La Lumière Noire: 2019 Burgundy - Côte de Nuits

The second part of my 2019 Burgundy report focuses on the Côte de Nuits. Before broaching the wines, there is one subject that kept cropping up during conversations with winemakers, one not only germane to the vintage in question, but also future vintages. I kept hearing the word “degeneration” and never pursued it further. When I asked for further explanation, I found they referred to a particular rootstock, 161-49. It is a problem child that could have major ramifications. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT 161-49 Theoretically, 161-49 rootstock should be ideal for Burgundy because it has a high tolerance to limestone and dry conditions. However in recent years, vineyard managers began noticing vines grafted onto 161-49 were shrinking at an alarming rate, even in some of Burgundy’s most revered vineyards. There is no cure. The only remedy is to uproot the vines and consequently you might be saying au revoir to some of your most beloved labels. Marie-Andrée Mugneret at Mugneret-Gibourg is increasingly concerned about their prized holding of Ruchottes-Chambertin that was only replanted a few years ago. Could vine age be a factor? Loïc Dugat-Py told me: “We have some 161-49 rootstock. We don’t have any problem with the older vines that are 50 or 60 years old, but the vines that are 10 to 20 years old seem to degenerate. I think it is because of the increasing temperatures and the lack of water.” Dugat-Py was not the only person to point towards climate change as one cause. “Everything planted in the 1980s does badly,” Alec Seysses explaine. “We find the grafting is important. The standard graft is Omega and is often done by machine. But we find the greffe anglaise [basically a diagonal cut] is better but that has to be done by hand. We have changed nursery.” Not everyone is negative. “We do not have this problem,” Alessandro Noli told me when I visited Clos de Tart. “It could be a question of the quality and interaction with the grafted material or with the terroir. I talk a lot with nurseries. But it’s a good rootstock.” Boris Champy takes a different view. His vines contain a lot of 161-49, but found no degeneration. He suggested that the cause could be the shock of vines being converted to biodynamics and receiving less potassium in the soil. His vines, inherited from Didier Montchovet, have had over four decades to become accustomed to biodynamics, which has afforded them some form of resistence. You’ll hear more about this in the future. THE MARKET Every year there is speculation about the so-called “Burgundy Bubble” bursting. Whilst there were indications of softening last year, Burgundy seems resilient to the travails of the world in 2020. Generally, demand remains strong. For blue-chip names, it remains insatiable. The problem for the region is that headline-grabbing stratospheric prices drag up prices for more modest wines, including some riding on the coattails of vineyard status instead of quality. When pleasant but unspectacular Village Crus sell for three figures, then you have a problem - wine priced by association instead of supply and demand. It tarnishes Burgundy’s reputation. People can no longer afford the wines, not least restaurants already fighting for survival. Amongst the younger generation of consumers with less disposable income, Burgundy has become unattainable, just like top Bordeaux, rightly or wrongly creating an impression that Burgundy is all about the money. With one or two exceptions that is certainly not the motivation of growers, but who are we to deny someone making a better income if they can? Covid, US import taxes (albeit above 14° alcohol – there’s one pecuniary advantage of global warming) that may or may not be rescinded by the incoming administration, global economic malaise and the abundant crop in 2018 should exert downward pressure of 2019 prices. Upward pressure derives from the banal fact that many wine-lovers have a romantic, spiritual attachment with Burgundy unmatched by any other wine region, coupled with a shortage of supply, in particular with respect to the whites. Scarcity is appealing. I asked several Burgundy importers for their view. Gregory Doody, CEO of Vineyard Brands, is hopeful that tariffs between the EU and the USA will be lifted but went on to say that they have not impacted demand for Burgundy, partly because they shipped a majority of the wines in advance and partly because many are exempt due to the alcohol level. The pandemic has had greater impact, not in terms of overall sales of Burgundy, but in the way it is consumed, shifting from restaurants to home consumption. He believes that consumers feel that there is no substitute for great Burgundy and that the wines retain their allure across the price spectrum. With 2019 and 2020 on the horizon, Doody does not envisage demand waning. I asked Jason Haynes of Stannery Wines, for his view on how the 2019 campaign might unfold here in the UK. “Early indications are promising and certainly when out in Burgundy, I found a great deal of sensitivity to the current fragility of the world and its economy...” He went on to say that he think growers will be reluctant to move prices up significantly and that the 2018 vintage refilled producers’ cellars and given them leeway to resist price rises if they wish. Meanwhile, Catherine Petrie MW, Burgundy buyer at Lay & Wheeler told me: “This small, excellent quality vintage certainly merits excitement and demand, but it emerges into a world where global events will have an influence.” The Côte d’Or, and I specifically exclude Chablis, the Mâconnais and Côte Chalonnaise, is at a crossroads. It can keep nudging prices upwards. I empathize with that, after all, how would you feel if you had toiled in the vines through the rain and heat, released at a consumer-friendly price, only to find locals restaurants selling your wines for quadruple their ex-cellar price? By the way, that’s an anecdote from a winemaker, not something I made up. My hunch is that the 2019s will enjoy a strong campaign. Despite economies stagnating, people have money and those with disposable income have fewer outlets to spend it on, restaurants for one. Like 2020’s Bordeaux primeur campaign, wine-lovers exhibit an undiminished desire to purchase wine, partly because of quality and to retain allocations, partly to feel a sense of continuity until our lives return to normal. The major factor will be demand from the US. Despite the optimism, I would not be surprised to see orders cut back this year, with promises that it will return once vaccines help us return to normal and with luck, restaurants returning. We shall see in the coming months. --Neal Martin, La Lumière Noire: 2019 Burgundy - Côte de Nuits, December 2020 To read Neal’s full report and learn about his suggestions for hypothetical assortment cases of 2019 and enjoy a conversation all about 2019 Côte de Nuits, check out the full article on Vinous now. Below is a selection of notes from the report. Check out Neal’s first Burgundy report here .

Domaine des Lambrays

Clos des Lambrays Grand Cru Pinot Noir 2017

Delectable Wine
9.2

The 2017 Clos des Lambrays Grand Cru is tight and understated on the nose with touches of black fruit, scorched earth and decaying autumn leaves, certainly aromatics that adhere to former winemaker Thierry Brouin's style. The palate is medium-bodied with fine grain tannins, gentle grip and, whilst not as complex as the 2018, it has commendable focus towards the lightly spiced finish. A rather easygoing, open-knit Clos des Lambrays, it should drink well for 15-20 years. This was Thierry Brouin’s valedictory vintage. (Neal Martin, Vinous, December 2020)
— a year ago

Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg

Les Chaignots Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Pinot Noir 2020

Delectable Wine
9.3

The 2018 Nuits Saint-Georges Les Chaignots 1er Cru, like the 2019, has the most expressive bouquet of fruité, crushed strawberry, morello cherries and cranberry; rose petal and light briny aromas emerge with time. The palate is medium-bodied with supple tannins, and quite fleshy and generous, leading to a supple, vivid finish. Yet again, a sublime Les Chaignots. (Neal Martin, Vinous, December 2020)
— a year ago

Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg

Ruchottes-Chambertin Grand Cru Pinot Noir 2018

Delectable Wine
9.6

The 2018 Ruchottes-Chambertin Grand Cru has an intense bouquet of black fruit with veins of blueberry, infused with crushed rock and rose petal. Full of tension, this is classic Ruchottes. The palate is medium-bodied with fine-boned tannins, and lightly spiced, displaying an unerring sense of symmetry toward the saline finish. It needs bottle age to fully knit together, and whether it will surpass the 2019 we will have to see. Still, this is a superb Ruchottes that will evolve over 20–30 years. (Neal Martin, Vinous, December 2020)
— a year ago