The morning of the second of January rolls around and we open one eye drearily. January; the dark, bleak month of less alcohol, salad leaves and exercise.
There is one, sole aspect that makes it an enjoyable month. Burgundy.
Ah, Burgundy. Eyes cloud over, a faraway gaze quickly becomes etched.
“I just asked you a question. Were you not listening?”
“Oh. Sorry. I was just thinking of Pinot Noir and how much I would like to elope with it.”
As I wrote here, my heart is still very much lodged somewhere in the limestone of the Côte d’Or.
January brings with it the opportunity for us city-dwellers to gain an invaluable insight into the vintage to be released later in the year, in this case 2017. I feel the Burgundy en primeur tastings are somewhat more insightful than their (very) distant relatives, the Bordeaux en primeurs, which continue to baffle me (approximate blends and sky-high tannin that don’t come very close to the final wine, no thanks). While tasting young wines from tank or barrel can be difficult, Burgundy is a little more forgiving. Pinot Noir in particular lends us a hand; thin skins and delicacy offer more of a window into both climate and terroir, thus we are able to gain early glimpses into what the vintage will bring. Chardonnay, while perhaps a little tighter, and sometimes a little meaner, is quicker to form and to give its own opinions to us on how it will become. Personified, Young Pinot is the Shy Cute Kid, Young Chardonnay the Defiant Kid, while I would argue that Young Cabernet is the kid in the corner screaming and being difficult.
Speaking to growers, echoes resounded in the room of équilibre: balance. 2017 brought with it regular yields for the first time in a string of lower yielding vintages with frost, hail and rot conditions being the ever-present enemy.
Olivier Giroux of Domaine du Clos des Rocs reminded me, “it is always a question of viticulture, balance comes from working in a balanced manner.” This is true; while vintages can throw balanced years into the universe, they can also throw imbalance, and ultimately it is down to the grower to manage the vintage in question.
The tasting showed me that 2017 is a bright, pleasant and early-drinking vintage, with the wines, especially the whites, really singing at this moment in time. The whites are structured and bold, with tons of energy and balance. They’re incredibly open and honest at this stage but there’s a certain backbone running through them that makes it clear these will cellar.
I was in Burgundy in mid August 2017 for a week and it was hot. It’s not a hot vintage by any means, but the reds are ready and softly plush; much more so than the strikingly zippy and classically acid-driven 2016s that I’m so enchanted by. Nonetheless they are charming, giving and alluring in their bright fruit. Stems brought freshness to several wines in this line-up.
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I mention two growers twice; in both line-ups; Nicolas Faure and Thibaud Clerget of Y. Clerget. Both growers had stand-out wines and they are ones to watch; Faure for the wines’ incomparable lift and lightness, and Clerget for the ultimate purity of fruit.
The below were particular stand-outs (in no particular order).
Antoine Jobard Meursault Les Tillets: Wonderful tension and that special, inimitable rock salt poise, unique to the wine in question, that is only possible by working in a subtly careful reductive manner. Balancing on the edge of leanness, on precisely the right side of the tightrope. Lemon and lime zest and pith predominant with such length. Truly stunning.
Y. Clerget Meursault Les Chevalières: Elegant and gentle pear flesh, pear skin and hazelnut skin notes, ever so fresh with a lick of nutmeg on the finish. Pure and very true to place, carrying itself almost weightlessly with a vibrancy not always present in Meursault.
Heitz-Lochardet Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru La Maltroie: Saline and crunchy with real bite; dense and tight-wound; a very exciting future here and quintessentially Chassagne but with real lift on the finish.
Clos des Rocs Pouilly-Loché Révélation: All of the Clos des Rocs wines were singing, and it was a joy to try their sans souffre cuvee. Sparky, bright, energetic; many, many layers here with a delightful almond savoury balance to the delicious, juicy fruit - a real palate journey.
Nicolas Faure Bourgogne Aligoté “La Corvée de Bully”: WOoOoOoH - stop the (wine) presses. Lipsmacking, moreish, damn delicious Aligoté from old vines (1914) in Pernand Vergelesses. Hella yea; this is one of the best Aligotés I have tasted to date and happily danced in glitter on its own in a sea of Chardonnay. Magnificent.
Domaine du Roc des Boutires Pouilly-Fuissé En Bertilonne: Clear, bright, mineral, pure. Quietly confident and any white Burgundy lover’s dream; elegantly classic.
Ballot Millot Meursault 1er Cru Les Genevrières: Such a wine. Snappy, matchstick, white smoke goodness, straight from the womb. This needs time but it’s going to be *very* good and I can’t wait to return to this in a few years’ time. A very promising future for this grower is evident.
Paul Pillot Chassagne-Montrachet: Intense, exuberant, giving, fleshy, fiercely defiant and lifted. Lovely and a brighter expression of what we might be used to from Chassagne with more focus on poise and fruit skin than fleshy notes. Gorgeous subtlety here.
Domaine Berthaut-Gerbet Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits
From talented young superstar Amélie Bertaut comes this beautiful, perfumed and lifted Hautes Côtes that far exceeds its appellation. Lilacs, peonies and fresh raspberry juice - singing and so bright, a true delicate delight.
Domaine Duroché Gevrey-Chambertin “Les jeunes rois”
There is a reason some domaines enjoy whispers of their names around the trade, and Duroché is one of these for good reason. This is a striking expression of Gevrey; powerful, bold, with real oomph. Fresh cherries rolled around in herbs and spices, with a finish that goes on forever. A stand alone wine.
Mark Haisma Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru Les Chaffots
Every now and then you taste a wine that makes you stop and just nod. This was one of them. So much intensity of flavour but without being punchy; there is lift and elegance on the back palate here. Bright black cherry skin, wild thyme and ginger and elegant wild strawberries. Such a fine, clear and certain expression of Morey fruit.
Georges Noëllat Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Chaumes
A wine that speaks of elegance of fruit; subtleties and of the secrets of terroir. Very pure, delicate, but with underlying structure that will keep this wine alive for a long time.
Domaine Nicolas Faure Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Herbues
I was so taken aback when I tasted this wine. It’s rare that a Burgundy knocks me sideways out of pure surprise; this succeeded. A long, semi carbonic alcoholic fermentation (21 days), with ageing in foudre. Very gentle pigeage. The fruit is so pure and vibrant;
Domaine Y. Clerget Volnay 1er Cru Monopole Clos du Verseuil
Another wine from one of Burgundy’s young talents. This, together with the de Montille, provides the quintessential essence of what I deem young Burgundy to be. Transparent minerality, red cherries as picked from the tree, crunchy and pure, with so much more to give, without giving any away; that is the secret to fine Burgundy. This wine possesses that quality.
Domaine des Lambrays Clos des Lambrays Grand Cru
A blast from the past; Boris Champy was the first winemaker I ever worked with and learnt from. To see his first vintage at Lambrays was a joy; spiritual, bright, classic Pinot; tightwound and coiled, waiting to show its feathers with age.
Domaine Henri Gouges Nuits-Saint-Georges Clos Fontaine Jacquinot
Few come close to achieving the Gouges expression of NSG. This cuvee, its first debut, exceeded even itself. With the deep underbelly of Nuits-Saint-Georges and its bramble edges, this has a certain elegance to it and speaks of floral notes; of lavender and wild flowers.
Domaine de Montille Volnay 1er Cru Les Mitans
As with the Clerget above, this speaks of Pinot Noir in Pinot Noir’s essence. Fragrant as fragrant can be, with finesse and poise that makes me wonder whether the extent of these characteristics is unique to Volnay. When I close my eyes and envision Burgundy, this is what I see.
Domaine Confuron Cotetidot Vosne Romanée Les Suchots
Wow. Vosne with broad shoulders; this is a wine with rumbling depth, power and energy; a wine that will outlive us all. Crunchy wild blackcurrants and wild strawberries with earthy, mineral tannin structure. 100% whole bunch is always employed at this domaine and together with later picking, provides these wines with an immense power-balance-freshness scenario. I was quite bowled over by this, and while I’m not sure it’s the wine to drink right this second, there is something immensely singular, marked and, simply put, special here. Quite remarkable.