The Wine Advocate’s William Kelley shares his Burgundy 2018 Early Insight

  • 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.