Vintage Report: Burgundy 2017 - Beguiling Burgundian Elegance

Vintage Report: Burgundy 2017 - Beguiling Burgundian Elegance

Thursday 3rd January 2019
by Giles Burke-Gaffney

The 2017 vintage is already being lauded as a great year for whites, but make no mistake this is a superb red vintage, too. When producers like Freddy Mugnier say “I think these were the best, most healthy, grapes I have ever picked” you sit up and take notice. For the Pinots display a beguiling mix of ripe, sensual fruit, delicacy, elegance and freshness. What’s more they offer vivid terroir characteristics - this is a red burgundy lover’s vintage par excellence.

The season started early and resulted in a precocious harvest (taking place between 3rd and 13th September for Pinot Noir). Based on readings taken throughout the calendar year, 2017 was the warmest on record. However the summer was remarkably well-balanced without any extremes in temperature. After a successful flowering, drought was the only potential danger, but rainfall at the end of August put paid to that. Conditions for harvest were perfect with sunny, warm days and cooler nights. There was one notable day of rain within the first two weeks of September otherwise growers could pick when they liked. All of this sounds rather easy, and largely it was, but there were two key factors for making really great, rather than merely “good” Pinots in 2017: Yields and élévage. In the words of Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, who has made a stunning range of 2017s “there was time to pick and to get ripe fruit, even with high yields, but if you did not control yields the wines will be a little diluted.” The second factor was to make sure the beautifully ripe, seductive fruit of the vintage was captured and not allowed to dry out, many of the growers we visited in November had already begun racking their wines in preparation for a slightly earlier bottling than usual. Early in the season green harvests were seen by many as crucial elements in controlling yields. By harvest time, grapes were uniformly ripe and very healthy, almost all producers we spoke to made it clear that tables de tries were largely redundant. Despite this fruit ripeness, sugars were in perfect balance, alcohols ranging between a balanced 13 to 13.5%. Such was the maturity of the stalks and grapes that those who practice whole bunch fermentations often included a greater percentage than usual in their fermenters, which seems to have been a successful approach, adding nerve and complexity to the wines. Whether whole-bunch or de-stalked though, the wines commonly display ripe, pliable fruit textures and, despite it not being a particularly high acid vintage, a distinct energy and freshness.

These are joy-filled, alluring Pinots that will give great pleasure young but have the balance to age. Rather like the initially very aromatic and approachable 2000 Côte de Nuits which themselves have aged impeccably, but with a little more density and vitality. The 2017s red Burgundies have also been likened to the attractive 2014s, but arguably show greater complexity. Either way this is a red vintage we heartily recommend. 

The white harvest started even earlier, between the 25th August and the 5th September depending on the Domaine. Chardonnay grapes were healthy and thick-skinned. Being less sensitive than Pinot Noir to yield levels, the whites are more consistently great than the reds. Fruit flavours are open-knit, aromatic and ripe but they are also big on dry extract and therefore complex and intense. Alongside fruit profiles you also find great minerality - the stony vineyards producing wines that unashamedly speak of their rocky origins. There is a wonderful flesh and texture that comes with 2017’s ripeness but additionally a remarkable vitality and vibrancy that is even more evident in these than in the reds. Many producers liken 2017 to a balance of the fresh, elegant 2014s and the riper more voluptuous 2015s. Some producers, such as Bachelet-Monnot, rate 2017 unequivocally above their 2014s, and considering the Domaine’s continued progress over the last few years we are minded to agree. 2014 may continue to be the reference white vintage for many, but make no mistake 2017 is not far behind.