Dustin Wilson, MS: Thoughts on 2018s from Burgundy
It’s always exciting when a new vintage – especially a great one – touches down on our shores. We just received a huge drop of 2018 Burgundies at both of our shops, and I’ve got to say, the bottles are pretty solid. Vintage talk is frequently thrown around amongst industry professionals, and although it may come off as fluff, these details are actually crucial, especially in the realm of high-end wines.
Weather conditions year-round (particularly right before and during harvest) ultimately determine how a given year’s juice will taste, develop, and withstand the test of time in the cellar. While not every bottle needs to be ‘vintage analyzed,’ we take our Burgundies pretty seriously. 2018 certainly surpassed expectations.
I had the pleasure of hitting Burgundy with a few members of the Verve Wine crew this past January, right before the world turned upside down. We started up in Chablis at Domaine Lavantureux and Domaine Eleni et Edouard Vocoret, moved our way down to the Côte d’Or to hit J. F. Mugnier, Mugneret-Gibourg, and Chanterêves, and ultimately finished the trip chez Jean-Marc Roulot (Meursault) and Guillaume d’Angerville (Volnay). Although we barrel tasted a handful of ‘19s, there was a lot of discussion around the recent 2018 vintage that was soon to hit our side of the pond.
Dustin tasting a 2018 vintage wine in Burgundy this past January 📸:Vicki Denig
The majority of vignerons we visited were in agreement: the vintage was high-yielding and concentrated, yet fruit remained balanced by ample amounts of natural acidity. 2018 was rather hot across most of Burgundy, which led to an abundance of fruit. As we sipped and spit in the dark cellars of Meursault, Jean-Marc Roulot expressed how happy he was about this, seeing as the past few vintages were marked by extreme loss due to hail, frost, and other climatic conditions. He expressed the need for a big year with plenty of wine, and that’s exactly what most of Burgundy got. (Note: These high yields also helped keep potential alcohol levels in check, as smaller crops would have led to dense and overpowering juice.)
A mild winter led to early bud-break and flowering, which were followed by a consistently hot and dry summer. Although young vines were stressed at times, older vines were able to reach deep down into water tables to grab the hydration they needed. Harvest began on the earlier side for most vignerons, as they frequently have over the past few years.
A common discussion amongst the locals is whether this type of warm vintage is to be expected going forward, as global temperatures continue to rise. Will Burgundy inevitably become ‘Napa-ized’ by relatively picture-perfect weather annually? Will this change the traditional notion of what we dub ‘classic expressions’ of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the region to taste like? A voir, as the locals would say.
The biggest challenge with warm, ripe vintages is to capture acidity in just the right moment. Great growers, like many of the ones we feature on our shelves, know the sweet spot. This knowledge is a pretty surefire way to ensure proper balance in juice, despite warm temperatures throughout the growing season – though let’s be real, nothing is guaranteed in the world of viticulture and vinification.
Many of the growers we love picked their Chardonnay early on, which inevitably led to vibrant and acid-laden final wines despite fruit ripeness. Although concentration in the wines is high, taut acidity is in no shortage. The reds are just as promising. Pinot is often a tricky grape to grow, as its thin skins and tight clusters make it super susceptible to disease. However, with such a dry season, there was hardly any rot whatsoever, and the majority of yields were healthy. These juicy and fruit-driven wines can definitely be enjoyed sooner than usual, though the cellar-worthy potential is undeniably there.
Summary: 2018 was concentrated, high-yielding (more so for whites than reds), and an overall high-quality year, marked by proper ripeness and well-balanced acidity. Concentration, particularly in reds, will definitely be a marking point of this vintage. These wines will be more approachable in their youth than other vintages, though the quality, structure, and balance assure that these bottles will make a solid addition to any cellar. Grab a stash, pop some now, and lay a few down for later.