Decanter's Stephen Brook warns against consigning the Burgundy 2016 vintage to failure at such a young age after claims that widespread reports of frost damage dented bidders' enthusiasm at this year's Hospices de Beaune auction. Below, he reports on an initial sampling of 2016 juice from the annual auction.

For many Burgundy 2016 will be a vintage they will yearn to forget.

Not that it’s a poor year – far from it – but nature dealt the region a raw hand. On 27 April a devastating frost paralysed vines all the way from Marsannay in the north to the Maconnais in the south, which would be damaged by hail a month later.

Frost usually attacks low-lying vineyards, but, almost inexplicably, this year it hit the mid-slopes, where the best sites are located. So in 2016 there  is virtually no wine from Musigny, Echezeaux, Montrachet and other legendary vineyards.

In addition the first half of the year was very wet, and disease was widespread. One organic grower told me the maladies were so bad he had to resort to chemical treatments.

However, normal conditions returned in July, and the summer was hotter and drier than usual, though with welcome showers in August to prevent hydric stress.

Fine hot weather continued into September. Rain in mid-September was not problematic and the harvest took place in fine conditions.

An initial taste of Burgundy 2016

Growers worry that the year will be remembered for its nightmarish climatic conditions, not for the wines.

At this stage it’s hard to judge the wine, but tastings at the Hospices before the annual auction revealed reds that are deep-coloured, fleshy, full of fruit and supple tannins.

The whites, even harder to taste, seemed softer and less successful, a;though the acidity levels were said to be ‘correct’. Some growers reported sugar levels even higher than in 2015, but Ludivine Gruveau, winemaker for the Hospices, found sugars and alcohols variable but at a similar level to the ripe 2015s.

Early days, but the 2016s should by no means be written off, even if the prices, when they are eventually released, may be dismaying.

Stephen Brook and William Kelley are tasting hundreds of Burgundy 2015 wines for Decanter’s annual Burgundy en primeur report. Look out for their report and tasting notes on Decanter.com and in Decanter magazine’s February 2017 issue. The 2016 vintage will not be tasted en primeur for another 12 months. 

More on the 2016 harvest in France: