Burgundy has had a difficult time in the past few years, with yields significantly down in 2010 and again in 2011; with the prospect of record lows in 2012. Thankfully quality has not been affected and the wines produced have been showing very well in terms of their balance, fruit and freshness.
The 2011 vintage is a real Burgundy drinker’s vintage, with fresh, approachable wines that will be excellent in the short to medium term. It is also looking like the last chance to pick up truly well-priced Burgundies before the inevitable price hikes that the low yielding 2012 vintage will bring.
As was the case in the Rhone, the 2011 growing season in Burgundy was marked by unpredictable and unusual weather. Rather than a cool Spring, Summer arrived in its place, with temperatures close to 30 degrees and very little rain. Except for frost in some areas of the Côte de Beaune, the fine weather held in May, bringing with it a successful flowering, and then continued through to July when much needed rain arrived, but also brought unseasonably cool temperatures.
While helping limit the occurrence of rot following the rain and maintaining good levels of acidity, it also slowed ripening in many areas until the arrival of good weather in the middle of August.
Other than two days of wet weather, when some growers were expecting to start harvesting towards the end of August, Summer then arrived in earnest and continued through until the end of September.
As you might expect in a region with so many micro-climates, not to mention fragmented vineyards, the challenge for the best growers was to anticipate and respond to different levels of ripeness in different areas. In the Côte Chalonnaise and Côte de Beaune, some growers picked early, on finding that maturity levels had peaked and would not progress further, but others, particularly in the Côte de Nuits, harvested late and benefitted from the warmth and sunshine of September.
Tasting the wines from the best growers - who worked hard in the vineyards to limit yields, had the flexibility to treat individual parcels differently, harvested at the right time and who selected their fruit carefully - a pattern quickly emerges. Both the whites and reds are forward, fresh, and supple, and have lovely purity of fruit. This is also a vintage where the terroir of individual plots of vines shines through. Whilst the wines are not as concentrated as in 2010, with lower levels of alcohol than in both 2009 and 2010, they have a lovely balance of freshness, fruit and texture.
With the reds, we were struck by the sheer purity of Pinot Noir fruit. As with the whites, they are forward and accessible, with good colour and remarkable freshness. Yet many of the best also have the depth to keep well in the medium to longer term. The whites are instantly appealing with bright, crisp fruit, freshness and a supple textured feel.
After the richness and weight of the sun-kissed 2009s (which were not to the taste of many), and a return to the classic tautness and concentration of 2010, 2011offers something different - wines that are beautifully balanced, with plentiful fruit, freshness, and soft supple tannins that are accessible when young.
Having tasted extensively, we can heartily recommend the 2011s for their quality and style. These are wines to enjoy now and in the medium term, while waiting for the 2009s and 2010s to show their full potential. The one caveat, which sadly seems to be ever more the case in Burgundy, is availability.
Across 2010, 2011 and 2012 most of our growers have lost an entire harvest in terms of their production. The rows of empty barrels in 2012 in particular tell their own story - growers in the Cote de Beaune are down by as much as 75% and in some cases by even more, and those in the Côte de Nuits by 30%.
In such extreme circumstances, price increases for 2012 are inevitable, in many cases significantly so. This makes the 2011s, whose prices remain stable and benefit from a relatively favourable exchange rate, particularly good value and a must have for anyone looking for affordable Burgundy in the coming years.