This week is Burgundy en primeurs, in London. Unlike the Bordelais, the Burgundians wait a bit longer before showing cask samples (15 months after vintage, versus 6), and travel to do so. It has developed into quite a circus, with 30 or so tastings (I haven’t counted) over a week and a bit, many with quite a bit of overlap.
This brings visitors to town. I spotted Michel Bettane and Jeannie Cho Lee among the crowd at yesterday’s Berry Bros & Rudd tasting. Many of the UK press spend the whole week tasting.
I chose to attend just one tasting. It’s not because I don’t love Burgundy (it’s possibly the most interesting fine wine region of all because of the terroir connection, and two compelling grape varieties). It’s because I have to earn a living, I’m not recognized as a go-to Burgundy expert, and so I can’t justify a week getting to know these baby wines in depth. To be a Burgundy expert, you have to devote most of your professional life to the region, because it is so complex and the vintages are all so different – and most producers make a dozen or more wines each year.
It’s also because these are tastings of cask samples. Now from the cask directly, tasting can be quite interesting. But there’s only a limited amount of information you can get from a sample that has been taken from cask, bottled (usually with massive oxygen pick-up), and then shipped to London. All barrels differ, anyway, so it needs to be borne in mind that the impressions of the wines are simply fleeting, and possibly misleading ones at this early stage, under these conditions.
So beware critics who are writing veritable essays on these young wines, and affixing precise scores to them. It’s for this reason, I won’t be posting notes. But I will share my own impression of the vintage, superficial though it may be.
First, it’s a better year than you might expect from the vintage conditions. One grower told me (with admirable honestly) that 2011 was a miserable year in Burgundy, with very few wines being picked above 12% potential alcohol. It rained for two months before the harvest. This grower didn’t make a single wine above 12% alcohol, but he was one of the very few not to have chaptalized. It was a good year indeed for sugar salespeople.
I tasted some nice whites, with the standouts being the precise, mineral wines of J-P Fichet.
The reds seemed mostly bright and very pretty, with lovely direct fruit. Some of the more elaborate wines were showing too much wood. These are not big, structured red Burgundies, on the whole, and the more successful wines seem to be the ones that haven’t tried too hard to be what they aren’t.
I reckon it’s a vintage to buy and drink young. Sadly, prices have risen 10-15% since the very good 2010s, which doesn’t make them great value for money. This is partly because 2012 is a very short vintage, with quantities vastly reduced, although where growers succeeded in 2012, word on the street is that the wines are better than the 2011s.
I also heard murmurings that 2011 might be another ladybird vintage, so look out for excessively green wines. I only found one potentially ladybird-affected wine in yesterday’s tasting, but it’s something to bear in mind.