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.
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
So where are the sweet spots? 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.
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.