A version of this article is published by the Financial Times. See also our guide to coverage of Burgundy 2017.
Burgundy prices may have doubled in the last two years according to the Liv-ex fine-wine index while Bordeaux and Italian wine prices have increased by only about a quarter, but that doesn’t seem to be dampening demand, to judge from the crowds at London’s Burgundy Week tastings of the 2017s. They seemed quite happy to hand over cash for wines that may not be delivered for another 12 months.
Berry Bros & Rudd launched their offer on the Friday before their tasting a week last Tuesday but all the grandest wines had already been sold before any of their customers had had a chance to sample the wines. A&B Vintners are UK importers of the wines of Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, one of many producers nowadays who prove you don’t have to own the vineyard to produce great wine, and offered his 2017s back in the summer. John Arnold of A&B describes demand as ‘fierce’ for the ‘strongest-ever PYCM campaign’.
This should be seen in the context of the fact that 2017 is the first reasonably sized crop for some time after a series of Burgundy vintages that have been shrunk by hail and/or frost. Most of Burgundy escaped the unusually severe late-April frosts that shrivelled the 2017 grape harvest in so many French wine regions (see When smoke saved grapes).
Chablis in the far north of greater Burgundy is perennially threatened by spring frost, however. Producers such as Sébastien Dampt lost a potential 25% of the 2017 crop, having lost 50% the year before to a combination of hail and frost. Amandine Marchive of Domaine des Malandes and a handful of others are experimenting with protecting the vines from frost by draping them with textiles. These rolls of cloth may cause less pollution than the burners traditionally lit in vineyards, but it’s an expensive business that is affordable only in the top vineyards. It apparently took seven people seven hours to swathe Malandes’ half hectare of vines in Les Clos.
But most of the 2017 Chablis I have tasted are outstanding, and have the great advantage of being cheaper, and often longer-lived, than Côte d’Or whites. The 2014 vintage was the last stellar one for Chablis growers but the 2017s are arguably even better balanced because there was no pressure to pick.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that, despite the price rises, demand for 2017 burgundy in general is high. The wines are charming – both reds and, especially, whites – with great fruit and balance. After a warm summer the grapes had no trouble ripening so these accessible wines have no tough tannin and no uncomfortable excess of acidity. In fact one or two wines may be just a little bit too soft, but as a recent showing of 2002s showed (I will report), burgundies from good addresses that are attractive in youth can age well too.
To judge from the 600-odd wines I was able to taste in London, there are many delicious examples in the lower ranks that are so very much more affordable than those with a smarter, rarer appellation. In fact it can sometimes be difficult to justify the huge prices asked for the grands crus and most fashionable premiers crus – although these are presumably boosted by those who have started to speculate in burgundy. Interest in burgundy in Hong Kong and mainland China is at an all-time high.
The more run-of-the-mill premiers crus are slightly in limbo in that there is little or no likely secondary market for them but they still cost so much that, as Berry’s burgundy buyer Adam Bruntlett admitted, ‘they are arguably too expensive to drink'. The weak pound is no friend of British burgundy enthusiasts, but some will be able to console themselves with the many delicious village wines made in 2017 and even generic wines labelled simply Bourgogne.
With this 2017 vintage we saw a welcome change in labelling these basic burgundies with the introduction of the Bourgogne Côte d’Or appellation. The simple Bourgogne appellation can be used for wines from way down south in the Mâconnais, in completely different conditions from the low-yielding vineyards of the narrow strip of Burgundy’s ‘golden slope’ where all the top vineyards are. Until the introduction of the much more specific Bourgogne Côte d’Or appellation, a consumer who saw a Bourgogne on a wine list would have no easy way of distinguishing between a simple wine from a giant co-op in vineyards just north of Beaujolais and the produce of one of the Côte d’Or’s most admired villages – generally grown on land at the bottom of the famous limestone slope that has not earned a grander, more specific appellation.
Travelling round the Côte d’Or in autumn 2017 when the new appellation was being discussed, I found many Côte d’Or vignerons reluctant to use it and some still are. They feel that making the obvious distinction between common or garden Bourgogne and that from the Côte d’Or is all very well for a big producer who might make both sorts of wine, but that their own wines labelled Bourgogne had their own loyal customers who didn’t need to be told where the vigneron is based.
This may be true for wine collectors buying direct for their own cellars, but I would argue that the new appellation will be particularly useful on the wine lists of restaurants where not every diner is familiar with every producer name. Some quite grand producers have embraced the new nomenclature. Jean-Nicolas Méo of Méo-Camuzet in Vosne-Romanée told me he would even ideally like to produce a Bourgogne Côte de Beaune and a Bourgogne Côte de Nuits, two wines representing the different characters of these two halves of the Côte d’Or. That may be some way down the line but to judge from many of the 2017 Bourgogne Côte d’Ors, this is a category of increasing interest as grander wines become unaffordable.
Perhaps it was the hot, dry summer of 2017 that helped, but I also found quite a few exciting Bourgogne Aligotés made from Burgundy’s other white wine grape (ie not Chardonnay). Aligoté used to be uncomfortably thin and tart but seems to have been another beneficiary of climate change.
Other sources of value are top-quality beaujolais, of course, and once-overlooked appellations such as Ladoix, where there are domaines determined to put it on the map. And in the far north of the Côte d’Or, Fixin and Marsannay are, after all, awfully close to Gevrey-Chambertin. Will the town of Dijon please stop expanding south?
I also noticed a perceptible difference in some cases between wines from relatively unknown growers who are trying hard to establish a reputation and some of the old hands who don’t need to and seem tempted to rest on their laurels. It was a delight this year to see some of the 21 British merchants organising Burgundy Week tastings adding interesting new producers to their portfolios. I couldn’t get to all of these sales pitches, but of those covered by me rather than my website colleagues I would praise particularly but not solely Haynes Hanson & Clark and Liberty Wines in this respect.
My picture was taken at Lea & Sandeman's tasting at 67 Pall Mall (where there were several more Burgundy Week tastings). As you can see, tall poser tables are much in demand from scribes such as Matt Walls in the foreground and Neal Martin behind him, Steven Spurrier on the left still uses a pen.
These are some of the better buys I was able to spot during my partial coverage of London’s Burgundy Week, but of course they won’t last nearly as long as a grand cru. All prices are for 12 bottles in bond unless otherwise stated.
Dom Agnès Paquet 2017 Bourgogne
£125 Haynes Hanson & Clark
Dom d'Henri, St-Pierre 2017 Chablis
£156 Berry Bros & Rudd
Dom Daniel Dampt, Les Lys Premier Cru 2017 Chablis
£162 Haynes Hanson & Clark
La Soufrandière 2017 Pouilly-Vinzelles
£192 Berry Bros & Rudd
Dom Moreau-Naudet, Vaillons Premier Cru 2017 Chablis
£210 Lea & Sandeman
Dom Hubert Lamy, La Princée 2017 St-Aubin
£250 Lea & Sandeman
Dom d’Ardhuy, Rognet Premier Cru 2017 Ladoix
£34.75 RRP imported by ABS Wine Agencies
Dom Patrick Guillot, Clos des Montaigu Premier Cru 2017 Mercurey
£135 Haynes Hanson & Clark
Patrice et Maxime Rion, Les Dames Huguettes 2017 Hautes-Côtes de Nuits
£156 Berry Bros & Rudd
David Moreau, Les Hâtes 2017 Santenay
£180 Berry Bros & Rudd
Dom Françoise et Denis Clair, Clos Genet 2017 Santenay
£178.50 Haynes Hanson & Clark
Dom Aurélien Verdet, Le Prieuré 2017 Hautes-Côtes de Nuits
£192 Lay & Wheeler
Dom des Moirots, A Vigne Rouge Premier Cru 2017 Givry
£210 Howard Ripley
Dom Jean Fournier, Chapitre Vieilles Vignes 2017 Bourgogne
£210 Berry Bros & Rudd
Dom de la Douaix 2017 Côte de Nuits-Villages
£250 Lea & Sandeman
Laroze de Drouhin 2017 Fixin
£256 Haynes Hanson & Clark
Dom René Bouvier, Clos du Roy 2017 Marsannay
£264 Howard Ripley
Dom Guyon 2017 Bourgogne
£264 Berry Bros & Rudd
Lignier-Michelot 2017 Chambolle Musigny
£350 Lea & Sandeman
Dom Robert Groffier 2017 Bourgogne
£354 Howard Ripley
Nearly 2,000 tasting notes on 2017 burgundies are in our tasting notes database. Details of those offering them are published free here. These early offers are a speciality of UK merchants. Wines may not be delivered for another 12 months.