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Vintage Report: Burgundy 2015 - "Berries like Caviar"

7 December 2016

Giles Burke-Gaffney

Words such as “magnificent” and “exceptional” echoed loudly around the usually more tranquil Burgundian cellars as we tasted barrel after barrel of seductive Pinot Noir. There is no doubt in our minds that this is a great red vintage, up and down the Côte. For the whites, coming off the back of a legendary vintage such as 2014 was always going to be a challenge, regardless of the season. However, overlooking these would be a grave mistake.

The vintage started off hot, yet the season was characterised more by its drought than its heat, with timely rains at the beginning of August helping to refresh the vines. If you did not pick too late then you had the chance to make some delicious white burgundies, particularly higher up the scale. The difference between the great terroirs and the rest is starker than ever.

The Season

The early part of the season saw a heatwave arrive during flowering in June that continued well into July. Rains in early August helped refreshed vines and allowed ripening to continue.  More rain followed in early September and cooled temperatures down. Further rain fell around the 12th September. Harvest was early and in some cases growers brought picking dates even further forward. Largely there seemed to be two schools of thought in 2015 concerning Pinot Noir picking dates: Harvest 2nd/3rd September for fresher wines or wait  until the 9th /10th for those looking for riper, rounder tannins.  We find it too simplistic to determine one decision better than the other, finding great wines in both camps. In certain areas of the Cote de Beaune, particularly on the hill of Corton, flowering was poor due to a heat spike and across the whole Cote drought meant that berries were small.  Therefore this is not a big vintage anywhere in the Cote d’Or, in certain cases it is 2014 minus 10 percent, in other more dramatic cases it is on a par with 2012, particularly at Chevillon, Bruno Clair, Chateau de Marsannay and Follin-Arbelet. For Tollot-Beaut it is their smallest crop since 1997.  The fruit was impeccably healthy so tables de trie were completely redundant. Bachelet-Monnot said of their Pinot Noir grapes “they were small but pristine, the berries were like caviar.” Those domaines who have a leaning towards whole bunch fermentations tended to use greater proportions, because of the health and ripeness of the bunches.  This helped make gentle extractions easier to achieve and also give an edge to the wines at the same time.  Bruno Clair, who is not always a big advocate, used some and admitted “if ever there was a year to use whole bunch, then 2015 was it.”  Acidities were overall very high but well covered by great richness, this combination sometimes meant that in the Cote’s cooler cellars malolactic fermentations were very slow, finishing only in autumn 2016. By and large though the winter of 2016/2017 was not particularly cold and in the less deep cellars, malos were completed by spring and early summer

The Wines

There are some truly delicious whites that should not be overlooked: Well-located vineyards with a good mixture of water-retentive clay and poor limestone soils have yielded excellent results, particularly when picked early enough.  It is not a homogenous vintage but when they are good they are very good, offering a certain degree of 2011’s immediacy and fruitiness but with more freshness and depth. Whilst on the richer side, they don’t have the sheer weight of 2009, offering considerably more zip and more lightness of touch.

For the reds it is without question a great vintage.  So much less “solaire” and so much more refreshing than anticipated.  They manage to be concentrated yet seduce and charm at the same time.  These are powerful wines but so suave are the tannins and so vibrant is the fruit that you don’t feel their full might immediately, they are too classy for that.  What is more the magic of terroir expresses itself fully and clearly; the season has not stamped is mark on the wines too heavily.  These wines are built to last.  Vintage comparisons varied little for once, growers generally considering the wines to be racier versions of 2005 or 1990.   This will go down as one of the great Red Burgundy vintages - in the words of Etienne Grivot’s “they are indestructible.”