With two high yield vintages in a row, could 2017 and 2018 be softening skyscraping prices in Burgundy? Price watchers like Liv-Ex earlier this month stressed that a price decline for its index of 150 Burgundy wines over six consecutive months has “not been seen” since it began collecting such data back in 2003.
Even if prices may be leveling off, all is relative, because Burgundy prices remain high, as even a casual glance on wine-searcher.com would indicate. Back in 2003, most U.S. buyers would have paid $20 for a bottle of fine village level Burgundy wine, which today costs at least double for many brands, if not triple -- or even quadruple for some.
While both 2017 and 2018 yielded plenty of wine, the more solar-driven 2018 vintage has stolen larger headlines, sometimes drawing comparisons to such mythical vintages as 1947. What prevented a 2003 for 2018 were cooler nights, said Burgundy observer Jasper Morris MW. And in spite of 2018 being one of the three earliest vintages in the last 10 years, the reds show more juice in the grapes because of heavy spring rainfall that allowed the water table to “come up through the roofs,” he added.
Meanwhile, many lovely 2017 reds may get overlooked as coming from a vintage lacking the “legendary” moniker. So, savvy buyers should look to it not just for relatively better price-quality ratios, but also for its sheer juicy and bright fruit appeal, as evidenced for example from a recent tasting I did of village, premiers and grands crus of Gevrey-Chambertin.
About the Appellation
As most readers know, Gevrey-Chambertin lies alongside the Route des Grands Crus at the northern end of the Côte, which runs from north to south between the Combes of Lavaux at one end and Morey-Saint-Denis at the other.
Gevrey-Chambertin, which dates back to an appellation from 1936, includes a set of fabulous grands crus whose crown jewels are Chambertin and Clos de Bèze. The premiers crus occupy the upper portion of the Côte at heights of between 280 and 380 meters (rather shallow, brown limestone soils). Further down, the appellation’s village vines are planted on brown calcic or limey soils. The vines also reap the benefit of marls covered with screes and red silt washed down from the plateau. Such stony mixtures confer elegance and delicacy on the wines, while the clayey marls, which contain rich deposits of fossil shellfish, add body and firmness. Exposures vary from east to southeast.
Of course, the grands crus of Gevrey-Chambertin are “iconic Pinot Noir” wines: Powerful, complex and intense. They demand equally complex, high-toned dishes to keep pairing in balance.
But as Burgundy prices scrape ever-higher skies, sometimes to the point of absurdity, budget-minded wine lovers should look especially to the village level wines of this expansive appellation, so at the annual Roi Chambertin tasting, which I had attended late last year, plenty of fine village level wines were available to taste.
Take the excellent old vines Tortochot “Champerrier,” whose vines had been planted in 1920 on lower slopes of Côte St. Jacques and Brochon. The wine is well structured, dense and with lively acidity for drinking over the next decade. For a more tenor, deep expression, the wonderfully contoured Sylvie Esmonin Gevrey Chambertin has been aged in 60% new oak that is very well integrated. At once sumptuous in its dark fruit expression and refined, the wine exudes tannic grip, owing in part to its 50% whole cluster vinification. Also worth seeking is the village level Jean-Michel Guillon, coming from a parcel of 90-year-old vines, yielding the depth and concentration of some premiers crus.
Many premiers crus I sampled were excellent, such as a gorgeously opulent Faiveley Gevrey-Chambertin Les Cazetiers and a supremely deep and aromatic Sylvie Esmonin Clos Saint Jacques. Bruno Claire topped them in both appellations in 2017 with a bit more precision overall.
Among the grands crus, Rossignol Trapet continues to make great wine for relatively economical prices for such appellations as Latricières-Chambertin (diaphanous floral elegance that seduces the taster), Chapelle-Chambertin (similar but perhaps more precise) and Chambertin, with the most finesse along with crispy red fruit that beckons drinking.
Other top grands crus included the gorgeously opulent yet precise Tortochot Mazis Chambertin and a somewhat underrated Domaine des Varoilles Charmes Chambertin, with much aromatic focus and depth on the palate.
Although prices are not low by any stretch of the imagination, the reds of 2017 offer much Burgundian pleasure -- and will probably cost you less than their 2018 counterparts, once they hit the shelves.