We live in the age of the celebrity, and wine is no exception. Burgundy is quietly gripped by a cult of winemakers who share the limelight with their celebrated vineyards. Their wine is difficult to obtain (even more so with the added pressure of a run of small harvests) and is shared among an expanding world of Burgundy enthusiasts.
But there are plenty of magnificent and obtainable wines. If you’re just beginning to explore Burgundy, 2017 is a good year to start because there is no shortage of wine: it’s the first good-sized vintage after a string of low crops, 2016 being particularly small.
There has never been such a time of opportunity, optimism or burgeoning talent. The superstar winemakers are sharing their wisdom and experience with a new generation, which is revitalising old family domaines that have hitherto relied on the reputation of their famous appellation.
There is an expectation of quality, and there are young winemakers who relish fulfilling it. Some have spent a decade or so honing their vineyards and winemaking, and they now challenge the cult winemakers in all but fame. You should pounce on them while their following is small.
There are also newly minted domaines, including Clos de la Chapelle and Terres de Velle. You can bemoan the culture of outside investment in Burgundy or enjoy the results.
The energy in Burgundy today has also fuelled the rise of the small négociant, the merchant who makes wine from grapes purchased from multiple sources. It’s a time-honoured system that is no longer the preserve of the merchant houses but is widespread at many domaines as land prices soar out of reach. And for many aspiring winemakers, with no land of their own, it offers an exciting, if expensive, chance to edge in. Among the most interesting négociants are those starting from scratch, like Jane Eyre, or Géraldine Lochet in a barn in Rosey, or Andrew and Emma Nielsen at Le Grappin, who began by making wine in a garage.
There are now many more opportunities for passionate incomers. Australians such as the Nielsens, Mark Haisma and Jane Eyre; Belgian Gilles Moustie of Domaine de la Douaix; former taxi driver Ludovic Martin – are all perfectionists, micro-négociants, sourcing small quantities of fruit from interesting terroir. Some of these are well on their way to celebrity, but equally there are many unassuming winemakers, such as Pierre Damoy and Rémi Jobard, quietly making delicious wines and staying under the radar.
In 2017, Pinot Noir produced an abundance of ripe red fruit, and the whites are discreet and bright. In terms of energy and substance, the Côte de Nuits has the edge over the Côte de Beaune, where overcropping can be an issue. But these are cavils. It’s a fruity, upfront, softly tannic, relaxed and friendly vintage. It’s immensely pleasurable – and rather usefully, many of the wines can be drunk young.
Sarah Marsh MW writes The Burgundy Briefing Vintage Report, an annual in-depth assessment of the quality and style of the vintage with a review of 100+ domaines on the Côte d’Or. After 15 years of writing the BBVR, she has embarked on an exciting new terroir adventure, making her own wine in Burgundy under the label Sarah Anne Marsh.