Vintage Report: Burgundy 2003

Burgundy 2003, Chablis, Macconais, Cote de Beaune, Cote Chalonnaise People & Places Articles
  • Friday 8 April 2005

2003 was an incredibly hot year, and a difficult vintage across Burgundy. CLIVE COATES MW gives an overview, while our experts look at how conditions affected the various appellations.

The 2003 Burgundy vintage is short in quantity, the product of an excessively hot summer after a savage attack of frost in April. It was harvested almost a month earlier than usual. From Chablis to Pouilly-Fuissé 2003 is disappointing for white wines: they are heavy and deficient in normal acidity, and in many cases too obviously acidified. But the red wines from Pinot Noir are good, if not classic; and Beaujolais is splendid.

Despite the climatic difficulties, 2003 has been well received by the trade. After a year in cask the wines seemed less ‘southern’, more terroir definitive, than they suggested they would be at the outset. Prices at the Hospices de Beaune auction rose on 2002 levels (not that this means much these days). Prices at the winery/négociant level, in euros, showed only marginal increases. This means relative stability on the British market, for the pound/euro ratio seems to have stabilised at around 1.44. For the Americans, with a shrinking dollar, it is, of course, a different matter.

The weather in 2003 announced itself from the outset. After a wet end to 2002 – which had the beneficial effect, as it turned out, of establishing a good reserve of water in the subsoil, particularly in terroirs with a high proportion of clay – early spring was mild, and budburst took place in March. In consequence, when temperatures fell below zero, as they did on 11–12 April, the frost damage was devastating. It was this, rather than the heatwave to follow, that explains the low crop. It also meant that much of the 2003 vintage was based on second-generation fruit. While frost damage was widespread, the worst-affected vineyards were the generics below Meursault and Puligny, and the villages, premiers and grands crus above them. Cooler areas such as St-Romain, Pernand-Vergelesses and the Hautes Côtes, plus those premiers crus above the grands crus higher up the slope suffered less.

Following the frost, temperatures soon returned to well above normal. Flowering took place early and successfully, and as spring turned into summer it got hotter, reaching 42°C in August. Temperatures such as these are unprecedented in Burgundy. No wonder some of the resultant wines suggested that their origins could have been the hotter parts of California! Despite the great heat, thankfully, it was not totally dry. From time to time there was rain, but no hail, and only the youngest vines in exposed sites suffered from hydric stress.

The most astute winemakers realised early on that 2003 was an exceptional year. This was not a vintage to clip off excess foliage, nor was it a year for leaf stripping around the fruit, a process normally done in two stages, on the north side before the véraison (change of colour of the fruit) and after: on the southern side. In 2003 the fruit had to be protected to prevent the grapes from shrivelling into raisins and imparting a burnt taste to the wine.

Côte d’Or

by Clive Coates MW

The vintage began on 14 August in the Côte d’Or, and this gave rise to two approaches. With sugar levels already very high, and acidities dropping like a lift out of control, many growers rushed out to pick their fruit, usually first thing in the morning when temperatures were at their coolest. Michel and Frédéric Lafarge were party to this school of thought and their wines are splendid.

Others, remembering 1976, were worried the tannins would not be ripe, and, as a consequence, after the juicy, ripe fruit flavours had diminished, the wines would turn out excessively astringent. These producers preferred to wait, and were rewarded when, after a storm on 25 August, temperatures returned to normal. Tannins ripened properly. Acidities began to rise. Laurent Ponsot picked very late, from 7–14 September. His wines are delicious.

All the growers realised 2003 was not a year for excessive new oak, nor a year for holding the wine in cask for too long, for it might dry out. Nor, for red wines, was 2003 a vintage for long extraction and the usual amount of pigeage (pumping or treading down of the cap).

At the outset there were long faces. For those who produced white wines the problem was a lack of vivacity. This can only be partly rectified by acidification if you acidify the must, which is an inexact science. Acidify later and the wine tastes hard and artificial. The same effect, so many consider (Jacques Lardière of Maison Jadot is a noticeable exception), happens if you block the malolactic fermentation.

The red wine producers were equally gloomy. The wines, quite simply, did not taste like Burgundy, even Pinot Noir. But, as I have said, they eventually seemed to sort themselves out, though in most cases, not until September/October 2004.

So, where are the best wines? For white wines, my brutal counsel is: forget 2003. Only in those cooler areas, unaffected by the frost, are there white wines of balance and freshness. You are best advised to go back to 2002 or wait for 2004, which shows a lot of early promise. Unless, of course, you are a fan of Aligoté. This usually tart variety has produced some unusually ripe 2003s.

It is an uneven vintage for reds. The name of the domaine on the label is the most important criterion of all. Stick to the top estates and you will not go wrong. That said, 2003 is better in the Côte de Nuits than the Côte de Beaune, and at its most successful in those communes that, because of their high proportion of clay in their soils, normally produce the most robust wines. This means – in general – Pommard rather than Volnay; Corton, Nuits-St-Georges rather than Vosne-Romanée, Gevrey-Chambertin rather than Morey-St-Denis.

The red wines are rich in colour and high in alcohol, though few excessively ‘hot’. The tannins are largely surprisingly ripe, and in most cases the wines are not too bulky. Most importantly, despite the analyses indicating low acidities, these red wines do not lack freshness. I bought heavily in the 2002 vintage, and will not be buying one drop of 2003. But there are pleasant if atypical red 2003 Burgundies for the medium term for those with more empty cellars.

Recommended reds 2003

COTE DE BEAUNE

Bouchard Père & Fils, Le Corton

Full body. Lots of depth and dimension. Ripe and generous. From 2011. £56; Fel

Comte Armand, Clos des Epeneaux, Pommard

Full, tannic, splendidly rich and concentrated. Surprisingly classic. From 2012.

£35.25 (case 6); L&W

Joseph Faiveley, Clos des Corton-Faiveley, Corton

Splendidly rich but cool fruit. Intense, oaky, full and concentrated. From 2015. £62.50 (in bond); MMD

Prince de Mérode, Clos du Roi, Corton

Complex, classy, full, generous, rich and very long on the palate. From 2013. £30; HoR

Aleth Le Royer-Girardin, Rugiens, Pommard

Full, fat, concentrated, long and satisfying. From 2011. £24.83 (in bond); L&W

Camille Giroud, Les Cras, Beaune

Splendidly ripe, rich and concentrated. Impressive all the way through. From 2008. £23.33 (in bond); Sec

Comtes Lafon, Santenots du Milieu, Volnay

Rich and concentrated. Lots of class and dimension. From 2012. £27.50 (2002, in bond); J&B

Coste-Caumartin, Clos des Boucherottes, Pommard

Refined, concentrated, fullish and complex. From 2010. £23.23 (2000); Sur

De Courcel, Ruigens, Pommard

Ripe, full, generous and black fruity. From 2010.

£37.60–33.75 (2001); C&C, HoR

Jean-Marc Pavelot, Les Dominodes, Savigny-Lès-Beaune

Lovely cool, concentrated fruit and very good tannins. Intense and complex. From 2008. £18.21; DDi

Joseph Drouhin, Clos des Mouches, Beaune

Surprisingly classic, long and individual. Good tannins. Medium-full body. From 2008. N/A UK; DrA

Lafarge, Caillerets, Volnay

Ripe and rich. Long, classy and complex. From 2010.

£40 (in bond); Unc

Lafarge, Clos des Chênes, Volnay

Refined, fullish, profound and intense. Very classy. From 2011/2012. £47.50 (in bond); BBR

Louis Jadot, Clos des Ursules, Beaune

Good depth, intensity and concentration. Lovely fruit. From 2008/2009. £33 (1998); HaM

Marquis d’Angerville, Clos des Ducs, Volnay

Finely concentrated blackberry flavour. Fullish body. Long palate. From 2009/2010. £63.33 (in bond); J&B

Ramonet, Clos de la Boudriotte, Chassagne-Montrachet

Subtle, succulent, ripe and harmonious. From 2007/2008. C&B, Far, Gau, OWL, HoR

Rebourgeon-Mure, Charmots, Pommard

Fullish, old-viney, elegant and impressive. From 2009. N/A UK; How

COTE DE NUITS

Anne Gros, Richebourg

Full, intense, marvellously profound and concentrated. Great finesse. From 2013. £156; HoR

Bouchard Père & Fils, La Romanée

See Liger-Belair below. £436; Fel

Comte Georges de Vogüé, Vieilles Vignes, Musigny

14 casks from 4.5ha. Essence of wine. Great breed. Very long and intense. From 2013. £160 (2000); HoR. Call C&B for 2003

Liger-Belair, La Romanée

See Liger-Belair below. £436;Fel

Ponsot, Vieilles Vignes, Clos de la Roche

Multi-concentrated. Multi-dimensional. Splendid. Laurent Ponsot produced 19 casks from nearly 3.5ha. The wine will be only available in magnum. From 2013. £74.75 (2002, in bond); L&W

Arlaud Père & Fils, Clos St-Denis

Old viney and black fruity, persistent and very stylish. From 2011. SVS

n Bernard Dugat-Py, Lavaux St-Jacques, Gevrey-Chambertin HHHH

Full, rich, ripe and concentrated, with more than a touch of oak. From 2012. N/A UK; Tan

Camille Giroud, Lavaux Saint-Jacques, Gevrey-Chambertin

Splendid black fruit. Subtle, complex and very pure. From 2010. £27 (in bond); Sec

Christian Sérafin, Les Cazetiers, Gevrey-Chambertin

Fullish, vigorous, profound and concentrated.

From 2009. £40 (2002); BBR

Denis Bachelet, Charmes-Chambertin

Very concentrated and intense but very laid back. Really elegant. From 2011. £42 (in bond); BBR

Domaine du Clos Frantin, Grands-Echézeaux

Rich, full, intense and with a lovely long finish.

From 2012. £40 (in bond); Bal

Jean Grivot, Aux Brûlées, Vosne-Romanée

Very concentrated, aristocratic wine. Very, very long on the palate. The best of Grivot’s five Vosne premiers crus. From 2013. £37.50 (in bond); Bib, L&W

Nicolas Potel, Bonnes-Mares

Full, discreet, classy, intense. A good vintage for Bonnes-Mares. From 2013. £69.50 (in bond); L&W

All notes by Clive Coates MW. For UK stockists, see p136.

Chablis 2003

by Beverley Blanning MW

The 2003 heatwave was not good news for Chablis. The region experienced unheard-of summer temperatures – up to 41.7?C – providing quite a challenge to winemakers, both in the vineyard and the cellar. This is a small vintage. Early season crop losses from spring frosts, combined with the absence of summer rain, reduced yields by up to one third compared with normal.

The summer growing conditions were more like Chile than Chablis: temperatures averaged 30?C from June to August and rainfall was slight. Grapes receiving direct exposure to the sun were burnt by harvest time, requiring producers to select carefully. The harvest date was set for 25 August – a month earlier than usual. Michel Laroche says: ‘We started harvesting on 1 September and had finished by the 15th, something I’ve never seen in over 35 years in Chablis.’

In the cellar, producers found grapes with high levels of sugar, but little acidity – arguably the defining feature of Chablis. Clotilde Davenne, chief winemaker at Jean-Marc Brocard, describes her experience: ‘It’s not easy to vinify something completely different. Acidity is necessary to Chablis as it shows the minerality.’

In spite of the extraordinary conditions, the quality of the wines is good. This is testament to the generally high quality of winemaking. Unfortunately, most are not terribly exciting and are unlikely to age well. They’re not terribly Chablis, either. Michel Laroche says that the words most often used to describe Chablis, ‘freshness, finesse and minerality’, are not appropriate. ‘The adjectives which come to mind first are powerful, full bodied, structured.’

Most of the wines I tasted – including the grands crus – could be enjoyed now. Clotilde Davenne’s advice is to ‘drink the basic Chablis now and the premiers crus from now and for the next two years.’ For the grands crus, she is less sure, however: ‘I think these wines will surprise us in the next five years.’

2003 has provided us with fascinating wines across Europe. But for me, the most interesting wines are those from marginal northerly climates such as Chablis. If we’d never had 2003, we may never have realised how exceptional they usually are.

CHABLIS RECOMMENDATIONS

Domaine Laroche, Grand Cru Les Clos

Leesy, stony nose. Richness and ripeness of fruit

evident on the palate. Full flavoured, lacks raciness, but has lovely, fine fruit. £295/case in bond; Bib

Domaine William Fèvre, 1er Cru Les Lys

Lovely, mineral, stony fruit. Crisp, lemony elegance. Delicious. £22.99; F&R, Far

Jean-Marc Brocard, Grand Cru Bougros

Lovely, creamy-rich. Good right now. Easy, characterful. £22–28; Odd, Sai (2002)

Jean-Marc Brocard, Grand Cru Les Clos

Wow – huge richness and weight. A very voluptuous Chablis. Very good. £27.75; See

Domaine Billaud-Simon, 1er Cru Les Vaillons

Stony nose. Lovely, complex, elegant, stony/mineral fruit. Character and style. £115/case in bond; CTW

Domaine de Bois d’Yver, 1er Cru Montmains

Good, mineral, stony texture. Sweetly fruity, with a delicate finish. Very nice. £116.49 (case); WIE

Jean-Marc Brocard, 1er Cru Vaucopin

Rich, lemony, leesy, yeasty and pure. Lovely. £14–14.50; Cmb, H&D (2001/2), Odd

Pascal Bouchard

Attractive Chablis typicity on the nose. Full flavoured, rich, warm. Classic flavour. Good.

£9.85; Euw, Wat

Sainsbury’s Classic Selection, Domaine Sainte Celine

Fresh, powerful, yeasty nose. Full flavoured but not weighty, round with a mineral finish.

£7.99; Sai

William Fèvre, 1er Cru Les Vaillons

Buttery, rich nose leads into mineral, structured and weighty palate. Good length.

£22.99; F&R, HBJ

Côte Chalonnaise

by Patricia Stefanowicz MW

The Côte Chalonnaise is often considered ‘betwixt and between’. It shares the Saône-et-Loire department with the Mâconnais and Beaujolais, but its geology and wines are more similar to the Côte de Beaune. The bedrock is Jurassic limestone and the soils chalk and clay. The best vineyards of its four communes are ‘premier cru’. The vineyards are planted at an altitude of up to 350m, which generally means cooler temperatures than in the Côte d’Or, a benefit in the scorching heat of 2003.

As elsewhere, the Côte Chalonnaise had extraordinary weather conditions in 2003. All records were broken: precocity of the vines, paucity of rain during the growing season, baking sunshine and soaring temperatures. Climatic accidents were also numerous. After an early budburst – late March for Chardonnay – two nights of frost in mid-April had devastating effects. In June and July hailstorms further reduced yields of both white and black varieties. In August there were nine consecutive days with temperatures around 40?C, sometimes causing sunburned berries. Picking started as early as 15 August for some. Yields are tiny. For black varieties comparable figures were 22.8% lower than the five-year average. For white varieties yields were 21.6% down, although production of Bouzeron Aligoté was up about 25%.

2003 has produced wines for delightful, affordable drinking over the next few years. Higher altitude and less-exposed east-facing sites gave the best wines. Reds have sumptuous ripe aromas, supple tannins and enough acidity. Whites are perhaps less successful, but many exhibit an exotic honeyed nose and ample weight and body, although with less minerality and acidity than normal. Most wines will be shipped over the next few months.

Whites

Jacqueson, La Pucelle, 1er Cru Rully

Plenty of lively acidity supporting pretty stone fruit flavours with subtle oak. Up to 2008. £13.95; L&S

Michel Juillot, Mercurey

Gorgeous wine. Aromatic, appetising fruit accented with spicy oak notes. Up to 2008. £13 (in bond); C&B

Jean-Marc Boillot, Vieux Château, Montagny

Round and full with peach and apricot fruit and floral accents. Yummy. Up to 2008. £9.17 (in bond). Bib

Michel Bouzereau, Bourgogne Aligoté

Lively, fresh citrus nose. Clean-as-a-whistle, ripe fruit accented with acacia honey notes. Nicely balanced. Up to 2007. £5 (in bond); L&W

Olivier Leflaive, 1er Cru Rully

Tasted from cask. Surprisingly fresh and fine with nicely balanced acidity. Spicy, creamy oak evident. 2006–2008. Not yet released. £12–14; L&W

Vincent Girardin, Vieilles Vignes, Rully

Fresh, pure fruit with nettle and honey. Soft, supple texture, easy drinking. Up to 2007. £8.08 (in bond); Mnt

Reds

Michel Sarrazin et Fils, Clos de la Putin, Givry

Deeply coloured. Dense, full and ripe, mature Pinot fruit with supple tannins. Stunningly good. 2006–2009. N/A UK; +33 3 85 44 30 57

François Raquillet, Vieilles Vignes, Mercurey

Expressive red fruits with fresh acidity and silky tannins. Long, savoury finish. 2005–2008. £13–14; Grr

Chanson Père et Fils, Givry

Very ripe, almost jammy, red and black fruits, smooth textured. Well-integrated oak giving spice and grip on the finish. 2005–2008. £9.13 (1999); Wdr

Chanson Père et Fils, Mercurey

Fine Pinot fruit with smoky overlay. Smooth tannins and fresh acidity. 2005–2008. £9.45 (2000); Wdr

Vincent Dureil-Janthial, Clos du Chapitre, Rully

Rich and powerful with full flavour, supported by lively acidity and linen-textured tannins. Subtle oak spice. Long. 2006–2009. £13–14; Grr

Mâconnais

by Andrew Jefford

There are theories, but no certainties. In any case, the surprise was a pleasant one: why did the white wines of the Mâconnais seem to withstand the solar onslaught of 2003 better than their counterparts further north? Dominique Lafon thought the stylistic symmetry between the perennially broad, open, full, sunny Mâcon white wines and the vintage itself was a factor; Olivier Merlin stressed the fact that the pruning practices of the Mâconnais tend to leave more leaves to shade the fruit than further north, which was a great help when the thermometer kept surging past 40?C; for Jean-Guillaume Bret, the vital factor was a history of working the soil in the vineyards, which helped the roots get down to where the last drops of water were still lurking. Jean-Marie Guffens agreed: those deep-rooted, old-vine vineyards used for the Verget range performed so well that he vinified their fruit separately and called the wines ‘Collection Caniculus’ (in honour of 2003’s dog days).

That’s not to say, however, that it’s a resoundingly great vintage. Balance is the hallmark of all great wine, no matter where it comes from, and it is hard to say that many of these wines are beautifully balanced. ‘For three weeks,’ says Guffens, ‘I felt like I was making wines in Vietnam. Normally we need 100 days between flowering and ripeness; this year it was 83.’ The result is wines which are rich, powerful, glycerous… but without some sort of quickening, freshening factor these elements can quickly subside into a kind of fruitless hot glow. The best have some acidity, albeit of a very gentle kind (neither Merlin nor the Bret brothers nor Guffens for the Verget ‘Collection Caniculus’ felt the need to acidify); and the minerality of particularly stony vineyards can also act on occasion as ballast, filling the

glycerousness out with chewy depth.

Did some areas within the region perform better than others? Quantitively, yes, as the April frosts were partial: Merlin’s vineyards in La Roche Vineuse were badly hit, for example, while Vinzelles and Chaintré escaped entirely. But it is much less easy to draw conclusions in terms of quality; as Olivier Merlin said, the heatwave tended to act as a levelling factor, with vines on normally cooler or higher sites ripening more or less simultaneously with vineyards they would normally trail by a week or two.

Bret Brothers, En Carementrant, Pouilly-Fuissé

Aromatically compelling, this smells creamy, sweet and pollen-laden. The palate is rich, mouthfilling and textured, with charming flavours of vanilla, lees and soft nougat. Up to 8 years. £13.50 in bond; BBR

Christophe Cordier, En Baranjoux Vieilles Vignes, Mâcon-Milly-Lamartine

Oak-dominated scents at present, but the wine’s sumptuous, glycerous, luxurious width on the palate suggests that this will integrate. Walnut and cinnamon spice to finish. Up to 5 years. £13.95; L&S

Daniel Barraud, Vieilles Vignes La Verchère Pouilly-Fuissé

Beautifully crafted scents of white almond, lemon and soft butter, followed by a dense, full, chewy palate. This is almost like Hermitage Blanc.

Up to 8 years. £16.95; L&S

Domaine de la Soufrandière, Les Quarts, Pouilly-Vinzelles

This large yet gentle wine, from 40- to 70-year-old vines, has appealingly biscuity scents and flavours with soft apricot fruit. Up to 5 years. £14 in bond; BBR

Olivier Merlin, Terroir de Vergisson, Pouilly-Fuissé

Smoky scents, vivid acidity and a pure, mineral flavour make this one of the liveliest of the wines tasted this year. Up to 7 years. £12.50 in bond; BBR

Domaine des Vieilles Pierres, Vieilles Vignes, Les Crays, Pouilly-Fuissé

This wine has pretty scents of peach, apricot and honesuckle, while on the palate there’s a gentle citrus intricacy.

3–5 years. £10 in bond; J&B

Heretiers des Comtes Lafon, Clos du Four, Mâcon-Milly-Lamartine

Pure, sweet aromas, though needing time to acquire intricacy; relatively lively, fresh flavours providing deliciousness. Up to 5 years.

£8.83–10 in bond; BBR, J&B

Heretiers des Comtes Lafon, Mâcon-Uchizy-Les Maranches

Scented leaves and spice suggest a rich, exotic wine, and this honeyed mouthful delivers, its tangerine fruit freighted with ginger.

Up to 5 years. £10 in bond; BBR

Merlin, Vieilles Vignes, Mâcon-La Roche Vineuse

Soft, milky scents and a creamy, lush flavour make this Mâcon an easygoing treat. Delicate, rounded acidity helps it all down. Drink soon.

£6.75 in bond; BBR

Verget, Pouilly-Fuissé

Full, bready, stony scents, followed by a broad, firm, chewy flavour of gentle lime. Long, vinous finish.

Up to 5 years. £12.95; L&S

For UK stockists, see p136.

Great buys under £15

Burgundy is not an obvious place to look for value. But in 2003 the more lowly appellations offer exciting great-value drinking. If you yearn for the cool minerality and austerity which typify Chardonnays of Burgundy, lower your budget. The cooler, hard-to-ripen appellations produced delicious wines – with no corresponding hike in prices. Look out for Pernand-Vergelesses, St-Romain and wines from the Hautes Côtes de Beaune. Basic Bourgogne Blanc can also be very good.

The reds are even more interesting. Jasper Morris MW, says: ‘Boring rouge has come out of 2003 very well. Places which are usually a bit too cool have done really well, as they have richer, deeper soil. Meagre wines have come out plump.’ These are wines which are immediately appealing, softly structured, with juicy fruit. They are lovely examples of elegant Burgundian Pinot at really attractive prices. BB

Whites

Maison Deux Montille, Les Jarrons, St-Romain

Surprisingly lean, but with very elegant, stony and mineral fruit. Delicious.

£10.75 (in bond); Gns

Domaine du Bois Guillaume, Les Champs Perdrix, Hautes Côtes de Beaune

Crisp, toasty, serious aromas. Well balanced, with lovely minerality and complexity.

£7 (in bond); BBR

Vincent Girardin, Vieilles Vignes, Rully

Delicious, fresh, lemony, floral, elegant fruit. Crisp, fine, lovely.

£7.50 (in bond); CTW

Vincent Girardin, Les Vermots Dessus, Savigny Lès Beaune

Lovely minerality. Crisp, fresh, with weighty fruit and good length. Very good.

£8.50 (in bond); CTW

Reds

Domaine Vincent Girardin, Les Gravières, Santenay 1er Cru

Sexy, juicy, densely fruity wine. Ripe, structured, with lovely balance. Delicious.

£10.67 (in bond); CTW

Domaine Carré-Courbin, Volnay

Wonderfully perfumed. Fresh, floral, mineral palate, with crisp tannins.

£11.25 (in bond); BBR, FMV

Domaine Ghislaine Barthod, Bourgogne Rouge

Aromatic, floral nose. Crisp, fresh and fruity. Ripe, balanced. Excellent value.

£8.25 (in bond); Bib

Domaine Jean-Jacques Girard, Les Vergelesses Rouge, Pernand Vergelesses 1er Cru

Firm, chewy, elegant fruit, with delicious minerality. Very terroir. Lovely.

£10.42 (in bond); CTW

Domaine Jean-Jacques Girard, Les Serpentières, Savigny Lès Beaune 1er Cru

Good, stylish, appealing wine, with soft, raspberry fruit. Easy, rich, very tasty.

£10.42 (in bond); CTW

Patrice et Michèle Rion, Bons Batons, Bourgogne Rouge

Rich, raisined perfume. Full, rich and ripe, with masses of fruit and good structure. Big wine for basic Burgundy.

£7.50 (in bond); BBR, FMV

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