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January 07, 2015

Burgundy En Primeur 2013 Report

Burgundy.000

The Burgundians always find a reason to celebrate, preferably while drinking their own wines and eating foie gras with truffles, but also in the face of unseasonable weather and a challenging harvest. Perhaps no year was as challenging as last year’s bottled vintage, 2012, with frost, hail, excessive rain, rot – everything but a plague of frogs causing vignerons to wring their hands.   Despite this, winemakers such as Volnay producer Frédéric Lafarge remained steadfastly upbeat. Pointing to a corner of his cellar with conspicuously few barrels when I visited in spring of 2013, he noted that due to a massive hailstorm in the summer of 2012 yields were down by 80%. As I was about to offer my condolences, he smiled at me and said cheerily, ‘yes, but the 20% we have remaining is of fantastic quality!’

2013 again tested the mettle of Burgundians: for the second year in a row, the Cote de Beaune suffered devastating hailstorms. Combined with a cold spring and late flowering, yields are once again down, although just narrowly surpassing the minuscule amounts harvested in 2012. According to Aubert de Villaine, owner and Director of famed Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, what seemed at first to be a repeat of 2012 with Mother Nature wreaking havoc was saved by a sunny July and August. The harvest was late; M. de Villaine likens it to 1978 or 1979, where ‘the quality of these two wonderful vintages shows the advantages a long growing season can have when the grapes “simmer” in the soft sun and benefits from a slow ripening, which gives complexity to the wines.’

And who’s to argue with Aubert de Villaine? The longer growing season allowed the grapes to reach phenolic ripeness without diminishing the wines’ freshness and acidity. According to vigneron François Carillon, best known for his Premier Crus from Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny Montrachet, despite a cool spring and rainy summer 2013 produced wines of beautiful freshness, with aromas of white flowers already emerging from the whites and notes of cherries at the forefront of the reds.

An interview with François can be found here – apologies that there is neither an English translation for his French nor for my Franglais!

Director of winemaking at Bouchard Père et Fils, Philippe Prost (video here), who has been with the company since 1978, also found the silver lining to the hailstorms of 2013. He noted that hail reduced the fruitset and thus the number and size of the grape berries, leading to extraordinary concentration of flavours. The cooler weather during summer allowed the fruit to ripen without losing acid, thereby providing greater balance.

After having had the pleasure of tasting the whites and reds from the Cote de Nuits down to the Cote de Beaune, I can attest to the freshness and elegance of the wines. From my tastings, the whites are the most consistent performers of 2013, as good value can be found from village wines, with some truly stunning wines at Grand Cru level. All have a crisp acidity, with the best producers and vineyards displaying more complexity and the white flowers mentioned by François Carillon.

With the reds, one must be more discerning. Some vineyards, especially from the Cote de Beaune, were so damaged by hail that there can be a greenness in the village-level wines, but the vignerons who sorted meticulously produced excellent value wines with a purity of fruit and balance noted by Philippe Prost. As one heads north to the Cote de Nuits and especially toward Vosne-Romanée, Chambolle-Musigny and Gevrey-Chambertin, the wines are excellent, especially at Grand Cru level. This is not a vintage of power but instead of finesse and elegance, for medium-term aging.

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