Burgundy 2017: Great whites but don’t overlook the reds

The 2017 vintage in Burgundy has produced some superlative whites and the reds are consistent and charming but don’t let their approachability fool you into thinking they’re not built for the long haul.

With Burgundy Week now in the books, the opinions of critics and merchants on the 2017 vintage are rolling in.

In its broadest possible stroke it appears to be a vintage that favoured Chardonnay and the whites are within touching distance of the storied 2014s in the opinion of many (and possibly equal or exceed them in places according to some).

The reds meanwhile are bright and fresh, very ‘Burgundian’ (and very un-Burgundian in their consistency) but not a blockbuster vintage like the 2015s nor with quite the structure of the 2016s. A vintage for drinking early, nonetheless at their best they have the potential to go the distance with many merchants opining they could surprise with their longevity.

“A vintage balanced when it’s young will be balanced all its life,” as David Roberts MW, Burgundy buyer at Goedhuis, told the drinks business.

 

Winning whites

“Overall, it’s a stronger white than red vintage,” said Berry Bros & Rudd’s Burgundy buyer Adam Bruntlett. The wines from across the region are “very strong” he added and with a mix of 2014’s freshness and a little of the weight of the 2015s.

Anything you may have heard about the whites’ reputation is “justified”, said Giles Burke-Gaffney of Justerini & Brooks. “Some domaines say their 2017s are better than their ‘14s but generally they’re on a par or just below,” he continued.

For Burgundy expert Jasper Morris MW the 2017 whites don’t feel quite as “energised” as the 2014s but added he thought they were “lovely” and “consistent up and down the côtes”.

And to say that the whites aren’t quite as good as they were in 2014 isn’t a criticism, said Flint Wines’ director, Jason Haynes.

“We can’t forget how good 2014 is,” he said. “It’s the sort of vintage that only comes along every 15 to 20 years.

“The 2017s are not too far behind but that’s not a negative. If 2014 was 10/10, this is a 9/10.”

The crucial factor was picking dates. It was a hot summer which helped give the wines their fruit and matière but picking early helped maintain the crucial freshness and zip in a year where acidity levels, on paper, are not terribly high.

 

Sleeper agent red

It was always going to be hard following on from 2015 and 2016 for Burgundy’s red wines but the results have been very pleasing indeed.

One senses that even if the whites are technically the ‘better’ half of the production in 2017, it’s the reds that might be the sneaky favourite.

There were pitfalls to overcome. Vines that were badly frosted and/or hailed on in 2016 would have cropped extremely high if left to their own devices and growers had to tread a line between wanting a larger crop in order to produce more wine and make up for a lean 2016 yet also green harvest and otherwise control yields in order to prevent dilution in the final wines.

Although there were fears that concentration might be lacking as a result and while they are not quite as fleshy as the 2016s, broadly speaking they’ve come out extremely well.

“The reds are not as concentrated and profound as the whites but are a joy to taste,” said Bruntlett. “There’s not the depth or structure of ’16, but not a million miles from ’14 but more charming.”

“The concern was the wines might be dilute but that’s not the case at all. The reds are fruity in style with purity and freshness,” remarked James Snoxell, head of buying for Armit Wines. “It’s better than anticipated and people will revisit [them].”

Over at Corney & Barrow, Guy Seddon called the ‘17s a “Burgundian vintage” in that the “terroir expresses itself very well. In ’17 each wine represents itself.”

This is of course the classic trade off. It may not be, as Morris says, a vintage of “mythical, famous, super reds” but it perhaps has more site expression than is the case in richer years where fruit can detract from the sense of place somewhat.

No one village seems to have outdone all others, “it’s not a vintage where I thought Echezeaux excelled,” remarked Roberts.

That said, Bruntlett added it had been a delight to get back to tasting wines from the Côte de Beaune – a part of the Côte d’Or that has been walloped for several years now. “It felt like you were rediscovering vineyards that lost out in 15-16 and there was a new energy to Beaune, Volnay and Pommard.”

On a more personal tasting note the character of the vintage really seems to have suited Volnay, which has produced a good number of aromatic, attractive wines.

As it’s not a particularly hefty vintage the 2017s also include a good number of approachable Pommard and Gevrey-Chambertin too.

And while many note these are wines that will drink before the ‘15s or ‘16s, most merchants said it’s not a vintage to write off as lightweight and many wines would no doubt surprise buyers in the years to come.

And most producers think it will age well, Edouard Labruyère of Domaine Jacques Prieur, telling db that despite the praise for the whites: “I see more potential in the reds.”

 

Volumes and price

One of the strongest points of the 2017s was the return to decent volumes after a tiny 2016 harvest.

As already mentioned, it’s the first time in a little while that there has been some Volnay, Pommard and various Beaune reds to offer but this not, by any means, a bountiful vintage or a glut, “we’ve got back to a normal vintage,” as Snoxell said.

Furthermore, a few merchants noted that some producers had held back a part of their crop in order to restock their own cellars a little after the a few lean years that have effectively cleared them out.

Then there’s just the increased global demand for Burgundy which means there are ever more voices clamouring for this wine or that and Seddon said that, “for some wines there’s not much more [volume] at all”, while Bruntlett said he had got, “less than expected”.

Then there’s the price. The exchange rate has not changed very much since last year which means that even if some growers have lowered their prices a little, that difference is eaten up by the exchange, making prices for the 2017s roughly similar to what they were for the 2016s.

The fact of the matter is, as Haynes noted, “for some growers demand is so much greater than supply that they don’t have more to offer. So they [prices] were never going to come down.”

If buyers will think them worth that money or not will soon be found out but most of the merchants were reasonably confident it would be a successful campaign.

“Luckily the wines are quite showy,” said Burke-Gaffney. “It’s not a vintage that came with a reputation, hopefully the wines will do the talking. We hope it will be well followed but it’s not a hype vintage.”

Charles Lea of Lea & Sandeman said: “We’re seeing good demand. Previous buyers are back in and some [wines] are sold out already.”

Ultimately, he added: “If we have some left over I’m not going to mind, we need wines to sell in the shops and they are so attractive.”

 

READ MORE: Burgundy 2016 – classic, pure and pitifully small

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