Describing the 2019 Burgundy vintage, François Labet, proprietor of Château de la Tour in Clos de Vougeot and co-president of the BIVB regional wine board, said: ‘2018 was Arnold Schwarzenegger, but 2019 is Maria Sharapova!’
If the 2018 wines were notable for their (albeit stylish) power and mass, the 2019s bring finesse and elegance without sacrificing concentration. The vintage takes its place alongside other exceptional recent years in Burgundy, carving out a niche for its outstanding balance of intense fruit, firm structure and supple texture.
Yields were low, however: 1.2 million hectolitres, according to BIVB, compared to an average of 1.5m hl – and the 1.8m hl harvested in 2018. The reds are generally ripe and forward, with plenty of body and velvety tannic structure. The whites are also rich but show remarkable balance, despite the heat.
The recent vintages of 2018, 2019 and 2020 all share the heat in common, where a mild winter preceded the growing season. Predictions in 2019 were for another uncommonly early harvest as in 2018, when picking began on 20 August.
But temperatures turned colder in April, dropping below freezing on the night of 4 April, and the region saw scattered damage from frost. ‘In the regional- and village-level appellations at lower elevations we lost 60% of our harvest,’ said Frédéric Lafarge in Volnay.
May was warmer, and the vines started to grow in earnest. By early June, however, temperatures had dipped again, and it had started to rain, drawing out the flowering. This led to millerandage, further reducing yields – these bunches produce large and small grapes which give more concentrated wine because of the higher ratio of skin to juice.
By the last week in June, temperatures had become unseasonably hot, reaching 40°C, and Burgundy was plunged into the first of two heatwaves. ‘There was a reduction in yield of about 10% with each heatwave,’ said LouisMichel Liger-Belair (Vosne-Romanée). The low yields and the heat combined to concentrate both acidity and sugar in the grapes, allowing both reds and whites to maintain a very fine balance of richness and structure.
Fortunately, the vines were refreshed by rain in mid-August, which brought on the start of veraison and helped them to ripen fully. The effect of the cool weather in April and June was to push the harvest date into September, in line with historical norms.
Comparisons and verdict
According to Beaune négociant Benjamin Leroux, the 2019s reflect the ‘new normal’ rather than what wine writers might describe as ‘classic Burgundy’. They are friendly, ripe, open and lush. And thanks to the concentration of the year, they have found their balance. In terms of the vintage style, Bertrand de Villaine said 2019 was ‘a bit like 2005 or 2009, but even more generous than 2009, and not as opaque as 2005.’
If you love great Burgundy, you should think about securing some 2019s quickly. Given current pricing trends, they will never be cheaper than they are now. Seek out wines from top producers working in cool spots and purchase with confidence. Although some people might find the reds a bit too fruity or the whites a bit rich, my advice is to relax and savour them: 2019 is a hedonistic vintage and these wines are a joy.
Around the regions
Côte de Nuits
In the Côte de Nuits, 2019 is a superb vintage. This part of Burgundy avoided the April frost, yet reaped the qualitative benefits of the break on yields imposed by the millerandage that occurred at flowering. The Côte de Nuits suffered from the heat along with the rest of Burgundy, but older vines and more sheltered sites came through this well to produce some of the finest and most balanced wines in years, with particular successes in Vosne-Romanée, Chambolle-Musigny, Gevrey-Chambertin and Morey-St-Denis.
Best producers in 2019: Anne Gros, Armand Rousseau, Comte Georges de Vogüé, Comte Liger-Belair, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Domaine Dujac, Georges Roumier, Hubert Lignier, Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier, MéoCamuzet, Mugneret-Gibourg.
Côte de Beaune
In general, the Côte de Beaune experienced more frost damage than the Côte de Nuits in 2019, although regions that avoided both frost and sunburn produced excellent results, such as Pernand-Vergelesses.
Frédéric Weber, cellarmaster at Beaunebased Bouchard Père et Fils, said the overall crop was half the average due to the frosts, the disruption to flowering and the heat spikes. Potential alcohol was about 14% and the wines have plenty of fresh acidity. At Louis Jadot, head winemaker Frédéric Barnier blocked the malolactic conversion to maintain a lively freshness in the wines.
Generally, the reds from Pommard were more homogenous than those of Volnay, while in Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet, cooler sites at higher elevations tended to produce the best results. Best producers in 2019: Bonneau du Martray, Domaine de Montille, Domaine des Comtes Lafon, Etienne Sauzet, Henri Boillot, Jean-Marc Roulot, Marquis d’Angerville, Michel Lafarge, Michel Niellon, Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey.
Audrey Braccini of Domaine JA Ferret in PouillyFuissé found 2019 particularly challenging in the Mâconnais: ‘It was a capricious season with an almost sinister softness.’
She might have been pruning in a t-shirt in February, but by May the cold weather had set in, and conditions were 13 days behind an average year. Flowering was extremely difficult, and some of the bunches were less than 50g, compared to a typical average weight of 125g or more. Usually, Braccini would pick early, but skins were so thick that she waited until 10 September for them to soften to avoid extracting bitter phenolic compounds at the press.
Eric Forest, also of Pouilly-Fuissé, works mostly with old vines and, in 2019, with yields as low as 10hl/ha in the most frost-affected sites. Although the harvest was small, he said the wines should age well.
Best producers in 2019: Bret Brothers/ Domaine de La Soufrandière, Deux Roches (Collovray & Terrier), Domaine JA Ferret, Eric Forest, Héritiers du Comte Lafon.
Wines are listed by commune, from north to south, then by score, then alphabetically by producer. The 2019s are bottled in January 2021, hence prices and stockists are not yet set. Contact specialist merchants for allocations, or to enquire about en primeur tastings
1 TOP QUALITY Domaine Armand
Rousseau, Chambertin Clos de Bèze Grand Cru 100
Rousseau Clos de Bèze is from three plots that total 1.42ha. Cyrielle believes the wine shows better in its youth than Chambertin, though both are vinified in the same way: destemmed, long maceration, gentle extraction, ageing in new François Frères barrels. The result is sublime: charming in its youth, with accessible notes of red and black fruits, spice, mineral and game and a velvety, dense texture that is firm but not forbidding. This has the substance to last 50 years if cellared well. Drink 2029-2069
Domaine Dujac, Chambertin Grand Cru 98
From 0.24ha of Clos de Bèze and 0.05ha of Chambertin, both parcels neighbouring Rousseau. In 2019, the vineyards in Gevrey were picked first because of the danger of water stress and sunburn. The wine is intense and perhaps a bit forbidding initially, but it’s packed with cherry fruit and a mineral, almost saline edge. The structure is very tannic, but this a wine with potential for the future. Drink 2029-2049
Faiveley, Latricières-Chambertin Grand Cru 98
From a 1.21ha domaine-owned parcel. After fermentation with a significant portion of whole clusters, the wine is aged 18 months in cask, 60% new. Super-ripe aromas of cassis and currant leap from the glass, with hints of mineral, smoke and spice. The texture is rich, almost fleshy, but despite the approachable feel, the fine-grained tannins carry this along to a lingering finish. This excels its peers in finesse and elegance. Drink 2024-2039
2 Denis Bachelet, Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru 97
With vines planted 1907-1917, opposite where the Combe Grisard lets out at the limits of Griotte-Chambertin, this is a site that retains great freshness even in hot years. The results in 2019 are spectacular. Ripe red and black berry fruit aromas, savoury/mineral character, muscular and tense yet with a subtle, refined silkiness that is truly exemplary. Drink 2024-2039
Domaine des Lambrays, Clos des Lambrays Grand Cru 98
Opens with a dizzying array of aromas, ranging from high-toned red fruits to ripe plummy black fruit all touched with spice and a hint of wild herbs and fresh flowers. After blending there was an average of 80% whole-cluster fermentation. The texture on the palate is concentrated but not heavy. There is a charming, silky aspect to it and, despite the tannin and density, the overall impression is one of finesse and elegance. Drink 2029-2049
TOP QUALITY Domaine Dujac, Clos de la Roche Grand Cru 98
Dujac Clos de la Roche holdings include 0.58ha in the original Clos de la Roche heart of the vineyard. There are also 0.50ha in Monts Luisants, and 0.59ha in Les Chabiots, a total of nearly 2ha. In 2019, Dujac produced a spectacular wine, already very aromatic with ripe black cherry fruit and earthy spice notes. It is tannic and structured, but the texture of the tannins is silky, elegant and very refined. Marvellous. Drink 2029-2049
3 PRODUCER TO WATCH Laurent Ponsot, Clos-St-Denis Grand Cru 97
Produced from Ponsot’s métayage agreement with the Mercier family, whose plot is 0.38ha with vines planted in 1905. Made as Ponsot believes wines were two or three centuries ago: destemmed, punched down, aged in old casks, no SO2. The result is near the top of the list for the vintage: expressive red and black fruit, profound depths of flavour, and a texture that is lush, dense and long with plenty of lively freshness. Drink 2024-2049
4 TOP QUALITY Domaine Georges Roumier, Musigny Grand Cru 100
Roumier’s 0.1ha plot of Musigny is at the top of the slope between Jadot and Faiveley; in 2019 it made a single barrel, fermented with whole clusters. The result, tasted from barrel, is cathartic. For those who can afford it, it is an exceptional wine, and worth the price. Simply sublime, with ripe, dense black cherry fruit edged with floral notes, a silky texture that cloaks a firm core structure, and an ethereal, penetrating finish. A model of finesse, elegance and power. Drink 2029-2069
TOP QUALITY Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé, Musigny Grand Cru 98
From mature vines and a majestic site, the completely destemmed fruit gives a complete wine that is seductive even now and should continue to astonish with age. Layered, complex, the initial impression is of opulent black cherry fruit, liquorice and rose petals. It’s surprisingly fresh and firm, yet it has an immediately appealing, voluptuous texture – a tightly packed wine that will likely benefit from as much age as you can bear to give it. Drink 2029-2069
Faiveley, Musigny Grand Cru 98
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