La Lumière Noire: 2019 Burgundy - Côte de Beaune

“I doubt that The Clash’s immortal ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’ was inspired by a wine writer ruminating about whether to travel to Burgundy or not. That said, I like to imagine Strummer and Jones in some dingy backstage dressing room, smoking fags and coming to blows over the best Premier Cru in Vosne-Romanée. Burgundy was my dilemma last September and yes, my indecision was bugging me. The Côte d’Or is the only wine region where visiting is mandatory. With few exceptions, growers are not predisposed to send unfinished samples and even if they acquiesced then their fragility and the fact that unlike Bordeaux primeur, final blends are not assembled, renders it a pointless exercise, literally. If I go it will be trouble but if I stay it will be double. By September, Covid figures were ominously ticking upwards. Was it the right time to pack my bags? Why tempt fate? I’ve had my fill of hospital wards. The unprecedented early harvest of 2020 offered a unique chance to commence my tastings much earlier than usual and obviate quarantine rules that the French government might impose. I could lessen the risk by driving to Beaune instead of flying and renting an apartment instead of hotel. The Jedi pull of the vines was strong. Tease. Tease. Tease. Tasting at home has its advantages but the truth is that nothing compares to tasting face-to-face with winemakers and a Burgundy report needs background commentary. You have to feel what’s going on. The only way to do that is to go there. So, the morning of 28 September, I bid sayonara to my family (eliciting no more than a shrug from the kids) turned the car ignition with my entire office loaded in the back, headed down through Champagne to arrive in Beaune that evening - home for the next few weeks. The following morning, I hit the ground running with the first appointment in Clos Vougeot and pressed pedal to the metal for 33 consecutive days, until the fateful night when our restaurant waiter uttered a single word. Lockdown. If I returned to the UK it would be trouble, but if I stayed it would be double. Continuing was feasible, but it felt morally wrong and irresponsible flitting between winemakers at this time of crisis. I came home three weeks earlier than planned. Though three or four major names would be omitted, at least this precious window of opportunity allowed me to amass over 2,500 tasting notes from over 140 visits. Numbers only tell half the story. The time spent living in Burgundy presented insights and information straight from horses’ mouths. Much of this can be found in the numerous producer profiles. I made a concerted effort to embrace smaller, less well-known producers, which is why I headed up into the lofty Hautes-Côtes, down to the Côte Chalonnaise and why I invested a little more time in Savigny-lès-Beaune. Such is the size of this report, in order not to overload readers, it has been divided: Part One dissects the growing season followed by commentary about the general performance of 2019, before drilling down to examine the Côte de Beaune appellation by appellation. The forthcoming Part Two includes an overview on the market and in-depth commentary on the Côte de Nuits. Although there are a vast number of wines in this article, my job is not finished, and more reviews are imminent. So alas this year there is no blasphemous preamble featuring God and his cohorts, though one was written, featuring a biodynamic vaccine that only worked according to the lunar calendar. (Pfizer ruined the punch line.) There is no poem because I used up my rhyming couplets last year. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty with the minutiae of the growing season. GROWING SEASON The interplay between a vineyard and the growing season is not limited to the calendar year. It is the continuation of a perpetual cycle, the cumulative effects of previous vintages that set the starting blocks for the new one. Two thousand and eighteen was marked by a dry and hot summer that parched vines’ throats. Vineyard managers prayed for rainy winter months to replenish depleted underground reserves and cold snaps to encourage vines’ dormancy and kill off viruses or nematodes. October to December saw around 60mm of rain per month – relatively low for that time of year. Temperatures in the first three months of 2019 were all warmer than normal, February positively balmy, prompting Anne Parent to remark that it was “summer in winter”. Thankfully, 84mm of rain arrived in April, the first crucial factor that underpins the success of the growing season because without those showers, hydric stress would have been more acute. The mercury fell in April and heightened frost risk. Bud burst was about a week earlier than normal due to the warm temperatures, mi-débourrement 2 April for Chardonnay and 11 April for Pinot Noir, the average time of year. Temperatures dipped precariously on the night of 4/5 April and given those dates you can understand why it affected whites more than reds, particularly severe in Saint-Aubin and Chassagne-Montrachet. Previous evening’s showers exacerbated frost damage by creating a humid atmosphere, reducing the effectiveness of wind fans and manifesting an environment where moisture could penetrate buds, causing some to rupture. Unlike in 2016, winemakers were prepared and lit up their vineyards with wax candles or burnt bales of straw to create cloud cover, though the smoke blew across Chagny to the chagrin of its townsfolk. Damien Colin explained that this frost seemed to affect more the vineyards on slopes rather than those on flatter and lower stretches of Saint-Aubin. Some winemakers like Alex Moreau and Cécile Gagnard said that they under-estimated the impact of this frost at the time, that it was not visibly apparent and that its affects were not fully realized until later in the season. Frédéric Barnier of Louis Jadot insisted that it affected eventual quantity rather than quality. A second frost episode on 15 April was more dangerous since the buds are more open, but was less severe since the atmosphere was drier.” --Neal Martin, La Lumière Noire: 2019 Burgundy - Côte de Beaune. December 2020 To read Neal’s full report and learn about the harvest, vinification, and enjoy a conversation all about 2019 Côte de Beaunes, check out the full article on Vinous now. Below is a selection of notes from the report.

Domaine Bachelet-Monnot

Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru Chardonnay 2018

Delectable Wine
9.5

The 2018 Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru sees no new oak and is aged instead in one and two-year-old 350-litre barrels. It has a gorgeous bouquet with lemon curd, nectarine and crushed rock aromas, very seductive even at this premature stage. The palate is well balanced with a saline entry, fresh and crisp with an almost graphite tinged finish. So much nervosité is coiled up in this Bâtard - it will give 20-30 years of drinking pleasure. (Neal Martin, Vinous, December 2020)
— a month ago

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Domaine Bachelet-Monnot

Les Referts Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Chardonnay 2018

Delectable Wine
9.2

The 2018 Puligny-Montrachet Les Referts 1er Cru has a taut crisp and flinty bouquet with Granny Smith apples and a light sea spray element. The palate is well balanced with fine acidity, taut and fresh with a precise and nervous finish. I think this may well outflank the 2019 - let’s see. (Neal Martin, Vinous, December 2020)
— a month ago

Sylvain liked this

Domaine Génot-Boulanger

Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru Chardonnay 2018

Delectable Wine
9.4

The 2018 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru was bottled in May alongside the Folatières, as they wanted to keep them longer in tank. It delivers on the promise of last year’s showing with beeswax and citrus lemon notes, although it might just have closed up a little since bottling. The palate is vibrant and energetic, very smooth in texture, offering lovely white peach, almond and white Chinese tea notes toward the finish. I suspect that this will surpass the 2019. (Neal Martin, Vinous, December 2020)
— a month ago