The 5 Things You Need to Know About Burgundy 2011.

The Burgundy En Primeur fortnight has come and gone. For those of you who missed the 25+ tastings held around London, we have distilled our thoughts, notes and discussions into the 5 things you need to know about the 2011 Burgundy Vintage.

Burgundy 2011

2011 Reds on show at the Philip Mould Gallery in Mayfair, courtesy of Goedhuis & Co

1) It is not “Vintage of the Century”.

Unlike the previous two vintages, 2011 is not a stellar/legendary/epic/amazing vintage. Simply put, the growing season was backwards and it’s surprising that the wines are as they are. Burgundy shared the same fate as the rest of France in 2011, where the growing season was upside-down; summer in spring and spring in summer. April to the end of June had abnormal temperatures, up to 30 degrees on some days, with flowering taking place over 3 weeks ahead of normal expectations, and with a distinct lack of rain. July till early August was beset with summer storms, with hail hitting parts of Chablis and Rully, although the rain provided the parched vines with must needed water, but meant that spraying was obligatory. Given the topsy-turvy nature of the growing season it’s surprising that the wines turned out the way they did.

2) It was, again, a small harvest.

The downside to the abnormal growing season was undoubtedly the smaller crop that was produced. Despite another record breaking early harvest at the end of August, yields were down, especially at those Domaines where the prudent decision to restrict yields to ensure quality was taken. Over all the volumes are similar to 2010, which will unfortunately mean higher prices despite the vintage being more comparable to a combination of 2007 and 2010 in quality, than say the stellar 2009 or muscular 2010.

3) The wines are better than you think.

Unlike Bordeaux 2011, which struggled with green, sandy tannins, and a lack of ripe fruit character in some parts, Burgundy 2011 is decidedly rewarding. Nearly all of the wines we tried were ripe and well balanced, with few showing any angular tannins, aggressive acidity, high alcohol or lack of backbone. What struck us most was quite how drinkable the wines are now, and how pleasurable they are. We’ve heard the vintage described as both “accessible and delicious” and from our own notes “approachable and very pleasant.”

4) The whites are more consistent but the better reds are more rewarding.

Probably the best comment we heard on the 2011 whites was that they were “relaxed”. Easily comparable to 2007, the general quality is good to excellent, and with alcohol and acidity levels lower than 2010, the whites are honest, reliable and will drink well young. The reds are harder to characterise with one broad definition, and as is always the trouble with Burgundy, there is large variation in quality amongst growers. That said, the general impression is that the reds are often charming, almost always balanced, and will save those who own them from opening their 2009′s and 2010′s too soon. For our part, the red s are ripe, fruit forward, often fresh and with low tannins.

5) Buy this vintage if you like drinking Burgundy.

Certainly something that we noted during the tastings was how rewarding this vintage is. The wines aren’t tough, or angular, and thankfully display their typicity without being overly cerebral. If ever you wanted to taste the difference between say, a good Meursault and a Rully 1er Cru, this is the vintage to do it with.

For our money (and of those we tried) the producers this year we were most impressed with for whites:

  • Domaine Jean-Marc Boillot – Ripe, but beautifully crafted gracious Puligny’s that you can enjoy young but will age.
  • Domaine Roulot – Elegant Meursualt’s, a great example of the terroirs of the village
  • Domaine Etienne Sauzet – Rich and borderline savoury Puligny’s, classic and well balanced.

And for reds:

  • Domaine Fourrier – Ripe, approachable village wines and Gevrey’s 1er Crus. His three new négociant wines are definitely ones to watch.
  • Domaine Meo Camuzet – Fine Cotes de Nuits, that are light but generous.
  • Domaine Sylvain Cathiard – Delicate, fruit driven Nuits and Vosne’s. This is Sebastien Cathiard’s first solo vintage at the helm of the Domaine and the quality is spot on.