Burgundy 2020: what to expect and where to find value

It’s being lauded as an exceptional year, but will Burgundy 2020 be in short supply? Adam Lechmere asks winemakers, buyers and experts what to expect and where to find value from the vintage

Words by Adam Lechmere

volnay commune in burgundy and its vineyards
Volnay, where you can get a taste of the exceptional Burgundy 2020 vintage 'without breaking the bank'

Burgundy 2020 is an excellent vintage that you should snap up while you can – especially since it’s clear that there’s going to be very little wine coming out of Burgundy next year.

The vintage, which is being sold en primeur, has been universally praised. It was ‘almost a dream vintage’, Corney & Barrow’s wine buyer Guy Seddon said.

On its blog, London merchant Fine+Rare agreed: ‘It is abundantly clear that 2020 produced some magnificent wines, with exceptional balance, freshness and full fruit maturity, yet that also remain very Burgundian in style. There is very little not to like.’

clos de la pucelle arch and vineyard in puligny montrachet, burgundy
In 2020, temperature averages in Puligny Montrachet were 5 degrees cooler than in 2019

It was an uncommonly early harvest, with some growers starting as early as 20 August and finishing by 2 September (the earliest on record, Seddon notes), although the growing season was not particularly short.

Days were long and consistently warm, the nights cool. To give one small snapshot, In Puligny Montrachet between 8 and 15 August (vignerons are as exact as mariners with their dates), daytime temperatures rarely rose above 30C; in the same period in 2019 the average was above 35C.

The whites have a citric crunch… and the reds display ripe, supple berry fruit

The result is freshness and charm. The whites have a ‘citric crunch’, Corney’s Rebecca Palmer said, and the reds display ‘ripe, supple berry fruit.’ Chablis is notable for the low levels of malic acid ‘so there’s less of the bite – but there’s a sense of chalkiness, texture and nuance. It’s such a classic white Burgundy.’

There is little to choose between whites and reds for quality, though the white vintage is a five-star effort. They are ‘more universally successful than the reds, which have big tannins and are definitely there for the long term,’ Seddon said. He praised the reds for their ‘fine perfume’, which he noted was an interesting effect of the cool summer of 2021: the 2020 reds matured in colder-than-normal cellars, allowing those delicate aromas to slowly develop.

'2020 is a vintage that can be bought with confidence,' particularly from more affordable appellations like Pommard

Wonderful in quality then, but not great in terms of volume. 2020 was an exceptionally dry year (it’s been compared to the infamous heatwave year of 2003) and many appellations suffered in the drought. Across Burgundy the red yields were below average, while the whites suffered less.

The following vintage, 2021, was a catastrophe. It was decimated by spring frosts, meaning yields are extremely low – down as much as 90 per cent in some communes, fifty per cent in others. Some commentators characterised it as ‘catastrophic’.

This is going to have a marked effect on the availability of the 2020s.

Producers of course knew that they had a lean year coming up before they set their allocations and prices for 2020. ‘So they need to be realistic and work out how they can even out their income over the years,’ said Corney & Barrow’s head of fine wine, Will Hargrove. Over at Berry Bros & Rudd, Burgundy buyer Adam Bruntlett noted that ‘allocations have not been as generous as we expected.’

This is a vintage that new collectors should find amply rewarding

At Justerini & Brooks, head buyer Giles Burke-Gaffney said they were even having to be careful how to allocate 2020 wines from the lowly Maconnais – ‘and that’s completely unheard of.’

Edouard Labet of Domaine Pierre Labet, which has holdings in Gevrey-Chambertin, Beaune and Meursault, said that they are already anticipating ‘the struggle’ of having very little wine to sell next year. ‘We won’t sell anything so we have to keep something back – we don’t want to kill the business.’

The good news for collectors is that Burgundy 2020 is such a fine vintage across the board, from the most exalted communes to the satellites, and prices have maintained a certain stability. ‘They’re the same or at most 15 per cent up. Nothing bonkers,’ Hargrove said.

Santenay vineyards in Burgundy and the Sorine Mill
Santenay in the Côte-d'Or, another commune where you should find great value from Burgundy 2020 wines

Most importantly, this is a vintage that new collectors should find amply rewarding. ‘It’s a great one to start collecting,’ Bruntlett said. ‘The key thing is the style: the wines have excellent acidity but they also have that ripe fleshiness that make them immediately appealing, especially if you’re new to Burgundy.’

Merchants and critics alike stress that 2020 is a vintage that can be bought with confidence, from the more affordable appellations like Pommard, Volnay, Santenay, Marsannay, Rully, Côte Chalonnaise or Hautes Côtes de Beaune. ‘You can go to these communes and get a taste of terroir without breaking the bank,’ Burke-Gaffney said.

Similarly, among the whites, Bruntlett suggested appellations such as St Romain, Auxey-Duresses, Hautes Côtes de Beaune and Montagny offer excellent value for money.

Of particular interest to lovers of white Burgundy is Pouilly-Fuissé in the Maconnais, where 22 new premier cru ­climats were recognised in September 2020, so for the first time the wines will be labelled as such. ‘This will make them more collectible,’ notes Bruntlett.

‘I think it’s a great recognition for what are some of the finest vineyards in Burgundy, and while many of the top growers had already been including the site name on the label, this reinforces the quality hierarchy in what is a much underrated region.’