Burgundy 2018 – What the Critics Say

William Kelley, Wine Advocate

William Kelley
  • After tasting in Burgundy and Champagne consistently over the last couple of years, what do you feel has been the most important developments in each of the regions in that time?

I think that Burgundians are getting used to handling warm fruit. If you’re not used to making wine from warm grapes, it’s easy for things to go wrong, resulting in elevated levels of volatile acidity and other issues. Certainly, those problems presented themselves in 2018. But more and more Burgundians are using refrigerated trucks and cold rooms in their wineries to try to mitigate the issue of overly warm grapes. I still think that many growers could begin harvesting earlier in the morning, but of course organizing labour in Burgundy during harvest time is getting more and more complicated, so that’s sometimes easier said than done. 

  • Have you managed to visit/ taste Chablis 2018s? What are the vignerons saying about the vintage? What are your first impressions? 

I tasted an extensive selection of 2018 Chablis this Spring. Yields were the most generous in decades, and while that retarded ripening, mitigating against the kind of excesses we saw in 2003 and to a lesser extent 2015, there are concomitant issues with both dilution and what appears to be incomplete phenolic maturity, the latter manifested in as chewy backend structure that’s sometimes borderline bitter, and somewhat herbaceous aromatics, too—especially for those that machine harvested. Alcohols are above average and acidities are below average.  Of course, Spring is really too early to make a definitive assessment, and my intuition is that 2018 is a Chablis vintage that will benefit from élevage. And I did taste some terrific wines. 

  • Does that coincide with the whites in the Cote d’Or and beyond or is the vintage variable across the regions?

Broadly speaking, yes. Alcohols are above average, acidities are below average, and dilution due to very generous yields is an issue. But once again, there are some terrific wines. And I’m still just beginning my extensive tastings in the Côte de Beaune.

  • At this early stage is this a red wine vintage, a white or both and why?

More than any other wine region, Burgundy is defined by the exceptions, not the rules, but my intuition is that 2018s greatest hits will largely fall on the red side of the ledger. 

  • Have the reds been consistent throughout the region or do you feel certain villages have stood out, or is this still too early to tell?

The reds are fleshy, broad and gourmand, even rich. Interestingly, high yields seem to have resulted in some cases in surprisingly coarse tannins for a vintage that, on paper, is so ripe—reminding me of 1999 and 1990 in that respect. But at their best, 2018 reds are velvety and enveloping. It’s too early to go much further than that. 

  • What producers do you feel are currently under the radar and deserve more attention?

I think the best producers of the Côte Chalonnaise, such as Vincent Dureuil-Janthial and Bruno Lorenzon, deserve much more attention. In blind tastings, these wines can perform amazingly. And there are some very fine terroirs in this part of Burgundy. The fact is that, because the wines were inexpensive, producers in the Côte Chalonnaise long pushed for quantity over quality, perpetuating a vicious cycle: but producers like Dureuil-Janthial and Lorenzon have broken out from that dynamic, and the wines are just incredible. One might also include the southern Côte de Beaune in these observations, as villages such as Maranges and Santenay are still pretty much below the radar for many consumers who focus on the more famous communes. But I suspect no one is going to complain if they’re presented with a glass of a great white or red Santenay from Jean-Marc Vincent, for example. 

  • What vintages have you heard the 2018 vintage in Burgundy compares to and would you agree? 

In its alliance of high yields and elevated ripeness, the 2018 vintage is really quite hard to compare with other historic vintages, certainly at this very early stage. But perhaps 1959 would be most obvious analogy. 

Andrew Jefford (The Wine Scholar Guild)

Andrew Jefford

Thanks to Andrew Jefford for sharing his Vintage overview first published on the Wine Scholar Guild website.

Andrew (similarly to many wine makers we have spoken to) believes the Cote de Beaune white wines are outstanding in 2018 (4.5* vintage) and almost as good as the universally praised red wines throughout the Cote d’Or (5* vintage).

Chablis:

After a very wet January, Chablis growers experienced rainfall that was either normal or below normal for the rest of the season, climaxing in a historically dry September. Average temperatures were above normal from April onwards, and average sunshine hours above normal from May. It was, in sum, the easy and generous vintage that growers under these customarily fretful skies have been waiting for since 2015, with harvesting taking place under unhurried conditions in late August and September. The quality of the wines is very attractive, with ample substance to the best Grands Crus and Premiers Crus yet classical freshness and vivacity, too. The wines will age well over the mid- to long-term.

4* Vintage (on a par with 2017, 2009, 2008) Above all other vintages back to 2000 other than the 5* Vintages – 2014. 2010, 2005, 2002


Cote de Beaune Whites:

January was very mild (the warmest since 1945) and very wet. After a normally cold February, March was again very wet, with 50 per cent more rain than normal in the Côte de Beaune. April and May were much dryer and very warm, and flowering in June was rapid and successful, setting a generous crop. July, August and September enjoyed normal rainfall but above-average sunshine hours and heat summations, but without drought problems following the ‘hot and tropical’ spring weather, according to Frédéric Barnier of Louis Jadot: “agronomically, it was perfect: just what we needed.” Harvesting in late August and September took place under unhurried conditions, with a number of producers blocking malolactic fermentations this year (unusual for white burgundy). Despite the warmth, quality is outstanding. The wines show both depth and vivacity as well as focus and precision, and are expected to age well.

4.5* Vintage (higher rated than the 2017, on a par with 2014 and above all other vintages back to 2000 other than: 2010 (5*)

Cote de Beaune & Cote de Nuits Reds:

A colossally wet, mild January and March meant that there was considerable mildew pressure over spring, with the Côte de Nuits sustaining more damage from this than the Côte de Beaune. From May onwards, though, the disease pressure eased as a warm, dry and sunny summer got underway, with ideal flowering conditions in June setting an excellent crop. The rest of summer was problem-free apart from some minor hail damage and later heavy rain close to Nuits on two occasions in July, and some young-vine parcels suffering from a little drought  stress in very free-draining sites. Harvest took place in ideal conditions in early to late September, with cool nights keeping the fruit fresh after warm, sunny days. The red wines are dark and, despite their rich constitution (Frédéric Barnier of Louis Jadot said it was the first time in 20 years he had not had to chaptalise any cuvée), fresh and vivacious too. They will age very well.

5* Vintage (on a par with 2015, 2010, 2005 and rated above all other vintages back to 2000)

Maconnais:

Winter and spring, as elsewhere in Burgundy, were very damp and relatively warm in the Mâconnais. Flowering was a little earlier here than elsewhere, and the long, hot summer caused some drought stress to what was in general a generous crop. Harvesting began in August, though some growers found that the warm, dry weather had blocked maturation and consequently preferred to pick in early September. The wines are generous, charming and long, but have retained vivacity; the best will age very well.

4.5* Vintage (higher rated than all other vintages going back to 2000, other than 5* – 2014)

Jasper Morris (Inside Burgundy)

Jasper Morris

We tend to focus on the weather conditions in the lead-up to the harvest and while the grapes are being picked, but a key factor in defining how the 2018 crop turned out was the winter before, which was grim and excessively rainy. This proved to be a blessing however during the drought months of high summer which followed. The vines’ roots were able to drink happily from the replenished water table.

Nobody anticipated the eventual size of the crop, indeed most estimates were way off by a massive margin. There was much more juice in the berries than producers had imagined, especially for the white wines. Typically chardonnay is fairly forgiving of crop size, but first impressions of the 2018 White Burgundy crop show attractive wines made from healthy fruit but without the additional intensity of a great vintage. Delicious wines which will start to be ready to drink early on, but few legends.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, the generous harvest seems to have impacted the red wines less, despite pinot noir’s notorious sensitivity to high yields. There is excellent colour to the wines which are full of fruit, sometimes flamboyantly so. There is the potential for greatness in 2018 Red Burgundy but it is by no means a uniform vintage.

Everything depended on the timing of the harvest. This is not to do with specific dates in the calendar or adverse weather events during the harvest, but a question of ripeness – which will vary from one grower to the next according to their viticultural practices. Quite clearly however, 2018 has favoured the early pickers who brought in their grapes with potential alcohol levels between 13 and 14%. Under these conditions there were few scares during vinification and the wines look set to become modern classics.

This was not the case in every cellar however. Those who let their grapes hang too long found a surge in sugar at the end of the cycle which meant degrees approaching or even exceeding 15%, and stuck fermentations resulting in high levels of volatile acidity and bacterial issues, such as Brettanomyces. Many cellars have an occasional wine which went beyond the ideal while in some cellars this pattern is the norm rather than the exception.

The critics job in 2018 is to be able to make a clear call between the successes of the vintage and those wines which are living dangerously.

Thank you Jasper for your insight. Be sure to check out his in depth tasting notes on his website Inside Burgundy His full report on the 2018 wines will be published on his website early January 2020.