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The 2017 Burgundies
By Michael Apstein
Dec 4, 2018
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Everyone was smiling during my visit to Burgundy last month.  The cellars were, after all, chock full of wine after two good-sized vintages.  At Maison Louis Jadot, the barrel cellars were filled to the brim.  For the first time ever, barrels were stacked three high in a cellar designed for just two tiers.  They even had rows of barrels--3 and 4 high--in the winery. The 2017 vintage was normal in volume, but is considered large by comparison to the five short vintages that preceded it.  The 2018 vintage was copious as well, which explains why the cellars are so full.  Frédéric Drouhin put it succinctly: “Burgundy is back.  We have wine.”  The 2018 vintage, just finishing its alcoholic fermentation, is already being hailed--somewhat prematurely in my view--as exceptional.  François Labet, President of the BIVB (Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne), the organization that represents all Burgundy growers and producers, said--with barely contained enthusiasm--that “It’s shining in Burgundy just like our 2018 vintage, which is ideal . . . close to 1947.”   His enthusiasm was not isolated. Sales of the 2018 wines at the annual Hospices de Beaune auction set a record. 

Let’s start with the white wines from the 2017 vintage.  My assessment is based on recent tastings of hundreds of wines from growers and négociants from Chablis in the north to the Côte Chalonnaise in the south.  Many of the whites were already bottled or in tank awaiting bottling, whereas most of the reds were still in barrel.  As readers know, I do not review specific wines still in barrel because they still have a long way to go before they are finished.  Barrel samples do, however, give a good sense of the vintage in general. (see link below, which explains the drawbacks of barrel samples.)

The whites are consistent and excellent, delivering energy and a sense of place.  Not as tightly wound as the 2010s, the 2017s are more similar to the charming and thoroughly enjoyable 2014s. It’s hard to wrong with them, especially if you buy from producers whose wines you’ve liked in the past.  Just don’t expect the prices to come down because of the relatively large crop.  Producers are still trying to catch up from the short-falls of the previous five years.

But bargains still abound.  Look for well-priced examples from Maison Joseph Drouhin--their 2017 Mâcon-Lugny “Les Crays” (88, $16) and Saint-Véran (90, $18), both reviewed this week--as well as Paul Pernot’s lacy and flowery Bourgogne Blanc (91, $27).

Indeed, Pernot, one of the most consistent names in Puligny-Montrachet, made exceptional white wines in 2017 that are zesty, penetrating and powerful but retain Pernot’s hallmark of finesse. You could buy any of their wines from their Bourgogne Blanc up to their Bâtard-Montrachet, and be thrilled.  Of special note is their mineral-infused and lively village Puligny-Montrachet (94, $55), which gives more enjoyment and precision than many producers’ premier crus at a 40 percent lower price.

The 2017 Chablis from Drouhin’s Domaine Vaudon provide excellent value.  Véronique Drouhin raved about the “beautiful fruit at harvest.”  She explained that they left lots of lees (spent yeast) after pressing because the grapes were so clean.  She ascribes the brilliant acidity in the finished wines to very little conversion of malic to lactic acid during the malolactic fermentation.  A reduced crop in 2017 marred the otherwise excellent report from Chablis, the only region of Burgundy where crop size was smaller than usual because of two severe frosts on April 18 and 29.  Drouhin’s 2017 village Chablis from their own vineyards, bottled as Réserve de Vaudon, is flinty and long (91, $34).  It’s a stellar example of how invigorating village Chablis can be, in the right hands.  A step up are their citrus-tinged and mineral-y Chablis 1er Cru Sécher (93, not yet released, hereafter “NYR”) and their fuller, yet still flinty, 1er Cru Mont de Milieu (93, NYR).

I’ve always liked the wines from Domaine Lafouge, an under-the-radar producer based in Auxey-Duresses.  They vinified their 2017 whites in their recently completed winery in that village, which may explain why they are so stunning across the board.  Their whites from Auxey-Duresses and Meursault were impressive, all showing their clear origins and distinctiveness.  The Auxey-Duresses “Les Boutonnières,” a perfumed and snappy village wine, should be an especially attractive value (91, the 2017 is not yet priced, but the 2016 is about $36).  Lafouge’s 2017 village Meursault from the lieux-dits of Les Meix-Chavaux (94, NYR, the 2016 is $50) and Les Casse-Têtes (93, NYR, the 2016 is $60) are exciting, spicy and a delight to drink. 

Though Domaine Parent is known for their stellar red wines, they also produce note-worthy whites, especially their Monthélie Blanc, an unusual wine since 90 percent of the wine from that village is red.  I am a big fan of Parent’s Monthélie white, made from purchased grapes, and their 2017 confirms my enthusiasm.  Both creamy and zesty, this white Monthélie conveys both power and restraint (93, NYR, the 2016 is $60).  It’s quite an amazing village wine.

In the Côte Chalonnaise, Domaine Jobard consistently produces stunning, well-priced wines from Rully.  That streak continued in 2017 with her Rully “Montagne la Folie” (91, NYR, the 2015 is $22).  It’s clean and bright delivering the classic stony character of Rully enhanced with a hint of creaminess.  Claudie Jobard said that the key to making excellent wines in 2017 was to limit yield to avoid dilution.  Her wines showed that she did just that.

Michel Bouzereau, one of the very top producers in Meursault, made spectacular 2017s.  To emphasize the origin of the grapes, he opted to label his Bourgogne Blanc with the new appellation, Côte d’Or, indicating that all the wine came exclusively from that part of Burgundy.  In his case, he told me that the wine came from his 11 acres of vineyards, comprising almost one-third of his domaine, that lie just outside of the official confines of Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault.  After tasting it, you’d never know it’s a “simple” Bourgogne Blanc because of its depth and riveting acidity that amplifies its considerable character (94, NYR, the 2016 is $34).  His village Meursault from Le Grand Charrons (94, NTR, the 2016 is $58) and Les Tessons (95, NYR, the 2016 is $67), with their spicy notes, also punch well above their weight class.

The most eye-opening producer I visited this year was Pernot-Belicard.  The Pernot part is Philippe Pernot, the winemaker who learned at the side of his father, the famed Paul Pernot, one of the leading producers in Puligny-Montrachet.  When Philippe married, his wife brought family vineyards with her, the grapes from which had been sold to négociants previously.  Though the Pernot-Belicard domaine was founded less than a decade ago, the vineyards had been in the Belicard family for generations so there are plenty of old vines.  The 2017 wines from Pernot-Belicard are spectacular.  Those who love white Burgundy should buy as much of them as their wallets allow, including their extraordinary and well-priced Bourgogne Blanc (93, $22, likely the best wine for the money I tasted this trip), their old-vine village Meursalut (94, $55), and their racy and stony Meursault-Perrières (96, NYR, the 2015 is $85).

Let’s look at the reds.  I tasted far fewer bottled reds than whites, and will leave specific recommendations to another time.  However, extensive barrel tastings and discussions with producers did give me a sense of what I will call a bi-polar vintage. Make no mistake, the 2017s reds are very good.  The problem for consumers is that there are two distinct styles of wines--charming and forward or denser and more structured--depending, in large measure, on yields.  Both styles are very good, but consumers will need to realize that some of the wines are seductively charming for drinking over the next several years while others will reward extended cellaring.

Anne Parent, a top producer in Pommard, bursts with enthusiasm described the 2017 reds, “The fruit is really amazing.”  The vintage produced good quantities of healthy grapes, requiring producers to discard few grapes before putting them into fermenting vats.  She notes that the wines are “charming;” they lack the structure of the 2015s, 2016s or 2018s, but will be very enjoyable soon after release.

I found many wines that fit that description, but I also found wines with density and structure, often within the same cellar.  At Maison Louis Jadot, for example, their Santenay Maladière, newly acquired with their purchase of Domaine Prieur-Brunet and their Pernand-Vergelesses Croix de la Pierre, were charming and forward.  I could easily envision enjoying them in a few years’ time.  In contrast, Jadot’s Chambolle-Musigny Les Baudes and Les Fuées were dense and structured.  Similarly, their wines from Beaune showed good concentration and structure.  At Méo-Camuzet, their reds all had presence and power appropriate to the appellation.

Frédéric Barnier, Jadot’s talented winemaker, noted that many of their wines have taken on far more structure and density since they have completed what turned out to be a very early malolactic fermentation.  I wonder whether critics who tasted the wines earlier in the year, proclaiming them to be light, will be surprised by the weight they have put on recently.  

As always when speaking of Burgundy, it is dangerous to generalize.  That’s certainly the case with the 2017 vintage, especially the reds.  It’s what I’ll call a “wine writer’s” vintage because consumers will need advice, in contrast to selecting the 2015s reds when they could point with eyes closed and be happy with their selection.  So, stayed tuned.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Burgundy in general or the 2017s in specific at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

December 5, 2018