Henri Krug, the great champagne maker, once said that in a good year God makes the wine but in a bad year the winemaker helps God. The latter applies to the 2013 vintage in Burgundy, which locals described as “challenging”.
Jancis Robinson, queen of wine-writers, noted on her web site that a very cold and wet spring delayed flowering in Burgundy and led to uneven ripening. Not all the berries “set” on the vines, reducing the number of grapes on the bunch. Rain in April and May was double the average.
A particularly bad hailstorm on July 23 damaged vines in some areas, but mercifully a drier September allowed a small crop of balanced fruit with good potential.
The harvest started in the first week of October, the latest recorded since the 1980s. Sugar levels in grapes were low so some winemakers added sugar, known as chaptalization, but it meant wines had good acidity.
Jason Haynes, buyer for Flint Wines, said the 2013 vintage was a “testament to the healthy state of many of the vineyards, thanks to more organic and better viticultural care”. A tasting of burgundies in London this week organized by Flint Wines showed the talent of Burgundy’s winemakers in crafting quality wine from a difficult vintage.
Domaine Arlaud has been organic since 2007 and received biodynamic certification in 2010, though details will not appear on the domaine’s back label until the 2014 vintage is released.
Cyprien Arlaud, eldest son of Herve, has been the driving force behind the push into biodynamic viticulture. “An organic approach changes the vines but biodynamics changes both vine and wine. Biodynamics makes you more aware of the quality of flavours and fruit,” he said.
Cyprien said his mother grew organic vegetables when he was a child, and he had always appreciated the flavours of organic products. Domaine Arlaud has used two huge shire horses, Oka and Nougat, to plough the vines since 2001. The entry level red is named after Oka.
The 2013 Morey-Saint-Denis offers a funky nose with a range of red fruits that linger beautifully in the mouth. All Arlaud wines have a pronounced mineral streak that reflects the limestone soil.
The 2013 Morey-Saint-Denis premier cru also has a funky nose with an elegant mouthfeel of rich red fruits and piercing acidity. The 2013 Charmes-Chambertin grand cru offers enticing perfumed aromas with a combination of rich red and black fruits whose intense flavours linger long in the memory and glass.
It was impossible to sample all of the wines at the tasting. Other impressive wines came from Domaine Jean Tardy, made by Guillaume Tardy who has run the family domaine for a decade. He admitted he chaptalized “a little bit for the good of the wine”. Chaptalization is the addition of sugar — Guillaume uses high-quality cane sugar from Madagascar — to unfermented grape juice to increase alcohol levels.
His village wines were especially impressive, and relatively well priced for Burgundy. The 2013 Hautes Cotes de Nuits Cuvee Maelie has vibrant acidity, intense fruit flavours and nice length. Despite the challenging vintage these wines show no signs of greenness, though acidity is pronounced.
Most of the village reds received 30 per cent new oak and feel feminine and silky, with pronounced length that reflects the quality of the winemaking. The 2013 Nuits-St-George Bas de Comme was made from 70-year-old vines whose small berries offered concentrated flavours, Guillaume said.
All had a sense of freshness with subtle mouthfeel. Guillaume said he aims to make “digestive wines” to be consumed with food.
His 2013 grand cru Echezeaux Les Treux, also from old vines, has a precision and richness that lingers long in the mouth, with supple acidity and wondrous length. But it needs time in the cellar. “Don’t touch [it] before 12 years,” Guillaume said.
Some of the best whites tasted included zingy and citrusy Meursault 2013 premier crus Charmes and Perrieres from Domaine Ballot-Millot made by Charles Ballot-Millot, and the 2013 premier crus Le Poruzot Dessus and Les Genevrieres by Arnaud Tessier of Domaine Arnaud Tessier. All had intense fruit and majestic texture.
Similarly impressive were three Chassagne-Montrachet premier crus (Les Charmes, Les Vergers and Les Chenevottes) by Philippe Colin of Domaine Philippe Colin, and the Chassagne-Montrachet premier cru by Armand Heitz of Domaine Heitz-Lochardet. The last is the first vintage of a very talented young winemaker who has just taken over the family domaine.
Is it possible to summarize 2013? Yields were low so expect shortages of some wines. The quality of the reds varies markedly, though whites are much more consistent.
Three consecutive years of low yields will influence the amount of wine available to the general buyer. If you plan to purchase burgundies, 2013 is a year where you should buy based on winemakers you know or recommendations from sources you trust.
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