that the quantity came in between that of the 2009 and 2010 vintages. However, the rain came at the worst possible time; none other than at the time of the harvest. After the tiny but thick-skinned berries yielded in 2010, normality returned in 2011, but the concentration was also diminished. The buzzword for 2011 became fresh fruitiness, and “Pinotfiles” could rightfully say that 2011 and 2010 make a great couple: the latter gave structured wines with longevity while the former delivered charming wines that can be enjoyed young. Then in 2012, the smiles were wiped off their faces.

 

Traditionally, they claim that the growing season can be divided up into two parts. The first half lasts until mid-July and determines the amount of the crop, while the second runs up to the harvest and defines the quality. During the first half of 2012, everything went wrong that possibly could. The critical flowering season was cold, then the scarce and tiny bunches were hit by one calamity after the other: rain, dew, heat, hail, powdery mildew and downy mildew. Winemakers were fighting on all fronts as all the known ailments, apart from rot, popped up. For four subsequent months, from April to July, 50% more rain fell than on average. Finally, summer arrived on July 21 and hope returned. They couldn’t be happy for long though. At the beginning of August, the skies opened and carpet bombing in the form of hailstorms saw as much as 90% of the crop lost in certain parts of the Côte de Beaune. However, no further setbacks occurred up to and including the harvest: the weather remained warm and dry. What could come out of it?

 

2010 proved that along with the natural and drastic yield control, less sunshine can also be sufficient to ripen the berries. The extended hang time had a favourable impact on the development of aromatic richness. In 2009, the winemakers could have easily conducted the harvest and cellar work via Skype, while in 2011 and 2012 they had to pay attention to every single minute detail. The erratic, heavily wet, hail-stricken summers were spent in a constant state of alert. Twenty years ago these vintages would have ended up in the bin. Today, expertise, modern technology and, last but certainly not least, the use of selecting tables saved all three vintages. Furthermore, the miracle is that two out of the three – beside the serious quantity loss – delivered really big wines.

Tasting the 2012 wines, no one would imagine the infernal struggle they were born into. They are sparklingly fruity, full, mature, structured and long. Of course, this doesn’t apply to everywhere and everyone’s. Yet, the main problem in the case of the Burgundy winemakers who are part of our selection is not the quality. It’s rather the lack of quantity from which nobody can escape. We practically had to fight for the wines and it already fills us with pride that we managed to secure at least a few bottles for Hungarian Burgundy fans. In the case of Thibault Liger-Belair, for example, half of the crop was lost. It hadn’t happened in living memory but at the time of harvest there were actually vines that hadn’t produced a single grape. If we add the similarly tragic 2013 vintage here, two out of four vintages have effectively been lost.

 

What’s the 2012 vintage like? As Jancis Robinson MW puts it, the better reds are “almost eerily charming”. When we could finally taste the wines of the vintage, they simply took our collective breath away. These wines blow away even the most careful, most restrained taster in one single attack. They are real fruit bombs, full of energy, free of any heaviness or insecurity. Out of all the vintages sold by Bortársaság, not a single one was this harmonious and enjoyable at such a young age. The reds are characterised by deep and ripe fruitiness, with a steely backbone, sufficient tannins, concentration and vibrant liveliness. Some of the wine critics opine that the vintage is stronger for reds than for whites, although our random test showed that even the village-level whites are seductive and elegant. Beside the lowish alcohol, the additional virtue of the vintage is its aromatic richness, great structure and excellent poise. 

 


 

Domaine des Croix – elegant and sophisticated

 

David Croix is the “miracle child” of the region. At the age of 23, freshly out of college, he was appointed as the main winemaker of the renowned Maison Camille Giroud. He was 26 when, with the assistance of private investors, he purchased the Domaine Duchet estate in Beaune, which was christened Domaine des Croix. At the age of 29 he was named “Talent of the year” in Burgundy. David Croix works with the precision of an engineer and with the sense of proportion of an artist. In terms of style, he represents the golden middle ground: the wines are floral and fruity, but never over-extracted, with the discreet presence of the barrel. The Beaune Rouge or the Cent Vignes represent great value in every vintage and perfectly show what Burgundy in its golden age is capable of, even at the entry level.

  

 


 

Thibault Liger-Belair – rich and exotic

 

The now 37-year-old Thibault Liger-Belair is one of the most exciting talents in Burgundy. His wines always perform well above their price level in the big blind tastings. His success is by no means an accident; he is an extremely knowledgeable and dynamic winemaker. He pays attention to every tiny detail: he purchased a forest from where he himself selects the trees for his barrels and never allows the temperature of the toasting to exceed 120 °C. He constantly seeks oak trees growing on different types of soil that are ideal for the wines of different areas. He has been farming biodynamically since 2005.

It’s easy to rave about his wines: they are full, intense, colourful and powerful. The Clos du Prieuré or the Les Saint Georges both count as excellent buys in their category. Tasting a Thibault Liger-Belair Grand Cru is the experience of a lifetime. 

  

 


 

Philippe Pacalet – the fragile miracle

 

“Natural wine” runs in his blood: he’s the cousin of one of the movement’s leading figures, Marcel Lapierre, and the former pupil of Jules Chauvet. He cultivates the grapes organically, doesn’t use cultured yeast, ferments whole bunches and only uses sulphur at the time of bottling. Among our Burgundy selection, his wines are possibly the most unique and also the most fragile. The minimalist approach of his winemaking can be felt in the final result: it’s as if when someone pulls a bunch of grapes further away from the lens of a camera; previously unseen tones of colour and flavour open up. At our Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru tasting, it enchanted everyone: sophisticated, ethereally pure, with strawberry and floral notes. 

 

 


 

Domaine de Montille – tradition and patience

 

The biggest name among the Burgundy estates that we sell. Hubert de Montille, the outspoken and combative anti-globalist hero of the film Mondovino passed away at the age of 84 last autumn. The estate has been managed by his children, Étienne and Alix de Montille, for more than a decade. The grape growing has been organic since 1995 and biodynamic since 2005.

The Montille wines are seriously big and traditional Burgundies: when they are young, they are reserved and discreet, while their classic virtues and beauty unfold only after a longer period of ageing. Hubert de Montille himself didn’t like the hectic world that’s full of instant wines. Those who are not equipped for years of ageing should consider their lower priced Maison Deux Montille and Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet wines, which are highly approachable from a young age. The 2012 Bourgogne Blanc of Maison Deux Montille is a textbook example of a modern old world Chardonnay.