2009 Burgundy: very good indeed plus

So.  2009 Burgundy.  After the bunfight that was 2009 Bordeaux the hype machine tells us that 2009 Burgundy is of a similar, legendary, quality.  Which presents us with a bit of a problem in that there’s not much of it.  Lafite can knock out 20,000 cases in a decent year, a handful of chateaux close to 30,000 cases if they really open the taps (by decent I mean size of the crop, not the quality of it); production levels in Burgundy are miniscule by comparison.  There is a grower in Puligny whose production of La Montrachet is so small that they can’t even use a barrel for its elevage…   I’ve seen this wine but never tasted it – there’s no point.  A number of growers that I know make just one barrel – approximately 25 cases – of some of their cuvees.  Supply is indeed an issue.  Very indeed plus.

As is often the case with good, easy to taste, vintages the “wine press” start to bang on a bit.  2009s are very easy to taste: ripe, clean, clearly very good.  And, for the average taster, ripe, clean and very good wines are easily promoted a couple of levels.  Difficult vintages, or vintages that are difficult to taste, difficult to understand, are often demoted a level or two for similar reasons.  My point here is that the (mostly under-qualified) wine critics are all too quick to overly praise the good and overly condemn the tricky.  They will only pick their winners once they are a good few lengths clear.  2009 is clearly a good few lengths clear and to say that it is the greatest vintage since 2005 is true.  But is it great?  Or is it merely just very good (indeed plus).

I have notes on more than 400 2009s tasted last week.  A few didn’t get a note on account of exhaustion, lack of quality, or brilliance (truly great wines need no notes as the memory sticks; I can still tell you the exact spot I was in when I tasted 2002 La Romanee, or Mugnier’s 2005 Le Musigny).

Some brief conclusions would be as follows:

As is often the case in the best vintages, the Cote de Beaune has really performed.  There are some brilliant Volnays, Pommards, etc.  Comte Armand’s Clos des Epeneaux, for me the pinnacle of Pommard (and perhaps the only one I like) is simply off the scale in 2009.  Ethereal, and more of a seductress then the 2005.  At a more accessible level, wines such as Nicolas Potel’s Beaune Greves or Volnay Vielles Vignes are simply superb, with a fleshy punch that pushes them to, or maybe even above, the level of their counterpart 2005s.

In the Cote de Nuits only a handful of wines compare to their elder siblings.  A few growers have achieved this: Etienne Grivot, for example, is a man on form.  I would say that his 2009s just eclipse his 2005s, if only because he is better at his work than he was four years ago.  His Echezeaux was not far off perfect plus.  Christian Serafin, a veteran, and a man whose winemaking style has changed little in thirty years, has made brilliant 2009s – in this case largely because the ripe, fruit-driven style of the vintage particularly suits his own style, which involves a lot of new wood.  In 2009 the intensity, and ripeness of his Gevrey fruit marries perfectly with the oak.

The whites.  Having initially been a little cautious, I think that, for some, this is a truly excellent vintage.  Whilst there is no one in Burgundy that will tell you that they picked late, those that picked early or, rather, those that picked before the ripeness became over-ripeness, have done very, very well indeed.  Patrick Javillier’s wines are even better than his 2007s.  Ente’s wines are well, just stunning.  And Jobard: one wine in particular had an intensity – an electric focus – an energy – that had me, well, thinking of something that I just can’t publish.

These wines will go on sale in January 2010.  My employers and a handful of other merchants hold their tastings in the week commencing the 10th January, by which time much of the wine will have already been sold – good Burgundy gives merchants a headache (of the good sort) in that it’s more about allocations than sales, and the good kit goes to the good customers.  And there’s just not enough of the good kit.  One London merchant in particular will list, if only for the sake of vanity, a wine that it has just ONE case of for sale.  And that case has had someone’s name on it before the grapes were picked.

But the real brilliance for me in 2009 is this: the overperformance that the vintage has given, that God has given (He made the weather, and made the soil for that matter) is in the areas that the journos and the trophy-hunters will most likely miss.  Firstly: the generic Bourgognes and the village wines from the right growers are outstanding.  At many cellars it was the class of the lower wines that impressed me rather than the premiers or grands crus.  And secondly: the whites.  There are a few fatties in there (which will make excellent if rather exotic early drinking) though I reckon that there is some brilliance in 2009 which more than a few growers, particularly in Meursault, have captured.

Since Clive Coates retired, or half-retired, there is just one reliable critic of Burgundy: Allen Meadows, a.k.a. Burghound.  And he won’t publish his reviews before these wines are long sold out.  There will be some U.K. journos/critics publishing their reviews, but have a quick look back through their records, their history.  I have tasted every vintage of Burgundy in its youth since 1997, and I’ve just about got the hang of it.  I have had some stunningly good mentors to guide me, and if there is one region in the world that I am in love with it’s Burgundy.  Of the U.K. critics I reckon there is one that might be up to it and two more that are mouth and no trousers.  This is an easy vintage to praise because the wines are good and there is little reputation to lose in calling the favourite.  This is what the critics will do.  So what is my point here?  It’s this: speak to your merchant, like we did in the old days.  The days before people made a living from recycling old tosh into new tosh into flashy tosh into agreeable tosh into controversial tosh all for the sake of contention, and for a few more readers.  Your merchant will have tasted the wines, and will know the man who made them.  There will be few angles (2009 Burgundies will not need selling – they will walk out of the door unassisted) and lovers of Burgundy are like true lovers of anything: they want to share it.  If you can get to one of the tastings: do so.

I miss Clive Coates (the very good indeed plus references are all for him).  I used to wait for The Vine’s bumper double issue on the new Burgundy vintage to see how the man’s notes fell in with mine (I still do the same with Parker on Bordeaux), and they often did.  In his absence there isn’t a well-known English Burgundy specialist (one that writes on the wines rather than buys or sells them) anymore.  Which has just given me an idea….