Burgundy 2019: the value of patience

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As our Burgundy 2019 En Primeur offer continues apace, Burgundy specialist Will Heslop extolls the virtues of patience in building a fine wine collection. 

Burgundy: a land that time forgot, divided into miniscule plots of vines, perpetually shrouded in mist and tended with monastic devotion by crooked-backed vignerons. Through some alchemy passed down from generation to generation, their meagre crop is spun into wines so rare and so fragile that they can only be admired from afar by all but a select few privileged and deep-pocketed drinkers. 

Breaking preconceptions in Burgundy

Such were my preconceptions before my first visit to Burgundy in autumn 2015. While some rang true – the devoted vineyard work; the tiny vineyards, each with its own identity; the importance of tradition and family ties – many others were blown apart. I was unprepared for the dynamism, forward-thinking and joie de vivre that prevail here; it’s these things that keep me coming back. The best Burgundian winemakers have a healthy respect for the methods of their forebears. But they constantly ask themselves how they can produce better wines; making tiny adjustments each vintage to make the most – in terms of quality, not quantity – of what nature serves up. If Sir Dave Brailsford ran a Burgundian domaine, he would speak of “marginal gains”.   

It’s also worth noting that while vignerons (masculine) continue to outnumber vigneronnes (feminine), the balance in our portfolio is shifting: the likes of Léa Lafon, Cyrielle Rousseau and Mathilde Grivot are increasingly calling the shots at their families’ domaines

A taste of Burgundy 2019

Our most important – and rewarding – tasting trip is in autumn. Although this year it was curtailed by a second confinement (lockdown) it provides our team with the first proper glimpse of the previous year’s vintage. We taste the wines and, just as importantly, hear first-hand from the winemakers the story of the year: its climatic twists and turns, and how they played out across the different terroirs that make up each domaine. The winemaker will explain the choices they made in the vineyard and winery – even, in most cases, those that they come to regret.  

As Adam writes in his vintage report, in ’19 terroir speaks louder than the effects of the warm growing season. Lisibilité (readability) and transparence (transparency) were among the adjectives that Etienne Grivot used to describe his ’19s. As usual, Etienne was spot on: in both colours, the wines of Burgundy should be an expression in your glass of the specific terroir that shaped them, with as little interference as possible. Buying En Primeur is an extension of this: from the moment a bottle is packed into its case at the domaine, it will remain untouched by human hands until you unpack it – years or perhaps decades later. In the meantime, it lies calmly at the domaine and then, following a swift voyage, in our temperature-controlled warehouse.

Deferred gratification

Having become accustomed to next-day delivery of virtually anything – particularly during lockdown – there is satisfaction to be had from having to wait for wines bought this way. That said, you won’t have to wait a lifetime to start enjoying your ’19s: our offer features a host of wines, notably from the Mâconnais and village-level Chablis, that will be ready to drink as soon as they ship – as early as spring 2020 for the whites.  

In fact, like food and wine matching, the conventional wisdom about drinking windows is today often called into question. Aware that a proportion of his wine will be drunk young – above all in restaurants – Jean-Pierre Guyon makes all his wines, Echezeaux Grand Cru included, to provide pleasure at every stage of their lives. In winemaking terms, he says, this means gentler extraction – aided by whole bunch fermentation – and less new oak, resulting in fresh, supple wines that will stand the test of time yet are seriously seductive, almost from the word go.  

Nevertheless, our trips to Burgundy include glorious reminders that the region’s finest wines do require time in bottle to reveal their full majesty. In autumn this year, Maxime Rion – at lunch with his wife, Sophie, and young sons – treated us to a sublime 1969 Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Chaumes, made by his grandfather. Delicate yet vibrant, it was impossible not to be moved by the wine, let alone the context. How thrilling for Maxime to think of his own sons, or even his grandchildren, uncorking bottles of his 2019s in decades to come – and how thrilling for us that, having bought them En Primeur, and knowing the value of patience, we might do the same.  

Our Burgundy 2019 En Primeur offer is now live. You can browse Will’s wine recommendations here.

Category: Burgundy Wine

An interview with Daftmill’s Francis Cuthbert

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Francis Cuthbert, farmer and distiller, rolls a cask out of the Daftmill distillery door

Francis Cuthbert, distiller, farmer, and co-founder of Daftmill in Fife, joins Jonny McMillan to talk malt, peat, Covid, selling the kids and when, if ever, he’ll celebrate Daftmill’s success.

JM: It’s been nearly three years since the first Daftmill release; how do you feel about the distillery’s growing cult status?

FC: Cult status? Yes, the cult is coming along nicely. In fact, for the next batch of single casks, I think people will need to shave their heads and get Daftmill tattoos to be eligible for a bottle. If demand still outstrips supply, we can also do a ballot.

JM: I remember feeling quite excited reading a review by whiskyfun.com’s Serge Valentin comparing Daftmill to Rosebank, a distillery which I know was something of an inspiration for you.  Are there any reviews, good or bad, that you’ve enjoyed reading?

FC: It is always an honour to be compared with a distillery like Rosebank. As we release more whisky, the reviews tend to compare the current release with a previous one – like “the 2009 sherry cask has better balance than the 2006 cask” rather than with other distilleries.

I enjoy reading other people’s thoughts, but you need to be careful. The person giving a really high score might just be doing it to try and inflate the price of his bottle on the secondary market; the person giving a bad review might be someone who has asked for free samples in return for “co-operation” and been turned down. If it is someone’s honest opinion, whether it is good or bad, you have to respect it. Different people whose opinions you respect can have widely different views on the same whisky.

JM: How have you been affected by the pandemic?  Have you had to focus more on the farm, or has it given you more time to distil?

FC: I have been practising for this pandemic for the last 30 years. Working from home – and working on my own – is second nature to me, so I have been much luckier than most.

The farm and the distillery have carried on pretty much as near normal as possible. The fact that there was nowhere to go, no whisky festivals, etcetera, means we have spent more time this year distilling resulting in a lot more casks filled this year.

JM: After the pandemic, we should throw a celebratory dinner in Berry Bros. & Rudd’s cellars and invite a few guests to enjoy some Good Ordinary Claret washed down by a dram or two of Daftmill. Who would be on your guest list?

FC: Well, obviously we will need some A list celebs like Ronnie Cox or Doug McIvor. I would have quite liked to be able to meet the late whisky writer Michael Jackson. But, to be honest, I think good food, good drink and good company with some good laughs are better than celebrity.

JM: You’re known for being very humble in your success, and often playing down the quality of your whisky. When do you think you’ll see Daftmill as a success? Is there an accolade or milestone where you’ll finally give yourself a pat on the back?

FC: We don’t enter any competitions so don’t win any accolades. I think you need to keep trying to improve. When you are ploughing and get from one end of the field to the other, you look back and there will be a little kink or bend somewhere along the furrow. So when you turn and go back you try and straighten it up probably creating another kink somewhere else. Distilling is kind of like that each day you do a mash or distil and do your best and the following day you try to do better.

JM: Would you experiment with using peated barley, or barley that has been malted in non-traditional ways – chocolate malt for example?

FC: Currently, we are only using malt made from barley grown ourselves. We get one batch malted, and that normally does us for a year. If I wanted to try peated malt, I would need to buy in commercial malt – the maltster we use doesn’t do peating on site. And that kind of goes against what we are about. The problem with experiments and small batches is always the logistics.

​JM: Are there any other young distilleries you’ve enjoyed sharing information, data, knowledge, stories and drams with?

FC: When we first started there was quite a lot of people who wanted to see what we had done with a view to starting their own distillery. Lately, this hasn’t happened so much – probably because there is now a lot of newer, more exciting distilleries than us. I do remember a visit by a couple of guys from Diageo before the building of Roseisle distillery; I’m not sure if they would have taken away anything useful.

​​JM: If you had to sell the farm or the distillery, which one would you choose?

FC: Probably the kids first.

JM: What steps have you taken towards sustainable practices, both on the farm and at the distillery?

FC: We haven’t introduced anything to try and be “sustainable” We just don’t waste anything. Almost everything has another use. Farming has always been kind of like this. It used to be called “being tight”.

In the distillery, the spent grains from the mash are fed to the cattle. The leftovers from the distillation are spread back on the fields to fertilise the barley and grass. We don’t have a lot of packaging, fancy tubes or boxes that just end up in the bin anyway.

The latest release from Daftmill is currently available. For your chance to purchase a bottle, enter our ballot before 19th January.

Category: Spirits

Jasper Morris MW: Why I love Burgundy

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Jasper Morris MW, one of Burgundy’s leading critics and fine wine voices, explains the enduring allure of this remarkable region.

My 40-year love affair with Burgundy shows no signs of dwindling. As I – and some of the wines in my cellar – grow older, I’m mindful that age, in wine at least, can be a good thing.  

When I first came to Burgundy, the leading producers were dangerously complacent, leaning on the past and the elements of pageantry that went with Burgundy’s glorious history rooted in the medieval duchy. For most people, Burgundy meant either a colour (in fact, much too deep a red to be true to Pinot Noir) or a reference to Good Hearty Burgundy – a wholly inaccurate image. 

Then came the renaissance of the late 1980s through the 1990s. This saw the establishment of many more domaines bottling their own wine. There was also significant refinement in production techniques, which came about through a mixture of professional training and far better social interaction. At last, producers started to visit their neighbours’ cellars to taste each other’s wines. Welcome to the Golden Age of Burgundy. 

Burgundy: Wonderfully, wickedly complicated

Two main grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; two main soil types, clay and limestone; two main groups of producers, négociants and domaines: Burgundy is so simple, isn’t it? Sadly not. Burgundy is wonderfully, wickedly complicated.

Partly it is the interlinked network of families who keep marrying each other, Moreys and Colins and Coffinets and Gagnards in Chassagne-Montrachet, Rossignols in Volnay, Mugnerets and Noellats in the Côte de Nuits. It is hard to keep up with the Morey family where you may find wines labelled Albert, Bernard, Caroline, Jean-Marc, Marc, Michel, Pierre, Sylvain, Thomas, Vincent, and probably a few more I don’t know about. The Colin family could probably raise an XI to play against them (Michel, Marc, Bernard, Pierre-Yves, Damien, Joseph, Philippe, Bruno, Simon for starters). 

Partly, too, it is the vinous landscape, with the patchwork mosaic of small plots, each farmed in its own individual style by the owner, such that you can easily tell where one plot ends and another starts through subtle differences in the height of the trellising or the vigour and colouring of the foliage. 

The allure of Burgundy

But don’t let Burgundy’s complexity deter you – because, for me at least, it’s part of its charm: it is here, after all, that the nuance and subtleties are to be found.  

The range, too, is wonderful. For those with disposable income to match what are undoubtedly high prices these days, there are some glorious Grands Crus to choose from, each of them offering a distinct flavour profile that makes that vineyard worth separating out and labelling on its own. These vineyards represent more than the quintessence of their appellations: they are each of them unique characterisations of a particular strand of Burgundy. To my mind, there’s no other region that can hit the pinnacle of brilliance so evenly in both colours.  

But we cannot all afford the Grands Crus and the top Premiers Crus; I certainly cannot. Thankfully, Burgundy also offers a wealth of wines at more manageable prices – whether they be generic Bourgognes from famous producers, gems from the Mâconnais or the Hautes Côtes, or relatively under-the-radar appellations such as St-Romain and Marsannay. These are the wines I choose for my cellar. 

What gives me the most pleasure is opening a bottle of wine at any level and, on tasting, realising that it could not have been made any better – that it has realised its full potential. That is what brings the satisfied Burgundy smile to my face.

Burgundian resilience

There’s another element to Burgundy’s appeal which is less obvious: I cannot help but admire the downright, indefatigable resilience of its winemakers. With problems such as Flavescence Dorée, a new disease; the fact that one of the stalwart rootstocks, 161-49C has suddenly stopped working; the challenges of global warming and, of course Covid, many would have stumbled. But the sangfroid of the vignerons remains impressive.  

I’m privileged to call Burgundy home for most of the year, but I’ve never lost sight of the fact it is a deeply rewarding place to visit. Those who know Bordeaux well and are used to the 20-minute drive between Margaux and St Julien, are amazed, on visiting Burgundy, to be able to stand on the hill alongside one of the famous villages and to be able to see the church spires of three or four more household names. I love to walk in the vines and from the top of the Beaune hillside, just above the Clos des Mouches vineyard, I can see to Pommard, Volnay, Monthelie and Meursault with a hint of Chassagne-Montrachet in the far distance. 

Staying power

It is the combination of the wine, the people and the place that makes Burgundy so magical. To me, Michel Lafarge, who left us after 70 vintages at his family domaine, was the embodiment of all that is most wonderful in Burgundy. One of the most emotionally charged moments that I will treasure, was dinner at Michel’s house to celebrate his 86th birthday in 2014. His son Frederic showed the next bottle in the line-up to his father before he served it: a beatific smile lit up Michel’s face: “That’s a wine that my grandfather made…” It was in fact the 1915 Volnay 1er Cru Clos de la Cave des Ducs.  

I am sure that the 2019 will last as long. 

Jasper Morris MW is the author of Inside Burgundy.

Category: Burgundy Wine

Burgundy 2019: the buyer’s cellar

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Burgundy 2019 cellar
Photograph: Jason Lowe

As our Burgundy Buyer, Adam Bruntlett spends his days sourcing wines destined for other peoples cellars. Here, he gives us an insider’s look at his own Burgundy collection.    

My relationship with Burgundy began 10 years ago, when I started visiting growers regularly to taste their wines from barrel. Some vignerons would follow the new vintage by pouring a more mature wine blind, inviting tasters to deduce the vintage and vineyard. My success on such occasions was limited, but they impressed upon me the incredible complexity of flavour that can characterise mature Burgundy.

Being in my mid-20s at the time, my limited spending power initially restricted me to odd bottles, all too often consumed shortly after purchase. But I had a strong urge to cellar some of the wines I had tasted from barrel, to watch their evolution over time. Consequently, my journey into collecting only began relatively recently.  

Starting out 

I first bought En Primeur with the 2012 vintage, and I still have my two purchases in my reserves: a case each of Chambolle-Musigny village and Premier Cru Les Cras from Domaine Barthod. Try as I might, I find it impossible to separate wines from the people who make them, and Ghislaine Barthod’s friendly charm is reflected in her wines. I buy them as regularly as possible; her Bourgogne is a firm favourite, with its wonderful ability to age despite its modest classification.   

Buying En Primeur

Buying wine En Primeur was initially a big step, but there are many reasons why it makes sense even on a modest budget.    

First and foremost, it saves money. Buying Burgundy En Primeur – even at Bourgogne or village level – can offer a substantial discount on the subsequent retail price. Early-drinking whites from the Mâconnais or Chablis tend to be shipped in the spring, so I think of buying those wines like placing an early order for my summer drinking.   

Many of Burgundy’s wines are made in such small quantities that En Primeur is essential to avoid missing out on particular growers and vineyards. The parcellated nature of Burgundy’s vineyards means that in many cases, just a few hundred bottles of certain wines are made. They can be hard to find later. 

Burgundy by the case

Buying En Primeur means buying by the case. Buying a full case of the same wine was a huge undertaking for me initially, but its great benefit is that you can enjoy the same wine over a period of months, years or even longer, carefully watching its evolution through its life.   

For me, cellaring wine is an opportunity to leave a legacy for my children. As such, my spending increased considerably in ’17, when my first daughter was born. Helpfully, it’s also one of my favourite vintages of the last decade; I hope I will be allowed to enjoy some of them with her.   

I buy a range of styles and quality levels so that I can, for example, drink my Bourgogne after a few years, then the village wines and then the Premiers Crus. This means that I should always have something that is drinking well at any given moment. I buy almost exclusively for drinking, but it’s undeniable that there can be an investment element to collecting wine – even if the aim of selling it is simply to fund more purchases.  

Age-worthy wines

It’s surprising how even modest wines can age: I distinctly remember Antoine Jobard pouring a half-bottle of Bourgogne Blanc 1996 after a barrel tasting a couple of years ago. I’m proud to say I nailed the vintage – though not quite the vineyard.    

To my mind, any wine which is balanced in youth possesses the ability to age well. The level of acidity and the quality of tannins, along with the concentration of fruit will determine just how long the wine can age for.    

There is also an important distinction between ageing and improving: ageing in wine is rarely a linear process, and mature wines possess a completely different flavour profile to young wines. I love young Burgundy for its energy and crunchy fruit profile – typically small red berries in Pinot Noir and citrus and orchard fruits in Chardonnay. With age, the reds gain mushroom, underbrush and wild strawberry flavours; the whites often take on white truffle notes and a nutty, honeyed complexity. 

Beyond the Grands Crus

Despite my privileged position as a professional Burgundy buyer, my budget doesn’t really stretch to Grands Crus. Luckily, even supposedly “modest” wines can age surprisingly well, and even improve with a few years in bottle. Two of my favourites are Sébastien Magnien’s Hautes-Côtes de Beaune Clos de la Perrière and the Bourgogne Passetoutgrains from Michel Lafarge or Jérôme Castagnier. I often try to buy large formats, which will improve the ageing capacity and limit the familiar temptation to open a bottle too young. I have quite a few magnums of Pouilly-Fuissé, Chablis and Bourgogne which I’m determined to keep for a decade before touching.   

One of the most frustrating aspects of starting a cellar can be waiting for your wines to be ready. Thankfully, changing tastes and market forces mean that modern Burgundy has generally moved towards a more approachable, early-drinking style. The best winemakers – aided by recent, warm vintages which give ripe tannins and juicy fruit – can produce wines which give pleasure throughout their life. Consequently, cellaring does not just have to mean putting bottles away and forgetting about them for a decade. 

Our Burgundy 2019 En Primeur offer is now live.

Category: Burgundy Wine