This Burgundy 2019 en-primeur report is one with a difference. It’s about the “alternative” Burgundy; the quiet, low-profile Burgundy of lesser-known producers, the peripheral villages, the micro negoces, the new generation and new faces.
The splendid wines of great domaines are beyond the reach of most of us. Not only because of their luxury price tag, but because the small 2019 vintage is insufficient to meet demand from enthusiasts and investors worldwide. But there is a world of Burgundy beyond. Not all of these wines make it to UK retail, but it’s worth knowing that plenty of domaines, particularly in the smaller villages, sell direct, either online or from their cellar door. There are cracking wines to be discovered… and maybe after a year of lockdowns you might, when the time is right, consider a visit of your own.
I usually visit to taste across the region in the autumn, but for obvious reasons, this wasn’t possible last year. Nonetheless, I was able to taste a range of wines that made their way to London, and I’m happy to report that 2019 is a lovely and reliable vintage in which to go off-piste with this “alternative” Burgundy. Over the past decade, helped by a run of good vintages (2013 aside), overall quality in Burgundy has become more reliable. 2019 was sunny and dry through the summer months, but the vines weren’t parched, and grapes largely escaped the sunburn of 2018. It’s a ripe vintage for sure, but the heat came in spikes and was not prolonged, which helped to preserve freshness.
From personal experience making my own wine, there was not much juice in the grapes, and whites were particularly concentrated. Yet the 2019 whites are largely well balanced, quite compact, and fresher than 2018. Reds are opulent, with a smooth and ripe texture, notably so from sites with good exposition. In Pinot in particular, I feel vintage style comes before terroir, and the wines show a New World, fruity accessibility. Easier to approach than the 2018s, the concentration and balance in both colours should, nonetheless, make them decent keepers.
It’s a good vintage in which to discover the wines of minor villages – those not perfectly sited on the enviable east-facing flank of the Côte d‘Or. Auxey-Duresses lies around the hill from Meursault, where the slope turns towards the cool north. The colder exposition hinders ripening, but in the new normal of hot vintages, this can be a distinct advantage, providing little known domaines with much better fruit than in the recent past. Estelle Prunier is taking over from her dad and makes exemplary Auxey whites. From the warmer slopes, Auxey reds are spot on in 2019. Domaine Henri Latour et Fils has mastered the crunchy texture, the reds at Lafouge are exuberantly fruity, while Damien Piguet-Girardin is a young man on a mission. There is so much activity in this village – a few domaines have importers, but you can buy cellar door from all of them.
The appellation pecking order is being challenged by these hotter vintages. In Pernand-Vergelesses, the austere style is softened in 2019 and young Simon Rollin has made more accessible wines. Savigny-Lès-Beaune and Saint-Aubin benefit from the warmer summers and if you think Saint-Aubin is over pricey, there are plenty of producers here and in neighbouring Gamay whose wines are not. Among them are ex-teacher Nathalie Langoureau and her husband Sylvain, who make tip-top Saint-Aubin and some Puligny.
Even in the A-list villages, it’s possible to find lesser-known domaines. At Domaine Jean Tardy, Guillaume, who gained useful experience working in Australia, is an ascending star. All his 2019s are satin-textured, but it’s really worth hunting out his powerful Echézeaux. In Puligny, there never seems enough wine to go around (so much is in the hands of famous domaines or top-end negociants), but when Sylvain Bzikot’s Polish grandfather moved to Burgundy after the war, he pieced together land when it was cheap; even today, his wines are not expensive.
It’s often the case that well-known producers in the principal white villages have reds flying under the radar. Chassagne producers including Bruno Colin, Fernand et Laurent Pillot and René Lamy Pillot have reds not only in Chassagne, but in Santenay, Maranges and Volnay. Many a Meursault producer makes reds off grid, too – Patrick Javillier’s daughter Marion has really shaken up the reds at this white-wine domaine. And how about a Puligny red – from Clos du Cailleret, no less. I do admire Jean-Michel Chartron for upholding the family tradition of growing a little Pinot in this illustrious parcel, sufficient to make a barrel or two of the only 1er Cru red in Puligny-Montrachet – and you don’t get much more alternative than that.
Each autumn, pitching up to cellars to taste the new vintage, I’m excited when I find myself tasting with the next generation of winemakers. The patriarchal dominance is gradually disappearing, no doubt as the generation handing over are themselves more enlightened than their fathers, more able to acknowledge their offspring’s ability. So Laurent Pillot admires his son’s natural touch: “Adrian instinctively knows the perfect moment to press the reds,” he says.
And then there are the newbies. In a region where family histories stretch back generations, the clutch of micro-negoces will always be newcomers, but they’ve certainly carved out their niches. Andrew Neilsen is a big personality barely contained in his tiny cellar in the city walls of Beaune. Mark Haisma is happy making wine in his functional modern box nicknamed “le shed” on the industrial estate below Vougeot. Buy direct here, and you’ll get a good deal.
Prices remain an issue in Burgundy. 2019 prices may nudge up a little on 2018 which, along with 2017, increased in the wake of the small 2016 vintage. But it’s questionable if any increase can be sustained this year. We all know there’s great value in Chablis, where the hot vintage has made a rich, accessible style, and similarly in Givry, where there are plenty of lesser-known domaines, such as Domaine des Moirots, which have made reds that are both ripe and fresh.
Down in the Mâconnais, the various Pouilly wines bask happily in a richer style, while staying fairly trim and affordable, and even on the Côte d’Or, if you look north to Marsannay or south to Maranges, you’ll not break the bank. Then there’s the Hautes Côtes, where Boris Champy, latterly of Domaine Clos des Lambray, is making engaging wines from different altitudes and soil types. Such growers illustrate the innovative spirit at work in Burgundy. They are not dependent upon grand vineyards, but channel their energy and talent into relatively lowly vines. In so doing, they elevate even the humblest of wines.
Below are Sarah Marsh’s best-value, under-the-radar white Burgundies from 2019. NB Not all wines have yet been released, hence some prices are not confirmed. We have, however, listed their expected stockists. Other wines are not available in the UK, but are available direct from the producer.
The best-value 2019 red Burgundies can be found here