Chablis 2020 continues a run of very fine vintages in this key Burgundy appellation. The word most heard during my recent visit to Chablis was ‘classic’. While 2020 may not quite have the linear acidity of 2014, there are a lot of similarities with 2017, another classic year.
Although 2020 was a very early vintage, it was not a particularly hot one and managed to avoid the dramatic heat spikes of 2018 and 2019. My high tasting scores suggested that this is a vintage which can be rated at least four stars, with a wide incidence of five-star wines.
Domaine Séguinot Bordet’s Jean-François Bordet, president of the BIVB Chablis commission, says ‘it was a very classic vintage’. Olivier Bailly (Domaine Billaud-Simon) echoes that verdict, confirming: ‘2020 is more like 2014 and 2017 than 2018 or 2019.’ Vincent Dauvissat, whom I visited while he was dashing around in the cellar moving wines between barrels, stopped long enough to describe the year as a ‘magnificent’ vintage. On a visit to Domaine François Raveneau, Isabelle Raveneau reconfirmed the general view, noting that 2020 was ‘more classic than 2019’.
RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
Following the reduced crop in 2019, and the exceedingly difficult 2016 vintage (devastated by bouts of frost and hail), the weather in 2020 was generally kind to Chablis producers. Winter saw plenty of rainfall to boost water reserves and the mild start to the year encouraged early budburst, although producers feared the worst when temperatures plummeted at the end of March and early April. Bailly said he had spent seven nights in his vineyards lighting frost-protection candles (bougies), but fortunately damage was slight and only affected the lowest sites.
A warm April was followed by soaring temperatures in May, which encouraged a rapid successful flowering. Summer was warm and dry, with July experiencing virtually no rain. However, due to ample water reserves, few vines were adversely affected. Occasional showers in August freshened up the vines and the growth cycle was completed 15-20 days earlier than normal in the past 20 years, with harvest starting on 24 August.
Raveneau described 2020 as an ‘easy’ vintage, because producers had sufficient time to make careful decisions on what to do, and when. Louis Moreau agreed that the conditions allowed producers to make the best choices in both the vineyard and at harvest time.
It appears that overall quality is not only high, but also homogenous across quality tiers, vineyard sites and both banks of the Serein river.
Petit Chablis was very successful, with many wines showing an attractive stone fruit character combined with freshness and approachability. These wines will provide some excellent short-term drinking before many of the best Chablis are ready. Nearly all the AP Chablis I tasted showed a distinct step up in concentration, with more pronounced acidity, apple (sometimes pear) fruit notes and a distinctly mineral edge.
Premier cru Chablis adds more ageability and a lot more terroir influence, with the top climats showing very strongly. Montmains and Vaillons were impressive, while on the right bank of the Serein, Mont de Milieu and Vaulorent shone, the latter showing why it is regarded by many as comparable to Chablis grand cru. As expected, the wines from Montée de Tonnerre lived up to their lofty reputation, and these will be wines to enjoy after a few years’ bottle age, and then over the next decade. Bailly advises that premier cru from 2020 should be aerated in a decanter for at least an hour if they are broached within the first two to three years following the vintage.
IN IT FOR THE LONG TERM
Finally, Chablis grand cru delivers extra levels of concentration, excellent ageing potential and additional layers of texture via a greater use of oak, with Les Clos and Les Preuses perhaps the most memorable of all the wines I have tasted.
2020 is a very fine vintage which is not easy to compare to other years. Although very early, the dry weather and absence of heat spikes meant that grape quality and health was exceptional. Yields were slightly impacted by the dry weather, but this only appears to have added to the vitality of the wines. Demand for Chablis is high, and consumers should undoubtedly take the opportunity to stock up on 2020 and enjoy over the next decade; it really is hard to go wrong.
Chablis: know your vintages
2020 Early but high-quality vintage with typical Chablis drive and freshness. Along with 2017, the best since 2014. A vintage to buy, and to keep the top wines carefully for drinking over 5-10 years.
2019 Some spikes of heat, but the grapes were very concentrated giving Chablis wines with weight and the acidity to support the ripe fruit. Best sites will keep many years.
2018 Big harvest with a dry, hot summer leading to ripe grapes which lacked a bit of concentration but had plenty of fruit purity. Stone fruit characters more evident, less classic, relatively early drinking.
2017 A fine vintage, plenty of acidity, floral and mineral notes, and a lot more drive and intensity than in either 2016 or 2018. Vintage to keep.
2016 Beset by frost and hail damage – very low yields as a result. Decent wines were made but acidity quite low; all but the best premiers crus and grands crus need drinking.
January releases: Howard’s 33 of the best Chablis 2020s
NB: many retailers’ allocations are as yet unconfirmed – prices and stockists are given where available, and similarly for alcohols
1 WINE OF THE VINTAGE & TOP QUALITY PRODUCER Domaine François Raveneau, Grand Cru Les Clos 98
From 40- to 50-year-old vines. A forceful nose displaying intriguing smoky notes. A wall of concentration on the palate, with vibrant tree fruit, white flowers, great acidity, intense focus and a long, mineral aftertaste. Despite the power it’s not showy, but is terroir-driven with total purity, and for the long haul. Drink 2024-2040 Alcohol 13%
2 TOP QUALITY PRODUCER Albert Bichot, Domaine Long-Depaquit, Moutonne, Grand Cru Monopole
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