The official term to describe the 2012 harvest in Burgundy was “challenging”. In other words it was a tough vintage. The first half of the year was unpredictable with a very wet spring and frosts, which threatened the vines with mildew.
Yields were low. In the Cote de Beaune hailstorms in June and August destroyed 60 per cent of the crop on some estates, leading to a 30 per cent drop in production across the region. Indeed, the Burgundy region has not had a full harvest since 2009.
Some grapes developed thick skins and limited amounts of pulp but not much juice. Reduced amounts of grapes are driving prices up because of the basic economic principle of supply and demand. So expect the price of burgundy to rise, especially as Asia begins to move away from Bordeaux.
But tough growing conditions do not necessarily mean a bad vintage. I’m reminded of the famous quote from Henri Krug, the great champagne maker, who said that in a good year God makes the wine, but in a bad year the winemaker helps God a little.
One of the estates in that managed to produce some lovely wine despite the “challenges” was Chateau de Santenay. Established in the ninth century, it was originally known as Chateau Philippe le Hardi after the first duke of Burgundy, Philippe le Hardi, who was also the son of the then king.
In 1395 the duke, known as Philippe the Bold, banned the growing of gamay grapes in the region, saying only pinot noir was allowed. Gamay typically ripens some weeks earlier than pinot, is less difficult to grow and produces a fruitier wine. But history was not on its side and later edicts confirmed the ban, which is why pinot is the only red grape in Burgundy.
Wine-making at Santenay is kept simple, with wines kept in contact with grape skins for seven to 10 days during fermentation, followed by pigeage and then délestage at the end of fermentation.
Once fermentation starts, carbon dioxide gases push grape skins to the surface. This layer of skins and other solids is known as the cap. Because skins are needed for tannins and flavours, the cap needs to be pushed back through the liquid each day. Pigeage is the term for the tradition of using feet to stomp the cap in open fermentation tanks to push the skins to the bottom.
Délestage is the French term for a process that removes harsh tannins produced by grape seeds. The wine is drained into a secondary tank. As the cap falls to the bottom it loosens the seeds. When the wine is drained a filter removes the seeds from the wine. The wine is then returned the first vessel.
Santenay has 98 hectares of vines, with 72 of those hectares in Mercurey. These wines tend to be less expensive than burgundies from the Cote d’Or.
The 2012 Santenay Mercurey premier cru known as “Les Puillets” is perfumed and opulent and it has a lovely texture and mouthfeel that makes one want to drink more and more of this wine.
The tannins are soft and approachable, a result of the délestage. This wine is sealed with a stelvin cap, believed to be for the first time. It is a bargain compared with the price of burgundies from the Cote d’Or. A quality wine that is approachable now, but can be kept for the future.
The 2012 Santenay premier cru known as “Clos du Roi” is also under stelvin closure for the first time. It offers wonderful aromas of vegemite and mushrooms with a buxom and welcoming structure.
Also attractive from the 2012 vintage was the Domaine Borgeot Chassagne Montrachet old vines white burgundy, with its tangy acids and creamy texture that gives the wine a profound sense of place. Think nuts and creamy lemon zing, encased in a sensuous structure of gentle opulence. The structure comes from 11 months in a range of new and old barrels.
A “challenging” vintage can throw up some real gems.
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