Over the last couple of months, I have spent almost three weeks in Burgundy, visiting dozens of producers, tasting hundreds of wines, driving thousands of kilometres.
And I leave more intrigued, beguiled and passionate about Burgundy than ever before.
2018 has taken some time for me to figure out. It’s a vintage which can undoubtedly tend towards greatness in both reds and whites, where the highs are incredibly high.
But it’s also a vintage where not every wine has succeeded, and where picking your producer, and your wine, is key.
This is a carefully curated selection, with wines that I wholeheartedly believe will give huge pleasure, in the short, medium, and long term.
It’s a year that can amaze and impress: I encourage you to allow it to do just that.
The growing season: lights, camera, action
2018 was hot. As far as the stats go, it was the hottest since 2003, and one of the driest, too. But, of course, the story is far more nuanced than that.
Whereas years like 2003 were defined by intense periods of hot weather, 2018 lacked heat spikes. Rather, it was warmth from April onwards that tipped the averages up, while nights that kept their heat also counted.
Olivier Lamy explained that, more importantly than warmth, it was the amount of sunlight in 2018 that defined the vintage. Red grapes, with their dark skins, were more affected by this sunlight, meaning that sugars, and in turn alcohol, could rise incredibly fast, even if the grapes were not totally ripe phenolically.
This made work in the vineyard, and ultimately picking date, vital. The earliest pickers started around 21st August, and even on the Côte de Nuits some were forced to harvest early: Ghislaine Barthod picked her Beaux Bruns on 26th August (the quality of the wine justifies the decision).
But you did not need to pick early to make great wines: Domaine Grivot in Vosne-Romanée did not start until after many of their peers had finished. They made some of the most thrilling, remarkable wines I’ve tasted in Burgundy.
While yields were, on the whole, impressive - or to use the Bourguignon term, “très correcte” - some were unlucky: as France settled down to watch the World Cup Final on 15th July, the southern tip of Nuits-Saint-Georges, and much of Côtes de Nuits Villages, was decimated by a hailstorm. Fortunately, while yields here were hit, in my experience quality at affected domaines remains high.
The reds: the time for the little guys
At the time of the Hospices de Beaune last year, a couple of months after the 2018 harvest, some were speaking of 2018 as the heir to 1947: one of the greatest vintages ever.
So has it lived up to the hype?
There’s no easy answer to that. Certainly, some of the reds made in 2018 are remarkable. Frédéric Lafarge continues this theme, calling 2018 a successor to 1990, or indeed 1947. Tasting the wines at that venerable estate, you can see why.
But greatness is not uniform, and there are wines that, while silky, ripe and delicious in their own right, lack the terroir definition that I’d hope for from great Burgundy.
So it’s a vintage to be selective. I’ve done just that in the buying process, but I encourage you to chat to our team, to make sure that you’re finding wines that will suit your tastes, and your budget.
Where I feel 2018 is most exciting, is in the appellations that might once have been overlooked as rustic, or unattractive. Here, the extra warmth has given a ripeness of tannins that was once missing, while terroir definition is still beautifully present.
Beaune, Corton, Savigny, Pommard, Nuits, Marsannay: it’s your time to shine.
The whites: a stunning surprise
If it is the reds that will receive the greatest attention, it is the whites that are the greatest surprise: these are some of the most impressive white wines I have tasted from barrel in Burgundy, with examples matching, or even surpassing, vintages like 2014 or 2017.
Chardonnay is a grape variety that hugely benefits from high yields, allowing freshness to balance ripeness of fruit. What makes the 2018s special is their texture and freshness, with thick skins releasing loads of phenolics into the wine, which in turn makes the mouth water. They’re wines you simply want to drink.
I’m adamant that in a few years time, these will be the bottles we will all be seeking out on restaurant wine lists, or desperately trying to secure for our own cellars, so now’s the time to get ahead.
If reds in 2018 are wines to be selective over, whites are wines to stock up on: I’m positive that they will surprise and astonish you, as much as they have me.
Chablis, Mâcon, Beaujolais: stock up at these prices
Once again, there is remarkable value to be found away from the Côte d’Or.
Chablis, for the first time in years, has good yields: it was a pleasure to see smiles on the faces of the vignerons there. We’re lucky to work with some of the region’s greatest names, and in 2018 they’re at the top of their game. It still astonishes me the value that can be found in this corner of Burgundy.
Further south, the wines of the Mâconnais continue to be incredibly rewarding. Like on the Côte de Beaune, high yields were the telling factor, allowing the wines to find a natural balance. These are the wines to seek out for everyday drinking: Chardonnay’s historic home remains the place to go.
Meanwhile, I find myself increasingly drawn to Beaujolais, with lifted, saline wines the perfect bottles for the table, and for sharing. The ‘18’s are charming, and in many cases profound. I intend to stock up.
The market: look behind the labels
With consistent price rises over recent years, it’s understandable why Burgundy is gaining a reputation for expense.
However, this only tells part of the story. And in 2019, there are reasons to be cheerful. With cellars full, many prices have remained stable, while a slightly improved exchange rate will also help.
And more importantly, when you look away from a very few prized names, there is superb value to be found, whether in regional appellations, or in villages like Savigny-Lès-Beaune or Marsannay, St-Aubin or Chablis, Morgon or Pouilly-Fuissé.
Burgundy remains unique: a region that has the ability to beguile and amaze unlike any other. And in a vintage like 2018, it does so at every level.
There’s no reason not to allow yourself to be charmed.