Vintage charts: oh dear. Be they from a critic, a merchant, whoever, they are pretty much useless on account of their general nature. 2001 Bordeaux? 7/10? Well actually closer to 9/10 in Pomerol and many of the left bank wines are really coming on beautifully right now. 2007 Red Burgundy? Well, for a start it’s how you like them. If, like me, purity and elegance is what floats the boat then 8/10 at least. If you like them on the chunkier side then less. Plus, and this is what I’m really getting at, in a region like Burgundy with a multitude of producers and the same again of microclimates, you just can’t qualify a vintage in its entirety. Roumier’s 2007s are simply stunning. As are Hubert de Montille’s. Why? They just got the vintage right. They made the right calls throughout the growing season and, once the fruit was in, they made the right calls in what they did with it.
So: 2008 Burgundy. I’ve just spent a week tasting them from barrel. Which is a tricky enough call in the first place – like looking at a year-old child and divining whether or not he’ll make it as a bus driver or a pianist. But that’s another debate entirely.
Looking at the 2008 growing season in Burgundy and it doesn’t look good. They had more or less the same sort of August that we did – i.e. piss-poor. You will, however, read in the merchants’ offers about the beautifully clear, warm, dry and windy September that rescued the crop. This is all true. Look a little deeper and you will also find that, in August, it wasn’t raining cats and dogs, it was just damp and grey. The importance of this is that the soil was not soaked; the vines didn’t have wet feet. And vines hate soggy socks as much as you or I. So, as a vigneron, if you had looked after your vines throughout the growing season, kept rot at bay, kept things clean, kept your faith, you were rewarded with an Indian summer that brought your fruit to bloom. Treated carefully, this fruit could be coaxed into some rather good juice, albeit juice rather high in acidity on account of the lack of sunshine in August. Carefully nurtured, this juice could be fermented into rather good wine, with an underpinning, fresh acidity rather than unripe austerity with an harsh acidic edge.
The best 2008 whites are simply lovely. They make the 2007s (which I rate very, very highly) look a little too muscular, too edgy. They have crisp acidity with a little elegant flesh. Kate Moss springs to mind. The best of the lot came from Domaine Jean-Noel Gagnard – the Chassagne Caillerets from this domaine quite possibly the white of the week.
The reds were trickier maybe. The acidity on some of them maybe a little pronounced (but remember we are judging babies here), on others it was just fresh. Discovery of the week was Olivier Bernstein. These wines are not cheap but are so good they warrant an expletive (though the dog wouldn’t like it). A man on form is Christian Serafin, whose use of oak has troubled me in the past but who is clearly making some seriously good wines.
Back to the point. Ignore the vintage charts: follow them and you may well miss a diamond on the floor in front of you. Treat the critics with healthy scepticism but read all you can. Likewise the merchants but listen. Any fool can make a decent wine in an easy vintage – nature does all the work. A difficult one, like 2008, sorts the men and the ladies from the girls and the boys, and the rewards of finding the winners are worth it.
Oh, and bin your vintage charts.