What to drink: red Burgundy


An image of the vineyards in Burgundy
Photo credit: Jason Lowe

Adam Bruntlett, our Senior Buyer, casts an eye over a decade of red Burgundy, identifying which vintages are drinking beautifully now and which will benefit from being left alone – for now.

We expect 2020 to be an even smaller vintage for Pinot Noir than the already undersized 2019, so I anticipate very high demand for what will likely be another set of high-quality wines. Therefore, it makes sense to take another look at recent vintages – to identify those that are drinking well and those that have potential to improve.

It’s important to note also that a combination of warmer growing seasons and changing winemaking styles in Burgundy have made red wines, in particular, more accessible when young – something which mirrors consumers’ evolving tastes. Many recent vintages, particularly for regional and village wines, are therefore approachable earlier than would have been the case even 15 years ago.

The ’19s

Starting with ’19, this is an excellent vintage with quality in evidence across the board; this was evidenced by enormous demand for the wines in our recent En Primeur offer. They are concentrated and fresh, with good levels of ripeness but without losing the characteristic energy and vibrancy of Burgundian Pinot Noir. While there is certainly no rush to drink these wines, and indeed very few have shipped yet, anyone who has enjoyed our ’19 Bourgogne Côte d’Or will be aware that wines at regional level are charming and approachable.

The ’18s

Often my ’19 barrel tastings were followed by a selection of ’18s, to give an idea of the previous vintage in bottle and also show the contrast in styles. The overall impression was that ’18 is a vintage with more muscular tannins and a touch more ripeness. These are certainly wines which will require more patience than ’19; I feel they are already entering a period of dormancy, so I would recommend they be left well alone.

The ’17s

The ’17 vintage, on the other hand, is an absolute pleasure and shows few signs of closing down. It is perhaps my favourite vintage of the past decade and one which I am pleased to have bought quite extensively. The wines are graceful and elegant with all the elements in perfect balance, which makes even the most prestigious wines approachable. The sheer effortlessness and harmony of these wines suggests to me that they will also age gracefully for many years to come. It is certainly a vintage that’s worth another look.

The ’16s and ’15s

I believe that ’16 and ’15 are a pair of excellent vintages which are sure to be long-lived, although both have good levels of ripeness and may well be enjoyed now alongside food to soften some of the tannins. Personally I am leaving all of my wines from these vintages but colleagues are beginning to approach their cases of Bourgogne-level wines with pleasing results.

The ’14s

The ’14 vintage is another favourite of mine; a vintage with crunchy, bright red fruit, they’re the perfect wines to enjoy with food. They’re perhaps a little less elegant than the ’17s, with slightly more angular features thanks to the brighter acidity. At the lower end of the ladder they are approachable, but the purity and energy of these wines means there should be no rush to tackle them yet.

The ’13s

’13 is perhaps the last of the old-fashioned Burgundy vintages; a cool year in which the red grapes were picked in October in miserable conditions, which necessitated a careful selection of grapes in both vineyard and winery. Consequently, quality-focused growers made small volumes of high-quality wines. Stylistically, they are quite high in acidity with firm tannins, so they will need patience, although the potential is there for this to become an outstanding old-school Burgundy vintage.

The ’12s

In contrast, ’12 is a much more showy, glamorous vintage. The concentration of the vintage gives the wines plenty of appeal, but more pleasure would be gained by waiting, particularly for the grander examples.

The ’11s

The ’11 vintage is hard to pin down, thanks to its unusual profile; at once quite generous and a little herbaceous, the wines have generally turned out a little better than anticipated and are now entering a good window for drinking. In many cases, the slightly green, leafy notes which drew parallels to ’04 have now blown off, and these are pleasant wines in quite a classic style.

The ’10s

The ’10 vintage is generally accepted to be one of the top vintages at the beginning of a very high-quality decade. It is often discussed in the same breath as ’05, although the wines certainly have sweeter tannins compared to the densely-structured ’05s. As a consequence, the ’10s are more approachable in most cases than ’05s, although more enjoyment might well be had by waiting a little longer.

The ’09s and ’08s

Similarly, ’09’s generosity and richness makes the wines rather charming now, although they may well revert to something more classic with more time in the cellar. ’08 was renowned for its forthright acid profile; the wines were very austere in their youth, but this has harmonised somewhat over the past decade and most of the wines are in a good place now.

Red Burgundy: ’00 – ’07

With the exception of ’05, I would be tackling the remaining vintages this side of the millennium as they all feel more or less ready. As discussed above, ’05 itself is a vintage with an abundance of tannin which renders most of its wines impenetrable at present, although regional and village wines are opening up.

What is certainly clear is that Burgundy lovers have been very fortunate to have experienced the past decade of wonderful vintages. In many ways we are living in a golden age where the climate ensures ripe grapes at all levels and winemaking has never been so consistently good across the region. What is perceived as a weak vintage nowadays would have been rather good in the 1980s, something that offers reassurance and confidence to consumers and particularly those entering the confusing world of Burgundy for the first time.

Explore our selection of red Burgundy here.