Vintage Report – 2017 Red Burgundies: tension, verve and terroir transparency

Generally speaking, 2017 is a vintage that, for once, all went to plan in Burgundy. Not since 2009 have so many winemakers been so happy with both their quantity and quality. It has been a difficult few years and it is genuinely a pleasant sight to see the cellars full again after so many years of heartache. I say generally, as there were pockets of the Cote d’Or that were hit by frosts and hail. Hubert Lamy, for instance, produced 60% less in 2017 compared to 2016, which itself was a lean year in terms of yields.

 

After tasting through many fantastic 2017 whites earlier in the year and getting excited about the tremendous combination of their orchard fruit profile balanced with lovely tautness and structure, we were starting to talk about this being a “white” vintage in Burgundy. But tasting the reds on our visits to winemakers up and down the Cote d’Or over the last few weeks, has been a positive surprise. Many 2017 reds are very special indeed.

 

Ripeness was easily achieved and there was little to no disease in the vineyards. During harvest the weather was fine and everything ran smoothly. This resulted in wines with an abundance of fruit with fine phenolic ripeness and fully resolved tannins. The best examples have retained that juicy fruitiness whilst producing wines with good tension, verve and terroir transparency.

 

What is immediately noticeable about the reds is that the wines have a distinct freshness in both acidity (with nice low pHs) and a brightness to the fruit. In some cases, there really is an explosion of fruit on the palate and a juicy softness to the wines. The best wines have a great transparency of their terroir as well as a vivid purity of fruit. It seems the vintage really suits producers who have pulled back on the extraction and made ethereal, light, pure styles of Pinot rather than the more extracted, later picked, richer, more tannic versions. Jean Marie Fourrier, Georges Glantenay, Charles Van Canneyt, Georges Noellat and Mugneret Gibourg’s wines all immediately spring to mind for finding that sweet spot of purity, elegance and terroir definition. The best examples of the vintage are wines that have retained verve and a fine tannin framework; the worse slightly lack intensity and structure.

 

It has been a joy to taste through the appellations; with such structural transparency you can clearly see the defining architectural elements that are specific to certain Premier and Grand Cru sites. Whilst concentrations, tannin profiles and ripeness levels vary from one producer to the next, the structural profile of a particular site seems to remain defined in almost all of them. So too can you identify the cooler east facing mineral slopes as distinct from the warmer, sunnier sites. The more rustic spicy profile from the vineyards in the north half of Morey St Denis compare to the softer silkier southern half of vineyards that borders Chambolle. The intricate mapping of terroir – or climat – specificity is clearly elucidated by each wine in the glass. Any fan of terroir driven Burgundy will get an awful lot of pleasure from this vintage.

 

In comparison to recent vintages, the reds don’t have the intensity of the difficult 2016s and the warm solar fruitiness of the 2015s. There does seem a similarity to the 2014s in terms of freshness, but there is more substance to the wines in 2017. The wines are very easy to taste and very approachable. Many of the winemakers describe the vintage as “a bourguignon vintage” a vintage which expresses terroir distinctions much more distinctly than the previous vintages of 2015 and 2016. They also believe the 2017 reds will be drinking earlier than the 2016s and 2015s since the tannins are already so well integrated and the wines look unlikely to close down for a period as is looking likely for the 2015s and 2016s. If it means you only have to wait five years rather than ten for them to start entering their drinking windows, then the 2017s start to look very appealing. With the added terroir-driven profiles, what’s not to like about the 2017s?