2013 Burgundy, briefly

The full report will take a week or two and will be published by my employers once I’ve done it.  In the meantime a bite-sized chunk.

A standard and rather boring question to ask a winemaker: “so, what vintage would you compare this to?”

I’m not sure that there is an answer for the 2013 vintage.  2008 with balls is probably the best answer, and 2008 is the vintage that was mentioned most in response to this question.  And I rather like 2008s: a vintage that was a little derided at the start on account of tasters not understanding it.  Rule of life: it is human nature to denigrate what one doesn’t understand.

No one mentioned 2012 in comparison, though I think there us a little of the 2012 character in 2013.  Indeed I’d suggest that 2013 might just be a child of the two vintages.

The challenge with the criticism of any vintage, particularly in Burgundy, is this: the real experts in the field all have an interest in selling you the wine.  The real experts aren’t Jancis, Neal, Tim and Antonio; they’re Jasper, Roy, David and Hew.  And what the former bunch can’t do, and the latter bunch would very much like to, is sell you some of the stuff.  As would I.  This is not to dismiss the ability of the hacks; it’s just that most of the merchants have been doing this for longer and, more importantly, they’ve had to back their instincts, judgements and conclusions up with a purchase order.

That there are no more bad vintages these days is a line that is mostly spun by the Bordelais.  Optical sorting tables, reverse osmosis, tailor-made vats, sat-nav picking – that sort of thing.  The same goes in Burgundy, I would say, but for different reasons.  Indeed maybe just one: a bit more care is taken these days.  Sure, there a still a number of vignerons who did what their dad, and his dad before him did; and who disappear down South for a month in August leaving the vines to do what they will.  But for the most part, quality is up and, in Burgundy, this is as much down to viticulture (as opposed to vinification and elevage) as anything else.

Just one vigneron told me that 2013 would have been a write-off 20 years ago.  And I don’t think that this was a vintage rescued in the winery.  This is a vintage that was made by viticulture – looking after the vines.  And a bit of working on the sorting table.

What 2013 lacked was sunshine.  2013s are not “ripe” in the sunshine sense of the word.  If you want to know what “ripe” in the sunshine sense of the word is then drink a bottle of 2009 Burgundy (a delicious vintage, occasionally derided for its ripeness).  But what 2013s most definitely aren’t, is unripe.  Because whilst the grapes may have lacked a bit of “sugar” ripeness, what they didn’t lack is phenolic, or physiological ripeness.  These are not “green” wines – a few Bourgogne Rouges aside I didn’t taste a hint of unripeness in a week.  What I did taste was a completeness: a completeness of character.

The word that repeats most often in my notes is “savoury”.  And I like savoury.  Sure: I love the sweetness of 2009s – a vintage that is just delicious on the table.  Bistro Bourgogne.  But what 2013 has is just a touch more complexity and a touch more of an intellectual edge.  2009s are playful wines – and there is nothing wrong with playful.  2013s – I think – are a bit more grown up.  If any of the traditional merchants let me in to their tastings I can’t wait to taste them again in January and, even more, I am intrigued as to how they will develop.