Burgundy

The golden age of Burgundy

 

“Burgundy has never, ever, been in better shape, and my advice is to buy ‘while stocks last’,” exclaimed Steven Spurrier about the 2010 vintage.
An oft-voiced opinion in the world of wine is that every road leads to Burgundy. Unfortunately, what significantly obstructs us reaching the finishing line is that Burgundy is a wine region from which, according to the general view, all we can expect for less than 50 euros a bottle is only bitter disappointment. Yet, more and more signs indicate that this general view is out of sync with reality. The simplified equation does undoubtedly point towards quickly rising prices: surging demand for diminishing supply. Furthermore, Bordeaux is out of fashion, and with the exception of Asia, collectors and investors have sided with Burgundy. 2011 was the first year when people spent more on Burgundy than on Bordeaux in the United States. The rise in demand unfortunately coincided with a drop in supply: an entire vintage’s worth of grapes was lost due to the adverse weather over the last three years. It would be a logical assumption that Burgundy has switched into escape mode and has disappeared completely off the horizon of the average consumer. This much is certainly true on a grand cru level, but fortunately the number of talented and ambitious small to medium-sized cellars working with modest finances have risen dramatically.


“At the beginning of my career, there were 5-6 good producers in every village. Now there are 10-15,” says Jasper Morris MW.

 

Fans of Pinot Noir or Chardonnay have never had such a good opportunity to drink from the original source, without having to turn away from it for good after the first sip. The aforementioned 50-euro “safety limit” has in fact halved. “The wines are fabulous,” the New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov declared in summing up his experiences after a test of 2010 Burgundies. “With this vintage we can lay to the rest the cliché that Burgundy is a minefield,” he opined. This of course required two successive years of the likes of 2009 and 2010. The wines of the two vintages approach greatness from two completely different angles. If 2009 saw perfection in the vineyard, then 2010 was a nightmare. Or at least it was like a football match that dramatically turned into a victory from 3-0 down, in the last minute of extra time. In 2009, it was the winemakers who rested, while in 2010 it was the weather. The struggle started during the previous December when a deep freeze destroyed one-tenth of the vines. It continued with gloomy, wet weather during the time of pollination, which resulted in scarce bunches. In mid-June, during the essentially autumn-like summer, hail damaged the grapes in a flash. By the end of August most people had given up on the vintage. Nevertheless, the end of September took mercy on the winemakers and owing to the sunshine and drying wind, the meagre crop they eventually harvested was of good quality. Even winemakers were surprised to see that the skins of the small berries of the so-called “hen and chicken” bunches had thickened in response to the awful weather. This, in addition to the thorough work carried out on the selecting table, resulted in another great vintage to follow that of 2009. The quantity came out at around one-third of the 2009 vintage, but the vines couldn’t have been able to ripen more than they did under such weather conditions.
“To a man, our producers told me that they prefer their 2010s to their 2009s; this is not to downplay the great and undoubted qualities of 2009, but to the real Burgundy nut, the clarity and definition, the complexity and expression of 2010 is what makes Burgundy wines so unique,” said Chris Davey, wine buyer for OW Loeb.

In 2009, they harvested ripe and healthy grapes, even from the less favourably located plots. As one of the winemakers succinctly put it, a few months after the 2009 harvest: “Now we’ll be able to see whether the best wine is made from the best grapes”. It has become the year of which everybody is overjoyed since the affordable Bourgogne and Village level wines can finally provide serious quality. In 2009, ripening wasn’t in danger for a single moment. The obstacles of the vintage were instead over-ripeness, high alcohol, low acidity and thickness. In 2010, the situation was quite the opposite, and everybody was worried about ripening. And yet, what can be said about the best 2010s is that they are elegant, precise, fruity and concentrated.
“Last summer [in 2011] one well-healed investor is said to have paid so much for a tiny holding in white-wine grand cru Bâtard Montrachet that the equivalent price would be almost 25 million euros a hectare.” – Jancis Robinson MW
In evaluating the 2010 vintage, almost every important wine writer has reached the conclusion that Burgundy is living its golden age. And to sum this up, it seems that a year full of calamities is precisely what is necessary. In 2009 it was easy to make good wines. However, a year like 2010 would have been an unavoidable disaster had it occurred 20 years ago. According to an apt statement, this vintage was born for the second time on the selecting table. Now, it’s generally agreed that the 2010 reds can stand up for themselves in a contest with their predecessors who were born in perfect weather, and even more, the 2010s are more characteristic of the wine region and richer in detail. What is more, this is just the tip of the iceberg. In her evaluation of the 2010 vintage, Jancis Robinson emphasizes that one of the most pleasant surprises for her was the high number of outstanding wines made by lesser-known and often relatively young producers.
“We have to venture off the beaten track towards the lesser known villages; great wines are made in Santenay, in Savigny-les-Beaune, in Pernand-Vergelesses for half or one-fifth of the price compared to the Volnay or Vosne Romanée premier crus. It’s a big mistake to think that if we want to drink proper wine, then we have to choose Volnay premier cru,” says renowned Burgundy expert Clive Coates MW.
What are the 2010 wines like? On a 20-point scale, Clive Coates gave 18.5 for the reds and 16.5 for the whites. That means it’s outstanding for reds and very good for whites. Indeed, every serious Burgundy expert agrees with this. The slenderness, livelier acids and lower alcohol generally strengthen the impression that the wines are more elegant. But don’t we have to pay for this by tolerating a lack of ripeness? Almost never. The 2010 wines are like as is written in the big book of Burgundy: sparkling, transparent, fruity, floral and airy. Beside the freshness and fruitiness, what strikes you when tasting them is their subtlety, silky texture and balance. Nothing is too much and nothing is too little. It’s as if they were envoys of a higher civilization.


Burgundy in our selection

 
The 2010 wines of three Burgundy wineries are available in our selection, and there are still a few bottles from the outstanding 2009 vintage available from them. All the three represent ambitious youth, although their style, philosophies and attributes differ greatly.
The most well-known name is perhaps Thibault Liger-Belairé, but it’s only partly off his own bat. Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair belongs to the historical estates of Burgundy’s history. It was founded in 1815 by Louis Liger-Belair, one of Napoleons generals, and possessed such outstanding holdings as La Tâche, which is today one of the gems of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Storms of inheritance and history chopped up the estate and the majority of it fell out of family hands. Comte Liger-Belair was reborn in 2001 and almost at the same time, in 2002, the former wine merchant Thibault Liger-Belair started his own winery. The core of the 7-hectare estate are the plots located in Nuits-Saint-George.
Thibault Liger-Belair is a giant of a young man, which would be discourteous to note but for his excuse that his wines are also heavy in Burgundian terms. He works in accordance with the principles of biodynamic cultivation and he doesn’t use any chemicals. Wherever it is possible, he ploughs with a horse. It’s easy to fall for his wines: on top of the curvaceous body, they are fruity, well-structured, full of life and long. In blind tastings they always score beyond their price point, and thus they became favourites of the wine media in no time. Reduction strongly put its stamp on the 2009 wines when they were young. This note is reminiscent of animality, which divided our customers. In 2010, as if his world has turned around, the wines became clear: their nose is captivatingly fruity, spicy and floral, while the balance is perfect and the tannins taut as they should be. According to the winemaker himself, it’s the best vintage of his life which is endorsed – from the entry level Bourogne to the grand cru Richebourg – entirely by his wines. The big classic of the winery that encapsulates their virtues is the Les Saint Georges.
Among the three of them, the youngest is David Croix. He is the face of engineer-like precision. His work and wines are characterised by attention to every single detail, and sobriety. He became the chief winemaker of one of the leading Burgundy estates, Maison Camille Giroud, at a very young age. The Bourgogne Aujourd’hui magazine named him “discovery of the year” in 2007. The majority of the plots are in Beaune, the vineyard work has been organic since 2008, while winemaking is carried out with minimal intervention. In his 2009 wines, there was a slight trace of the effect of new wood, but by 2010 David Croix also went up a level and with the Cent Vignes he created one of the affordable classics of the vintage. For those who would only like to try one Burgundy from our 2010 selection, we recommend this one: it’s airy, sparklingly fruity, subtle and elegant.
Philippe Pacalet is the most enchanting of the trio. Regarding non-interventionism, he is the most radical. He only uses sulphur at the time of bottling. He doesn’t have his own vineyards, but strictly oversees that everything is carried out in accordance with the requirements of organic cultivation – as well as his own expectations – in his rented vineyards. It was also an important consideration that the fruit growing there should belong to the Pinot Fin clone that yields little and that the vines are at least 45-years-old.
His wines are exciting and fragile. It’s as if someone removed a filter from the lens of the camera: new shades of colours and flavours open up. Fragility is true in both the positive and negative sense; it’s not just that his wines are ethereally subtle but also increasingly vulnerable because of the low sulphur levels. He made one of the most beautiful wines of our 2010 Burgundy offering, in which the elusive sensuality of Chambolle Musigny evokes Debussy’s Faun.