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Vintage preview Burgundy 2013

Gerard Basset OBE MW MS tasted 556 wines from this new vintage in a 10-day tour throughout the Côte d’Or and Chablis. Here he recommends his top 96 wines across the communes, discovering that some great wines were made, despite the weather

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The adverse weaher conditions at various moments during the growing season have meant that 2013 was, for Burgundy producers, a very complicated vintage. Quality-minded growers had to be extremely vigilant and rigorous in their vineyards and ruthless at the sorting tables to be able to vinify grapes capable of producing wines of excellent quality. With all that was thrown at them by the weather in 2013, the growers needed great composure as well as great grapes.

The cold and fairly rainy conditions of the winter carried on well into the spring and so budburst was late. As Laurent Martelet of Domaine Martelet de Cherisey, at Hameau de Blagny between Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault, puts it: ‘It seemed that winter did not want to go.’ May and June, each providing increasingly heavy rainfall and cool days too, did not help.

Challenging weather

Unsurprisingly, flowering was also late – later than in 2012 and much later than in 2011. Flowering was also partly disrupted by the rain and cooler than average temperatures, which heralded the onset of some coulure (berries failing to develop) and millerandage (berries of uneven size and maturity in the same bunch), both events announcing a small harvest.

Hot weather conditions arrived in July, but with some rain too and that meant that growers had to be extremely attentive against the spread of fungal diseases. On 23 July, a violent hail storm that destroyed vineyards hit the north of the Côte de Beaune; some areas in Volnay, Pommard, Beaune, Savigny-lès-Beaune and Pernand- Vergelesses being most severely damaged. Frédéric Lafarge of Domaine Michel Lafarge in Volnay told me: ‘Because of that storm, we only harvested a third of what we normally do.’

A very sad situation for many growers in that part of the Côte de Beaune, putting some in a very precarious financial position. I was reminded by Raphaël Coche of Domaine Coche-Dury in Meursault, ‘Certain vineyards in the same areas had already experienced forceful hail storms the vintage before – in fact twice in 2012!’

Fortunately, August was less problematic and delivered excellent sunny and warm conditions on the whole, but growers had to remain vigilant against fungal diseases. The welcome heat of August helped speed up the ripening of the grapes, but nevertheless the season was still well behind compared to the previous vintages. In the words of Caroline Lestimé, owner of Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard, in Chassagne-Montrachet, ‘August was better than July, but not really exceptional.’

Indian summer

September started relatively cool but then warmed up and provided in part the much hoped for Indian summer that was needed to improve the wines. Indeed, many of the growers stated that this second part of September played a crucial role in boosting – even saving – the quality of the vintage.

However, the harvest still began much later than what has become the norm in the past few years in Burgundy. Due to the reduced quantity of fruit to be harvested, picking lasted a slightly shorter time than is usual – this is also because growers were concerned by the threat of rot, and so worked as fast as they could. Paul Zinetti, of Domaine Comte Armand in Pommard, highlighted to me the fact that 2013 was indeed a very late and small harvest for Burgundy.

Stéphane Follin-Arbelet, managing director of Château de Meursault, highlighted the importance of the great care needed both in the vineyard throughout the growing season as well as on the sorting table on the grapes’ arrival at the winery. Château de Meursault uses an electronic sorting table to separate and retain ripe grapes from unwanted ones before they are vinified.

In spite of the difficulties encountered during the growing season, many producers I spoke with were in the end satisfied with the quality of the harvest. Sylvain Pitiot of Clos de Tart in Morey-St- Denis said: ‘The grapes harvested were perfectly healthy, without botrytis.’ He added that the resulting wines (which had had a year of ageing at the time of my tasting), have a surprising concentration. ‘I’d compare them to 2001 or 2010,’ he observed, ‘even though we still need to wait to have a more precise appreciation.’

David Croix of the negociant Camille Giroud shared that optimism, but noted: ‘Some of the wines might need a long period of maturation because of their acidity level.’

François Labet, owner of Château de la Tour in Vougeot, said great concentration was already noticeable in his red wines when tasting them in November 2014, thanks to the fact that the harvest gave low yields of healthy, small-berried grapes. He also thought that ‘2013 would be aclassic Burgundy vintage for the white wines’.

Optimism in Chablis

In Chablis, conditions were fairly similar to those experienced in the Côte d’Or, with a difficult flowering and a late harvest. However, because of the stronger threat of botrytis here, the window of opportunity to pick in excellent conditions became fairly short. As Guillaume Michel of Domaine Louis Michel pointed out, ‘The need to harvest quickly was critical as the pressure of rot became important.’ Julien Brocard of Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard agreed: ‘Because of botrytis there was the danger of grapes getting overripe, thus the harvest needed to be swift.’ In addition, as Fabien Moreau of Domaine Christian Moreau said, ‘This necessitated very rigorous work at the sorting table.’

However, the mood in Chablis was optimistic. Isabelle Raveneau of Domaine Raveneau revealed that: ‘The wines might be a bit less highly strung than usual, but are very flattering on the palate.’

Basset’s verdict

In my 10 days in Côte d’Or and Chablis, I have tasted a considerable number of wines from the 2013 vintage. While 10 days is too short a time to visit all the leading producers – and I would have needed to taste many more wines from every commune to form definitive conclusions – nevertheless, I feel I am in a good position to offer some first impressions on the vintage. Many of the white wines from the Côte de Beaune had lovely aromas, and a pleasant liveliness and freshness on the palate, coupled with a certain elegance. However, 2013 for the whites will not be one of the greatest vintages, although the wines still have a pleasant character, reminiscent of the 2010s, but without reaching quite the same intensity and purity.

In spite of the problem with hail encountered by many growers, the red wines of the Côte de Beaune – especially some from Volnay and Beaune – tasted surprisingly well, with lovely fruit and excellent texture, but many Cortons were disappointing.

In terms of quality, the red wines of the Côte de Nuits were less uniform. I tasted quite a few lean examples, especially from Nuits-St-Georges, but fortunately there were also many wines with real depth and a lovely silky texture.

For me the 2013 reds from the Côte d’Or will resemble the 2008s, but with more ripeness. While not being a star vintage, it is nevertheless a vintage that Burgundy lovers will take real pleasure from in the short to medium term.

The wines of Chablis were pleasant to taste, with some showing real complexity. They had great generosity and ripeness on the palate, but not quite the structure that we would normally expect from this region. No doubt, there will be wines that will age well, but on the whole, 2013 Chablis, especially the premiers and grands crus, will be approachable earlier than usual.

Overall, there will be a relatively small quantity of 2013 Burgundy available and although this will not be noted as one of the top vintages, many wines have come out well, in spite of the difficult climatic conditions. The best Burgundy producers have managed to make superb wines, and while not all 2013 Burgundy will be sensational, there will still be plenty of delicious wines to enjoy.

Written by Gerard Basset

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