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Vintage Report: Burgundy 2011

26 November 2012

Giles Burke-Gaffney

Flowering was early and pointed towards a mid August harvest. A rainy summer started off cold and heated up considerably from mid August onwards, the mercury reaching 38 degrees at one stage.  These mixed conditions did their best to slow down ripening, but nonetheless the majority of growers had started picking by the end of August as many felt the vine had already completed its cycle and had ripened grapes to their maximum.  Waiting any longer was a question of either benefiting from September's cool north wind and increasing grape concentration or allowing grapes to lose freshness and precision, depending on who you talk to.  Patrick Javillier started on the 23rd August, the earliest of his 38 vintages, yet produced grapes of good sugar levels, with 12.5 degrees of potential alcohol, and excellent fruit ripeness. An extraordinary feat.  Thanks to disease pressure, poor flowering in some sectors and heterogenous ripening, the crop is a small one, though on average slightly bigger than 2010.  Over three vintages, 10,11 and 12, vignerons calculate they have lost a whole year's crop. Fortunately, though, it sounds as if the vast majority of growers are sufficiently concerned about not alienating the loyal customers actually drinking their wines to limit any price increases to a minimum.  Lets hope this holds true.

If the conditions sound rather similar to 2007, that is where the comparison ends.  The 2011 whites are fruitier and more generous and whilst very fresh, are not as searingly acidic. The white wines are along the lines of 2002 perhaps with a drop of 2001.  They are open, transparent, crisp but very seductive.  They will drink extremely well from the off.  The 2011 reds are fresher than their 2007 counterparts, they have more density and precision too.  The Cote de Nuits & Cote de Beaune seems equally good and I did not notice in my notes any obvious trends within specific communes, save that I tasted many great Batards (J-N Gagnard's among the finest they have produced of recent years) and some quite brilliant Clos de Vougeots.  Across the board the reds seem to me to be like a rather successful blend of the Cote de Nuits 2000 and 2001 vintages, as ripe as the former but more concentrated, with the freshness of the latter.   Prior to summer the reds were aromatic and pretty but perhaps just lacking a little substance, however they have gained enormously during elevage and now display a level of concentration I did not think they had, whilst retaining their ripe, perfumed fruit and suave, soft tannins.  They too will drink young thanks to their fruitiness and velvet textures but many of the Premiers and Grands Crus have the depth to suggest ageing potential of 10-15 years.

Apart from fruitiness, the other thing that both reds and whites have in common, and what makes this vintage most brilliant of all, is such a clear cut difference in character between each wine.  Burgundy's great strength, its mix of terroirs and the nuances they lend to each wine, sings loud and clear in 2011. One of the reasons for this would almost certainly be that this is a refreshingly low alcohol vintage, most growers naturally reaching a maximum of 12.5 to 13 degrees.

So many of these 2011s totally seduced me -there will be a lot of pleasure to be gained from drinking them- that it is hard to pick out favourites.  Particular tastings that stick in my mind, however, were at Paul Pillot; Bachelet-Monnot; Sauzet; Marquis d'Angerville, Frank Follin (who seems to be on something of a hot streak at the moment); Chevillon; Barthod; Mugnier; Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair; Etienne Grivot; Arnaud Mortet and Bruno Clair.

Pinpointing particularly successful areas is even more difficult however at a glance I would say that in addition to the great Batards and Clos de Vougeots i have already mentioned, i would add the Volnay commune in general; the higher stonier vineyards of Puligny & Chassagne and then take your pick from any of the mid to high slope Premiers or Grands Crus vineyards in the Cote de Nuits.

I look forward to our January offer & tasting with immense anticipation.

Coming over the next week will be a report on this summer's Burgfest: An update on 2009 Burgundy in bottle.