Wine

Sarah Marsh MW reviews Burgundy 2018

As the sun beat down, the vines drained the stony soil in search of water - but the hot dry vintage has produced surprisingly trim and fresh wines

Words by Sarah Marsh MW

In the summer of 2018 Burgundy sweltered in temperatures peaking at 40 degrees. But despite the scorching, dry summer the wines aren’t heavy or sluggish. While the whites are often rounded, ripe and full, they’re trim and even light-footed. They may be low in acidity, but they have energy. They are savoury rather than fruity, with an appetising dry, salty minerality. You can almost sense the roots sucking on the stony soil in search of water.

Pinot Noir, meanwhile, absorbed the solar vintage, expressing it in inky wine, richly  rounded with mouth-filling dark fruit and ripe tannins, but equally, no lack of freshness and energy. This freshness together with more stuffing differentiates 2018 from the softer 2009s.

 

Read Sarah Marsh MW’s review of Burgundy 2017.

Tannin can usefully compensate for lower acidity, and many domaines used more whole bunches in their ferment to boost that sense of freshness. However, quite as many opted for the ‘infusion’ approach, with some barely touching their ferments to make 2018s light in colour and body with a whisper of tannin.

This difference in approach, together with picking date – a later harvest made richer wines – magnifies the already extreme conditions of the vintage and has produced quite a wide division in style.

Whatever your preference, the good news is there is a decent quantity of 2018 (gather while you may – there’s very little 2019). The reds benefited from this decent crop: they avoided the concentration typical of small harvests (like the tiny drought-ridden 2003). Equally, rather high yields for Chardonnay help explain the spookily elegant style of the whites in a hot vintage. Push that too far, which some did, and they become dilute.

But let’s not forget alcohol. While the whites tend to weigh in at a moderate 13%, some of the reds are bruisers. In 2018, 14% is typical; some reach 15% and more. These atypical alcohol levels have a certain serendipity for those exporting to the US, for the new 25% import tax on Burgundy and Bordeaux affects wine under 14.1%.

Now fine-textured and refined Burgundian Pinot is typically uncomfortable carrying higher alcohol, which can severely compromise the expression of terroir. But again – surprisingly – the terroir remains distinctive.

Look out for Bourgogne, Côte d’Or, both Pinot and Chardonnay, for these have an extra quality to them and will represent to some extent the village beneath which they lie

What are the best Burgundy 2018 wines? Gobble up the regional wines, which are just gorgeous. You are pretty safe all round with these, but look out for Bourgogne, Côte d’Or, both Pinot and Chardonnay, for these have an extra quality to them and will represent to some extent the village beneath which they lie. Don’t forget Aligoté which ripened beautifully. Tackle the Maconnais if you like your whites rich, for these can be ample in 2018; Chablis basked, and benefited from the warm summer. 

On the Côte d’Or, in white at village level the lieux-dits from the slopes in Meursault shone. Top tip: crest the hill into Auxey-Duresses to the cooler north-facing slope, where you will find pithy mineral whites. The ‘smaller’ villages, away from the main slope on the Côte de Beaune, have done well, and up north there are appealing savoury whites from Marsannay.

In red it’s an excellent year for Pommard, which benefited from the cold draught from the combe, as did Nuits-Saint-Georges. The most reliable village is Gevrey-Chambertin (but that’s so often the case.)

There’s plenty of pleasure in this sunny vintage, but don’t be fooled into drinking the reds too quickly. The top white may last longer than you think, but the top 1er cru reds demand it.

Burgundy vineyard

Côte de Nuits

On the Côte de Nuits the over-arching style is rich, but contained and well illustrated by the wines of Vosne-Romanée. Here the village wines are ripe, but have energy. And while temperatures soared in the premier cru vineyards on the slope, the wines were not overwhelmed. Richness and power are laced with elegance. In Nuits-Saint George, both village wines and 1er crus from the north side are dark and sumptuous, but approach the south side with caution as it was struck by hail.

Chambolle can be quite exotic and I find it the least successful of the top villages. The finesse of Chambolle is easier to achieve in a fresher vintage. Morey-Saint-Denis is quite mixed with some somewhat burly and certainly spicy wine. Gevrey-Chambertin finds an easier harmony and the 1er Cru wines from the hill… Lavaux Saint Jacques and Combe Au Moine are a delight.

Côte de Beaune

The Côte de Beaune reds are ripe and rounded. The sunny locations in particular produced rich, full some wines. Beaune reds are juicy and generous particularly on the Pommard side. Volnay, for once, is not the casualty of hail. The style here can lean towards voluptuous, but is less exotic than Chambolle and the 1er crus Clos des Chêne and Santenots find an affinity with the ripeness of the vintage.

From south facing face of the Corton hill there are some heady red grand cru. I prefer the the whites – Corton Blanc and Corton Charlemagne in 2018.

It’s an excellent year for whites from Saint-Aubin and Saint Romain. While Auxey Duresses provides mini Meursault in 2018, for a fraction of the price, Monthelie ushers forth mini Volnay, especially from 1er Cru Les Champs-Fuillot but firmly structured Monthelie, 1er cru Les Duresses also ripened well.  I found Meursault the most satisfying of the three principal village, but if I had to select just one 1er Cru it might be Puligny, Les Folatières. 

Chablis 

2018 was an extreme vintage for Chablis: the region was hot, and a bit drier than the Côte d’Or. As the leaves dried, the grapes concentrated and concerns for the balance of sugar and acidity intensified. High yields, which maxed out at an abundant 60hl/ha, grand cru included, were the saving grace as they diluted the concentration. Don’t expect classic crisp and edgy Chablis, but a richer, fuller more Côte’Or style. It’s certainly not as fresh as 2017, but nor is it as rich as 2015.

The village wines are deliciously accessible, although the sense of minerality can be overwhelmed by sheer fruitiness. At the other end of the spectrum, the Grand Cru, which usually benefit from their warm south-facing slopes, had a surfeit of sunshine steering the style away from Chablis focus and reserve to something altogether more voluptuous and expressive, although Vaudésir and Les Clos with their inherently firmer structure and inner core density seemed to rise above the ripe vintage.

However the best quality/value ratio in 2018 lies with 1er cru which are more fun, more flirtatious Chablis, than in a cold cistercian style vintage. The warmer right bank climats including Fourchaume and Mont de Milieu are glossy, dense and ripe, while the cooler side valleys of the left bank such as Montmains, Côte de Léchet and Vaillons are a little brisker.

Chalonnais

It’s a delicious vintage for Rully, which can be rather lean in colder years. Expect plentiful ripe, citrus and stone fruit and a slightly more indulgent texture underscored with minerality. Head for the cooler vineyards such as La Pucelle – on an South East facing slope – for lively freshness and minerality.

It’s a good year all round for Aligoté and nowhere more so than in Bouzeron.

Mercurey and Givry are fertile hunting grounds for plump, rounded Pinot with soft textures and splashing fruit. This is fairly simple but great value Pinot Noir which can be opened almost immediately while you are waiting for the Cote d’Or wines, but has the concentration in 2018 to hold out for a few years.

In Montagny, the village wines are easy and inviting. Some 1er cru can be a bit tarty, especially from sunny slopes, however premier cru Chaniots is a top spot for more edge and energy.

Mâconnais

Another rich vintage for the Mâconnais, but stylistically divided. It was very hot and the acidity is rather low. Nowhere more in Burgundy was necessary to pick in good time to keep some tartaric acidity as all the apple-like malic dissipated with the heat. Inevitably, there are some fattish examples with tropical fruit and warm alcohol. However, in the hands of a good producer, 2018 Mâcon is really on form. The wines are surprisingly well balanced with plenty of vigour and freshness. Moreover, there is great expression of terroir in 2018 despite the warm vintage, so you can select the style you prefer.

It is site dependant of course. Mâcon Lugny is quite full and generous, while livelier wines have been produced from Mâcon Milly-Lamartine’s cooler more north/east facing slopes (but it has warmer south/west facing too).  

The 2018s from the hills and limestone soils of Viré-Clessé are smoothly rounded with ripe citrus.

Saint Veran and the various Pouillys show the greatest diversity of style. While some are broad and earthy, others from cooler sites show plenty of tension and freshness. My vote goes to those from limestone soils for their verve and sapidity.