This is a longer version of an article also published in the Financial Times.
With burgundy there are rarely certainties. With 2006 burgundy there is only one: that both reds and whites will evolve relatively fast.
They labour in the shadow of the exceptionally easy, ripe and concentrated 2005 vintage, but the 2005s – fine whites as well as reds - are showing every sign of closing up at the moment, thereby reminding us that we may need something to drink while the 2005s mature. Burgundy lovers with a well stocked cellar can presumably enjoy, in roughly this order, their 2000s, 2003s, 2001s and then their 2002s while waiting for the 2004s and then 2005s.
If they already have enough bottles to satisfy that curiously masochistic quest for sensual gratification that afflicts us burgundy lovers, they may feel able to pass on the 2006 vintage since it is unquestionably less grand and successful than its predecessor yet is rarely cheaper and in a few attention-grabbing cases which have been ‘repositioned’ such as Clos de Tart, Fourrier’s Clos St Jacques and the grands crus from the revived Domaine René Engel, François Pinault’s Domaine d’Eugenie, very much more expensive.
British wine lovers are now experiencing the nasty effects of their currency’s decline against the euro, just as their American counterparts have had to do for so much longer. (Although it has to be said that although imported French wine is at record high prices in the US, so apparently is demand for it such is America’s enthusiasm for wine now.) Perhaps partly because selections had to be so strict in this rot-affected vintage and partly because everyone knows that 2007 is far from a stellar burgundy vintage, there are few dramatic reductions in euro ex-cellar prices. And sterling prices in the many current offers of 2006 burgundy from UK merchants reflect the 7-8% decline in sterling’s strength against the euro since the 2005 burgundies were offered, or rather, rapidly allocated to, affluent British buyers this time last year. This year, in a climate of economic fear and much-reduced City bonuses, the merchants are having actively to sell the wine.
The whites virtually sell themselves. They are remarkably consistent in 2007: very charming, forward, full of ripe fruit, some have perhaps a slight lack of acidity and the structure and extract that goes with the potential for long ageing. (And if this sounds almost like a description of New World Chardonnay, that is precisely what worries lovers of the more austere charms of traditional white burgundy.) This means that it’s not an obviously great vintage for top quality Chablis, for example, that needs a decade or more in bottle to show its mettle - although there is no shortage of charming basic Chablis that will be lovely to drink as an aperitif in the relatively short term. The swelling ranks of serious wines now emerging from the Mâconnais on the other hand are almost like a pastiche of themselves in 2006, so ripe are they. They can be bought and enjoyed virtually straight away, and continue to offer great value.
As for the Côte d’Or whites, the 2006s may not be the most classic and long-lived, but to my palate the standards of white winemaking were more even than in any vintage I can remember. No, we do not want a bevy of Napa Valley Chardonnays from Chassagne-Montrachet, but Burgundian vignerons are such a remarkably independent mob, intensely proud of their precious terroir, that I think the danger of this is slight. The wines are bumptious because of the rapid September ripening rather than a pernicious trend to lose Burgundy’s special qualities. The best wines are those in which acidity has been retained by picking early and fast and by careful management of the malolactic fermentations, oak and lees (although the last thing we need is an army of milky white burgundies that owes all its character to lees contact).
The most common sales pitch for the reds is that they are so much better than anyone thought they would be considering the difficult growing season described last week, or so much better now than they were when a few brave wine merchants tasted them in their infancy. We are also treated to the sub-theme that the 1991 vintage was dramatically under-estimated because it followed the more obviously successful 1990. Customers are being urged to take the plunge now on this 21st century counterpart to avoid regretting it later.
I have just re-read what I wrote here exactly six years ago about the 2000 reds and could virtually repeat it word for word about the 2006 reds: the superiority of Côte de Nuits over Côte de Beaune, but not to write off the latter; the dramatic variation between producers and even within a single producer’s range; the occasional telltale metallic taste of rot in some of the less successful reds; a general lack of concentration; but overall - we do cover our backs, after all - the impossibility of generalisation.
As it turned out, the 2000 reds have provided attractive, easy drinking for the last four years or so, although few of them seem to have the potential to improve much now. Although the 2000 weather pattern certainly wasn’t identical with 2006’s, it does seem likely that the better 2006 reds will be pretty, easy drinks for about the first four or five years of the next decade. In fact some of the less tannic Bourgogne Rouges are already broachable.
Quality of tannins seems to be, as so often with less concentrated vintages, the key to red wine quality in 2006. Those winemakers who made the wine as they did in, say, 2005 tended to end up with wines in which tough, astringent tannins dominated the rather puny fruit. But more and more winemakers seem to be seeking elegance and there is no shortage of well balanced, charming wines, particularly from those producers listed here.
Well over 1,000 samples of 2006s were tasted in both Burgundy and London and, while the vintage does not offer the apparent perfection of 2005, it was a thoroughly uplifting experience. This was not just because the constantly improving standards in vineyard and cellar were increasingly evident, and not just because the condition of the cask samples shipped to the 23 London tastings this year seemed in better condition than usual, but because of the real energy evident in Burgundy today.
A host of new(ish) producers are absolutely determined to make the best possible wines. Alain Jeanniard was a frower for the Hospices de Beaune and is now making exciting wines on his own account. Kellen Lignier has named her promising domaine consisting of ex-Domaine Hubert Lignier vineyards after her children. Arnaud Mortet is clearly determined to live up to the high standards of his late father Denis. Pierre-Yves Colin Morey is benefiting from his quarter share of vineyards from the original Domaine Marc Colin while Arnaud Ente’s exciting wines include a couple carrying the lowliest appellations made from vines planted in 1938. It should be noted that not all of these intriguing producers work exclusively with their own vineyards. The old distinctions between domaine wines and those from negociants who buy in grapes are not just blurred but obsolete in modern Burgundy.
Nor is the old hierarchy of vineyards and villages as important as it was. It is now much easier to find thrilling wine carrying such appellations as Marsannay where Bruno Clair has been joined by the likes of Sylvain Pataille and, even more successfully, Jean Fournier, or St-Aubin where Hubert Lamy now vies with a host of Colins and de Montilles, or Maranges where Marc and Alexandre Bachelet (Monnot) are similarly demonstrating that major burgundy can come from a minor address.