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Sunday, 25 January 2015

Why 2013 Burgundy Is Better Than Expected!



The region’s new vintage will never be regarded as truly great—but it’s not all bad news


STANDING OUTSIDE the sunken cellars of Domaine Marc Colin in Gamay, a small hamlet on the boundary of the Burgundian village of St.-Aubin, you get a clear outline of the steepness of the valley it sits in. This is where many of the appellation’s best vineyards are located. The white wines especially impress, with the Chardonnay grape taking on a pale gold color and possessing a fresh, racing acidity.

As we look up the valley, my tasting companion for the day, Toby Morrhall, buyer for the Wine Society, shares his theory about what makes the wine from this region so good. The valley of St.-Aubin climbs into the northeast, allowing cold air to come down and cool the grapes. The steep gradient has, in the past, meant that the grapes have been difficult to ripen. However, Mr. Morrhall says that, while there is still some shade, climate change has led to the wines becoming more interesting—rounder, riper and easier to taste.

Back in London, I run the theory past Olivier Lamy, now the winemaker at the domaine his father, Hubert Lamy, started. “It’s a very good question,” says Mr. Lamy, who was in town, along with dozens of other growers, to showcase the 2013 vintage, the latest to hit the market. A few years ago, the winemaker held a retrospective tasting of all the family’s St.-Aubin wines, stretching from 1966 to 2011. There’s no doubt, in his opinion, that the older vintages were greener and harder to taste. He says the new style is to do with a slightly quicker maturation cycle.

Climate change, improvements in viticulture, a greater selection of ripe grapes while picking, gentler extraction of grapes once in the cellar—whatever the cause, 2013 is a vintage that 20 years ago would have been a disaster.

Indeed, according to Beaune importer Roy Richards, by late August it was looking that way. A cold and wet spring followed by a huge hailstorm in July and another storm in early October, just as the harvest was due to be brought in, all conspired once again to produce a small crop—the third in a row.

The good news is that despite all of this, the wines (to most people’s surprise) are good. Not uniformly so, but good where there has been careful picking and winemaking.

At their best, the reds are pure, fresh and ripe. In fact the ripeness in appellations such as Nuits-St.-Georges is sublime. With a high acidity, these are wines for medium-term drinking. But they are succulent and juicy, and some will be delightfully easy to enjoy. The whites are good, too. Vibrant, refreshing and precise, they delight with their thrilling minerality.

Prices, though stable, are still high and, at the top end, very high. But there’s still a lot of value to be found in Burgundy, especially during a vintage like 2013, which will never be regarded as truly great.

For reds, look to the villages of Marsannay, where producers such as Sylvain Pataille, Bruno Clair, Domaine Coillot, Laurent Fournier, Martin Bart and Michel Magnien are making attractive wine at attractive prices. The same goes for St.-Aubin where, although prices have certainly crept up, producers such as Jean-Claude Bachelet, Marc Colin, Hubert Lamy, Henri Prudhon, Gérard Thomas and Pillot are all worth investigating.

Source: Wall Street Journal