For Burgundy lovers it is the best of times and, well, the best of times. Our shelves are full of high quality white and red Burgundy: it can only be considered the worst of times when cellar space and acquisition costs are considered. These Burgundies also offer the intrigue of two vintages that are consecutive but contrasting, each year stamping a different imprint on the vignerons’ work. The supple, sumptuous and immediately pleasurable nature of the 2009 vintage has been well-publicized while the classic Burgundian qualities of 2008 have been noted. The typicity, transparency and structure of 2008 offer a counterpoint in style to the 2009s but in their own fashion are equally delicious wines. Also, since this is Burgundy, these generalizations have modest exceptions – there are 2008s with richer fruit than their confreres and there are 2009s with a denser, tighter structure than most.
The 2008 vintage was challenging in most of the ways that the weather in Burgundy presents; a little too cool, a little too moist, some hail here & there, not enough sunshine. There was a need for constant vigilance and work in the vineyards to ward off myriad issues, and in early August there was real concern about the quality of the fruit. Then the sun came out, the wind picked up and in short time the vintage was saved, and some marvelous wines began to take shape. The 2009 vintage was easy by comparison – a timely and uneventful start, spurts of rain when needed, ample sunshine but not excessive heat and a lack of drama all the way through harvest. Most vignerons talk of 2009 as a relatively easy vintage, good sugar levels came naturally and the sorting work was not even strenuous. These contrasting weather patterns led to grapes and wines that are an intriguing contrast, the classic coiled mix of pleasant and potential in the 2008s and the sensuous textures not quite hiding the vineyards’ terroir in the 2009s.
To get a taste of that coiled intensity along with a definite dose of pleasure inherent in a 2008, try either of the Michel Niellon bottlings we have – the Chassagne Montrachet A.C. ($44.99)or Chassagne “Clos Saint Jean”($69.99). Both of these are white Burgundies in the classic style, offering a mineral tone bestowed by limestone and a balancing act between fruit and acid bestowed by Mother Nature. Along the same line we still have three wines to offer from Philippe Colin, his Chassagne A.C. ($39.99), Chassagne Les Chenevottes ($59.99) and Chassagne Les Vergers ($59.99). The vineyard bottlings offer more than the usual step up from the village in complexity, detail and length. They are wines that provide marvelous flexibility; they are far more than accessible now but as you linger over the last third of the bottle you get a clearer sense of what awaits down the road. For those who want to kick it a notch higher, we can still offer the Grand Cru Corton-Charlemagnes from Bonneau du Martray ($114.99) and Bouchard ($129.99). Both of these beauties tried to squeeze into the mould of 2008 but broke through with a richness of fruit that leaves one dazzled and pondering whether a Grand Cru from a vintage such as ‘08 should be so delicious at this stage.
The red Burgundies from 2008 are destined to forever live in the shadow of their big-brother ‘09s and are only recently beginning to show the true measure of their charm. They are also classically styled wines, with complex but comparatively reserved aromatics that are always indicative of their source and a sense of elegant restraint that the more flamboyant ‘09s cannot and do not have. The best examples of this we have remaining are Voillot’s Volnay Fremiets ($59.99), Serafin’s Gevrey Chambertin ($27.99) and Grivot’s Nuits St Georges Ronciere ($89.99). These three will all tell you where they come from and that you will be very amply rewarded for your patience with them, via either decanter or cellar. Or ideally both. It would be a great disservice to write about 2008 red Burgundies without mentioning the wines of Robert Chevillon, which are among the best wines we’ve tasted this year. Buy them and taste everything you are looking for in a red Burgundy. It’s really that simple and we’re fortunate to be able to offer six different vineyards: Bousselots ($74.99), Chaignots ($74.99), Pruliers ($74.99), Roncieres ($74.99), Cailles (89.99) and Vaucrains (89.99).
The white Burgundies of 2009 share some of the same fate as the red 2008s, they trail a great vintage for whites and are almost an afterthought in discussing 2009. This is truly unfortunate, since there were excellent wines made from the generous material of 2009, wines with a rich but not unfocused character that offer a Burgundian soul underneath the inherent flesh. From just north and south of the Cote d’Or come Seguinot Bordet’s Chablis Vaillons ($21.99) and Lassarat’s Macon-Vergisson La Roche ($21.99). Both of these wines offer a clear indication of where they come from: the Chablis has beautiful chalkiness and a hint of salinity, and the Macon-Vergisson a complexity and length that belie the age of the vineyards. Both also bear the stamp of 2009, an exuberant richness that flows from nose to tail and make them a pleasure to drink … now! If you’re wanting wines that are more of the traditional Burgundian balancing act, even in ‘09, buy some Fichet wines while we still have them. The Meursault A.C. ($49.99) and Les Gruyaches ($69.99) offer the flesh of ‘09 within an ‘08 structure, everything in its place and a place for everything without feeling constrained or limited and with ample ageing potential.
The red Burgundies from 2009 really do not need further praise, which is not to say that what they’ve received is undeserved – nothing further from the truth but perhaps enough is enough. Some Burgundy fans will say that the ‘09s offer too much pleasure, too much ripeness and flesh, that they are too close akin to California’s Pinot Noirs. They certainly are closer to the California model than most years but even with the rich aromatics, plush textures and softer finishes on most 2009s they are still Burgundy, possessing a sense of place visible under the deliciousness. To be your own judge, try one of the great values we have on hand, Voillot’s Bourgogne Vieilles Vignes ($24.99). Then try any or all of these three: Pavelot Savigny-les-Beaune Dominode ($54.99), Muzard Santenay Clos des Mouches ($39.99) and Gros Frere Clos Vougeot Musigni ($135.00). If you don’t agree that these have the mark of ‘09 but also of Burgundy, let’s talk about it … and decide what test to open next.
Matt S., Beltramo’s Assistant Manager