This is an expanded version of an article I wrote for the Irish Times on Saturday 11th February 2017, on the 2015 vintage in Burgundy.
I worry about Burgundy. It produces my favourite red wine, and has probably given me greater pleasure (and at times heartache) than any other wine. But now supply, always a problem at the best of times, is getting worse. And more expensive. Interest in Burgundy from the Far East and elsewhere has exploded, with collectors willing to pay very high sums for the top names. At the same time, a series of small harvests has restricted availability. And now along comes the 2015 vintage, heralded by some as the greatest since 1929. Prices are moving steadily upwards, and quantities are even more limited than usual, 20-30% less than in 2014. A number of Irish importers are currently offering ‘en primeur’ offers of 2015 Burgundy, with more to follow later this year. This means buying a wine that is still in cask, only receiving later this year or in early 2018.
I traveled to Burgundy last November with Liam & Sinéad Cabot of specialist importer Cabot & Co. The couple work with a range of exciting producers in Burgundy, so we had the opportunity to taste a wide variety of wines. While most people tend to concentrate on red wines en primeur, they also offer some outstanding white wines as well. In addition to their own wines, the Cabots receive allocations from other importers, including a few very good names. They are also awaiting confirmation of an allocation from Georges Noellat one of the most sought-after new stars of Burgundy.
There is no doubt that 2015 was an excellent year for red wines; leaving aside the hype (and there is no shortage of that) most are laden with perfectly ripe, succulent fruit, excellent concentration and good acidic balance. In a generally warm and dry growing season, the biggest danger seems to be low acidity, and an over-supply of sugar leading to high alcohol levels. In a region that traditionally struggled to ripen grapes (and frequently added sugar to increase alcohol levels ) this is an unusual problem.
Two warnings. No matter how good the vintage, poor winemakers can still produce very average wine. Buy from producers (and importers) you feel you can trust. Many of the wines below are available in tiny quantities, so move quickly if you are interested. If you cannot find afford to buy caseloads of wine, keep an eye out for 2014 reds – an underrated vintage for both red and white Burgundy, and if you should happen to come across any from 2010, snap them up; this is an excellent vintage. I would also suggest keeping a few euros for 2015 (and apparently 2016 as well) from the Northern Rhône, as well as exceptional Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder) and Riesling from Germany. Having said that, I am certainly going to buy some 2015 Burgundy. Burgundy 2015 is being offered by Burgundy Direct, Cabot & Co., Searsons Wine Merchants and Greenacres. See below for comments on each offer.
Cabot & Co.
According to Liam Cabot, “2015 is an outstanding vintage – it’s a vintage of pleasure and enjoyment and the wines will drink well from release, yet have the structure to age. Many are comparing it to 2005, but those of a slightly older generation also point as far back as 1949 and 1929. However there are a couple of things bear in mind. Firstly, it’s a ripe vintage which is generally good, but a few wines had excessive extraction. Those who emphasised freshness and fruit purity have produced wonderful wines. Secondly, there is quality all across the hierarchy of appellations – from the entry-level wines to the Grand Crus. Although prices are rising, it is possible to find classic wines that will deliver real pleasure at very reasonable prices. I suppose it was inevitable that prices would rise given the quality of the vintage and also the fact the vignerons now know that 2016 will be a small vintage – so for some it’s a case of “make hay while the sun shines”. That said, some producers have been a bit more in haymaking mode than others!’
Contact Cabot & Co. on 098 37000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a copy of their Burgundy offer. Their others lists are available on their website, www.cabotandco.com My personal highlights from Cabot & Co were as follows:
This is a great domaine, run by sisters Marie-Christine and Marie-Andrée Mugneret with their mother Jacqueline. Hard to chose here; all of the wines are impeccable, perfectly ripe and balanced, showing real elegance but with an underlying structure. I have no tasting note for the Bourgogne Rouge, but on past evidence, I would earmark this for drinking over the next few years, and the outstanding Echezeaux or Clos de Vougeot for laying down.
Jean Marc Millot
Jean Marc Millot, now aided by his daughter Alix, makes some beautifully understated wines with wonderful purity of fruit. I have followed the Côtes de Nuits Villages ‘Aux Falques’ for years (currently drinking the lovely 2010) and would certainly buy again. Of the other wines, I loved the fragrant, pure Vosne-Romanée, and the superb Echezeaux, but all are of a very high quality.
The Fixin here is very reasonably priced and with its cool, crunchy dark fruits has what the French call ‘un bon typicité’.
Not the most glamorous estate, but well-made wines at very fair prices. Liam Cabot tells me they age very well too. Here I enjoyed the a lovely classic reasonably-priced Volnay and an excellent Pommard Les Epenots that will certainly repay keeping.
Pierre-Yves Colin Morey
The intense and studious Pierre-Yves Colin Morey recently moved into a large new cellar in Chassagne. From a string of brilliant white wines, I would go for the elegant Saint Aubin ‘Le Banc’, the excellent Chassagne Caillerets, or the stunning Meursault Genévrières. To be honest though I would be very happy to have any of these wines in my cellar; they have an impeccable fresh minerality and elegance.
Conor Richardson of Burgundy Direct is making his 25th Burgundy offer. He says ‘2015 Burgundy is an excellent, possibly an outstanding vintage. Though much hyped, much anticipated and certainly much sought-after, there is always the thought that perhaps ‘excellent’ and / or ‘outstanding’ vintages come around too often to merit such laurels. Skepticism is understandable in what has become an increasingly commercial world, but there will surely be no doubt that wine lovers generally and Burgundy lovers in particular can only be hugely impressed by this very, very fine vintage’.
From the very fine Burgundy Direct offer, I am a huge fan of Ann Gros and her wines, and I would love to have a few cases. I have bought both the Hautes Cotes de Nuits and Bourgogne Rouge before and always been very happy with them. But there is also Robert Chevillon, Patrick Javillier (excellent whites) de Vogué, Marc Colin, Vincent Dancer and Joblot, all excellent producers.
Ex sommeliers Charles Derain and Thierry Gillet import an excellent range of wines from Burgundy and elsewhere (see nomadwineimporters.com). Nomad Wines will wait until June to make his offer. Derain is however, very positive; ‘In Cote-d Or, the yields were quite small too, some areas showed a volume decrease of 20-30% compared to 2014. The grapes were absolutely healthy, beautiful to eat. Everything I had tried was outstanding so far, reminding me of 2005. The wines are coloured with a incredible balance and structure. It will take some time for the wine to settle. I have tried some super Bourgogne Hautes de Beaune and Nuits 2015 that will give some great value.’
Donal Morris reports ‘the reds are superb and certainly the best since 2005 and even surpassing it. They have a lovely purity of fruit, a luscious concentration and are very fragrant. And this is right across the region.’ From their offer, I would head straight to Benjamin Leroux, one of the new stars of Burgundy, not forgetting Marc Morey, Robert Chevillon, Robert Groffier, Hubert Lignier and many more besides.
Searsons of Monkstown also have a good offer. Here, I would head straight for Tollot Beaut, one of my favourite producers (the Chorey-les-Beaune and Savigny 1er cru generally offer exceptional value) and also to Comtes Lafon, including his excellent wines from the Maconnais. See searsons.com for full details.