Burgundy 2016 En Primeur

Brunswick Fine Wines Burgundy 2016 Vintage Report
Quality over quantity: a small but exciting vintage of thrilling wines

Growers: Cote de Nuits Growers: Cote de Beaune
Domaine Heresztyn-Mazzini Domaine Joseph Voillot
Domaine Hubert Lignier (2015) Domaine Henri Boillot
Domaine Stephane Magnien Domaine Michelot
Domaine des Lambrays Domaine Jean Chartron
Domaine Robert Chevillon Domaine Jacques Carillon
Domaine Arnaud Chopin Domaine Marc Morey
Domaine Clos Frantin
Domaine Robert Sirugue Growers: Maconnais
Domaine Michel Noellat Domaine Frantz Chagnoleau
Maison Albert Bichot

How do you follow 2015 in Burgundy? Numerically its 2016, of course, and to this palate the wines produced from an extraordinary growing season can, in many cases be even more exciting than those of last year. It will become known as a year of high quality and low quantity.

Unlike the previous vintage where the growing season was described as ‘like a holiday’ by more than one grower, 2016 proved much more challenging with drastic episodes of hail in mid-April in Macon, mid-May in Chablis and the major event in the Cote d’Or a ‘black frost’ that wiped out up to 70% of potential production in some communes. Chambolle Musigny was particularly hard hit in the Cote de Nuits and the great vineyard Montrachet was so badly affected that Domaines Leflaive and DRC are reportedly clubbing together with other growers to make a single release of their combined ‘juice’. A grisly celebration release, if you will, to commemorate the great frost vintage that decimated potential quantity. The remainder of the growing season was much more manageable, some mildew issues aside, with 30% less precipitation than average from July onwards and a warm, late summer into mid-September. The early fears of growers were allayed even if they had a painfully paucity of grapes for the vats. Quality although not universal can be tremendously exciting. Rather like 2012 where all manner of growing season hurdles had to be cleared before exceptional wines were eventually produced, 2016 has given us superb, thrilling wines based on even lower yields than that lovely vintage.

The 2016’s can be vibrant, quite stunning wines from the hands of those dedicated growers who still had grapes to nurture after these initial challenges. It is hard to make vintage comparisons and the rule in Burgundy is that each season produces its own unique variation in expression of the various terroirs. This is indeed the case in 2016. With the lowest yields in over 20 years from the aforementioned difficulties it is an absolutely unique year. The red wines are perhaps less ripe than 2015’s fruit-heavy wines but where growers were ‘on the ball’ in the vineyard the 2016’s show more vivacity allied to sumptuous, fleshy cores. They have wonderful definition, excellent acidity and the haunting fragrance that can only emanate from the magnificent Pinot Noir vineyards in this part of the world. Ultimately it is thrills that we seek when we drink Pinot: 2016 will give you plenty of those.

The 2016 Growing season

After last year’s idyllic vendange 2016 was a return to the recent series of years characterised by shocking meteorological luck affecting growers in parts of Burgundy. Horrendous hail beset Macon on the 13th April knocking out 50% of the vines overnight for some growers. Worse was to come when the great frost of 2016 struck on April 26th/27th wreaking havoc in the Cote D’Or and Chablis. It was to have devastating effects on potential yields yet the cards were dealt differently depending on appellation and within individual vineyards too. Neighbouring communes could be chalk and cheese. Whereas the aforementioned Chambolle Musigny was subjected to a proper destruction the next-door neighbours in Morey St Denis were dealt a joker the precious young season buds remained intact and in fact growers like Clos des Lambrays reported a beautifully healthy crop with 20% more grapes than 2015! They were extremely lucky as most communes were badly affected in some way. Very unusually the frost did not merely ‘roll downhill’ and affect the village or regional wines – a repeating trait that contributed to the ancient classification system. In 2016 some of the normally naturally fortuitous great sites higher up including 1er and Grand Crus were hideously affected. Domaine Clos Frantin will produce no Chambertin in 2016, Montrachet might manage a one off combined bottling from its various growers should the AOC laws be slackened. But where the vines were covered by cloud there were great escapes. Whilst Marie-Laure Chartron had good reason to cry over her losses in Chevalier Montrachet and Montrachet Jacques Carillon whose 1er Crus lie on the other side of Puligny next to the Meursault border was luckily let off the hook for a good portion of his production. The effects of these meteorological catastrophes set the parameters on potential production to new lows. Fortunately, once a severe bout of mid-season mildew was dealt with the luck was with the Burgundians from July onwards. Low rainfall with a nice little drink for the vines in early September, plus warm but not torrid late summer led to relief and smiles all round from the growers. Harvest was a comfortably ‘normal’ mid-September and those smiles have grown wider in the last few months as the wines during elevage proved the merits of the vintage. Its small but perfectly formed in some quarters.

White Wines

The increasingly lauded Henri Boillot summed up the 2016 vintage for his whites with the following “2016 is a year of great purity – a bit like 2014 with more ‘gras’.” That is succinct and pretty accurate for us. The wines are more taut than last year yet with a similar open-ness to them as 2015 but resemble perhaps 2014 crossed with 2011 in terms of scale and freshness. We prefer them quite handsomely to the 2015’s as do the growers. That means we are onto something really rather good. The expertise and masterful touch of the new and old hands that populate the scene in Burgundy these days have produced some superb wines in 2016. We tried simply stunning ranges from the likes of Henri Boillot, Jean-Francois Chartron, Frantz Chagnoleau and Jean-Francois Mestre of Domaine Michelot that once again proved there is nowhere quite like Burgundy for fine Chardonnay. The latter’s wines at Domaine Michelot have recently been compared favourably to another celebrated Jean-Francois – Coche-Dury – by none other than Jean-Francois Coche’s own son Raphael!

These terrific winemakers are held in various stages of reverence but all are masterful. The 2016’s showed at their core plentiful ripe lemon and grapefruit, accessible aromatics and signature Burgndian saline qualities on the palate. The textures were generous but the wines were underpinned with a keen acidity and several of the analyses we saw from winemakers showed lower pH levels than last year during the wines development to be surprisingly similar to their 2014’s. Acidity levels were more easily managed but picking times were still important given the late summer warmth. They are accessible, filigree-fine and show transparency of terroir. As to the best appellations the frost and hail damage meant that generalising between the top communes is difficult. Suffice to say that the grower is king in Burgundy – choose your man (or woman – let’s not forget Sabine Mollard at Marc Morey) wisely and ye shall succeed. Corton Charlemagne felt clearly superior to last year and predictable success in the 3 great villages in the Cote de Beaune – Meursault, Puligny and Chassagne. Further South in St Veran and Pouilly Fuisse Frantz Chagnoleau showed his mettle. Inspired by and respecting the differing styles of Roulot and Dominique Lafon this guy is true star on the rise. To sum up there is much to like and buy. Burgundy lovers will be rewarded with wines of undeniable charm and that can be enjoyed young and capable of ageing for medium-term and perhaps longer.

Red Wines

2015 undoubtedly produced some great red wines for the long haul and we still have some of those to look forward to this January from the brilliant Hubert and Laurent Lignier. But the 2016’s on general release are arguably going to be very exciting to nose, taste and generally revel in if you are a true Burgundy-phile. As with Bordeaux 2016 over the 2015’s the highs in Burgundy 2016 may well be higher. The wines will be accessible a little earlier but will also keep beautifully, propelled by fine tannins and lovely acidity. Where the grower showed his viticultural nous the results were pure joy – expressive wines with vivacity and fleshy textures. Red and perfumed purple notes over the black fruits of last year and recognisable terroir signatures. But be aware the general picture may not be as uniform as 2015. These successes are produced by the hands of meticulous growers and in certain frost ravaged lesser vineyards making good wine would be far from straightforward. So, the picture is not as simple as shooting fish in barrel. We are blessed with growers who have the necessary dedication in the vineyard and expertise in the winery to fashion memorable wines most years and the real successes have been made by the great and conscientious growers.

Florence Heresztyn of Heresztyn-Mazzini, whose wines are now being compared to Armand Rousseau in some quarters, made celebrated 2015’s but it was easy to tell on our visit how visibly exciting the 2016’s were to her, in spite of the climatic vicissitudes that meant tiny quantities. The wines are very special in 2016, simple as that. She and husband Simon Mazzini were possibly lucky that Gevrey and Morey St Denis suffered much less damage than neighbouring Chambolle but parts of that commune – Bonnes Mares near Morey and 1er Crus like Sentiers produced splendid wines. Albert Bichot, in an enviable range overall, produced a memorable Bonnes Mares and a new star for us, Stephane Magnier, produced the goods in the latter vineyard and across all his Morey wines too, in fact. Thrilling, fragrant and lithe wines we’re delighted to announce a new direct arrangement for his 2016’s. Get in quickly – these youngsters are being lionised and prices will only shoot up once the critics catch up.

Further South Nuits St Georges did rather well and we are delighted to renew acquaintance with Domaine Robert Chevillon but also to announce another brilliant grower in Arnaud Chopin. The sign on the door at this domaine, in fact, merely says viticulteur. This signals intention and the meticulous approach that was required for glory in 2016 and this young grower is the unlikely find of the year. Nuits St Georges can be overshadowed by neighbouring Vosne but Arnaud hits all the right notes with his well sited 1er Crus Murgers and Damodes. Perfumed and succulent they are light years away from the old notion of Nuits St Georges. The French wine press now have this guy at the forefront in the appellation so make hay before others catch up. The progress of youth is exemplified by Sophie Noellat’s work at her family domaine. Cousin(e) of Cecile Tremblay she too prefers the style of 2016 to 2015 and the wines are increasingly refined and gaining plaudits. Further South in the Cotes de Beaune a word for the wonderful wines of JP Charlot at Joseph Voillot. This ‘unheralded legend’, to quote Neal Martin, made a simply divine range in 2016. Equally as badly hit as some Nuits growers JP fashioned a mesmerising range of Pommard and Volnays. With only 70 barrels of wine for the world the stark numbers here sum up the vintage 2016 perfectly. Glorious quality, lush, perfumed, filigree structure – just so damned little of it to go around!

Buying 2016 Burgundy

2016 is a seriously exciting vintage certain to be pursued by collectors round the world. Producers were more or less unanimous in their praise but quantities were frequently between 50 – 80% less than normal. Demand from world markets plus Britain’s weak pound mean inevitably high-ish prices but we have little doubt that the wines will be in huge demand and will find a home regardless. Taking all this into account we will try to obtain as much wine as growers allow us. We will try to help clients as much as we possibly can and ask for a little help and patience in balancing orders where required. We anticipate that clients will realise that the wines are very much worth the fuss.