The perfect point of initiation – Burgundy 2015

Pinot Noir is often called a demanding variety. Nothing is good enough for it. When the harvest is perfect, then Burgundian winemakers start worrying that the grapes can just be spoilt in the cellar. Every year, we study the Burgundies and we curiously anticipate what the actual vintage tells us. 2015 was about balance, self-assurance and depth. In our view, it’s a perfect point of initiation for those who have only admired Burgundy from a distance, and it marks an ideal occasion to return for those who’ve had doubts over the last few years.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

 

In an average year, winemaking in Burgundy is like ballet dancing on a minefield. A struggle for enough sunshine, a struggle for ripeness, a struggle for the health of the grapes and a struggle to have any yield at all. The grape growers are also crisis managers. They have to know the remedy for every ailment. In 2015, if anything, they only had to cure the grapes of a cold – there was slight powdery mildew at the end of the summer. The grapes’ immune systems fought off everything else by their own power. At the time of the harvest, the berries were so healthy that the there wasn’t much point in switching on the sorting machines (the amount of the discarded berries was around 0.05%). Even the stems ripened so much that those winemakers who are usually averse to whole-bunch fermentation skipped destemming with ease.

In 2015, the crisis managers were dumbfounded because no error message came in and there was nothing to fix in the cellar. The greatest challenge was to not pull on the press too much. Those who didn’t wait with the harvest until the last moment had only one chance to do something wrong, and that was over-extraction. The tiny, thick-skinned berries didn’t require longer maceration, and certainly not a rougher pressing. What they had to pay attention to the most in the cellar was to keep a cool head and avoid unnecessary moves. Most of the estates managed to do so.

 

 

Sunshine without shade

 

In 2015, summer was summer in Burgundy as well. The sun shone incessantly and the temperature often rose above 30°C. However, this was sweet trouble compared to when they have to pray for another week of sunshine at the end of September or at the beginning of October.

A heatwave in the middle of summer has not occurred in the wine region since 2003. July was not only hot but also dry: the last time so little rain fell in this month was in 1949. The younger vines suffered during this period, at several places ripening stopped for shorter to longer periods because the self-regulating mechanism of the plants switched to survival mode. Paradoxically, this also added to the outstanding quality at the harvest, because for one thing it helped to retain the acids, and partly because the skins of the berries thickened, which played a key role in the forming of concentration, structure and flavour. When at the end of August, a more serious amount of rain fell, the grapes swelled, but the thick skins didn’t crack.

The harvest started early, at the end of August, and the majority of the producers finished in the second week of September, before the forecasted rainy days. The quality of the crop is truly exceptional – there was practically no need for sorting. Only the quantity caused a headache. The yield was typically less than 30-40 per cent of the average. No one reported a yield of higher than 40 hectolitres per hectare, and at some places they didn’t even hit 25 hectolitres.  

 

Reds: A+

 

The Côte d’Or gave everything in 2015 that can be rationally expected from a big vintage: the wines are radiant, round, aromatic, flavoursome and also the acids didn’t burn off, which rarely happens in warm vintages. Owing to the thick skins of the berries, they are rich in dry extract and tannins, which project a long life. In general, it’s true that the riper the grapes are, the less detectable the character of the vineyards is, but in 2015, one cannot even complain about that: the contour of the terroir differences remained sufficiently sharp.    

Volnay’s mayor, Michel Lafarge, who was born in 1928, said that when he tasted the 2015 wines, he hadn’t seen such balance for 50 years. The other legendary figure of the wine region, Aubert de Villaine, the estate manager of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, declared that he has never ever harvested nicer grapes and was only worried about the ripeness washing away the character differences of the different terroirs. 

 

 

Whites: justifiable optimism

 

While in the case of the reds, one has to look hard to find a fault, 2015 shows a less uniform picture regarding whites. Compared to the crystal-like refined quality of the outstanding 2014 whites, the 2015 vintage is fuller, heavier and chunkier. The former gave delicate and more sophisticated wines; the latter a more popular and a more seductive style. The more threatening danger to quality was, of course, losing the acids, and to a lesser extent, exaggerated concentration. However, 2015 was by far not such an extreme year as 2003 or 2009, and owing to the cooler weather and rain during the weeks prior to the harvest, the wines are sufficiently lively. One of the unique aspects of the vintage is that the tartaric acid remained at a good level, contrary to the malic acid, which was low and it had the positive effect that the dissolution of the malic acid hardly had any impact on the chemical process, thus, the freshness and dynamism of the wines didn’t decrease.

Based on the wines we tasted, optimism is more than justifiable. The wines were made from ripe grapes – at times they show tropical fruit and are concentrated and fresh at the same time. They will possibly be long lived, but now, at the age of three, they are living their irresistibly appealing age.