Burgundy 2019: the value of patience
Author: Will Heslop
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.
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.