Now that many of the Burgundies from the 2014 vintage are landed and some have settled down, we are beginning to see what the fuss is all about. By any standard this is truly a remarkable vintage that has delivered wines, both white and red, that are classic in almost all respects.
So, what is that makes one vintage outstanding and others less so? That question will be answered by the end of this article.
The growing season was not without its trials but, like many classic vintages, there are always clear indicators that augur well for the vigneron and vintner. The early Spring was plain sailing with quite warm, dry and settled weather that resulted in an uneventful and excellent June bud burst. Then at the end of June the heavens opened up and delivered one of the vignerons' great fears - hail storms. These were relatively isolated but managed to do a lot of damage to crops in the Côte de Beaune, especially Meursault, Volnay, Pommard and Beaune; This was the same quartet that was affected by storm damage of 2012 and 2013. The villages of Santenay, Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet and those appellations close by were largely spared the worst of the damage. By comparison, the Côte de Nuits was largely left alone.
There are reports of established growers/owners having to sell allotments to cover debt and maintain some sort of standard of living. The predators (if we want to enter the world of hyperbole) are the old and established group of negociants who witnessed their lucrative businesses undergo massive upheaval as grower after grower decided to convert to a domaine basis of production and distribution that cut many of the sources of the best grapes out of their grasp.
Now they are “buying back” their vested interests and creating enough fruit for their businesses. The result has seen the steady increase in the price of Burgundy from both the farm gate and the negociants. As the market remains buoyant these increases have been absorbed by the importers and wholesalers that provide quality Burgundy for their local clientele. The consequences for the future will be inevitable and not pleasant for those of us who have been drinking quality Burgundy for quite modest prices over the past ten to fifteen years.
But let us get back to the 2014 vintage! Generally, the true “Summer” months of July and August proved to be both tolerable and beneficial. Whilst not particularly sunny and warm, there was enough sunlight and moderate temperatures to ensure that well run properties had the capacity to produce ripe fruit with good balance of acid and phenolic ripeness. Apart from the hail storms and some isolated infestation of Drosophila Suazukii, a type of fruit fly that can turn the grapes sour, the well managed growers produced well ripened and superbly balanced fruit. The result is in the bottle.
A Decanter magazine article describes the whites from 2014 as “admirable: ripe, juicy and relatively forward.” At the same time these wines do not lack acid, rather they have such lush ripeness that the essential balance that acid provides is there in abundance but neither obtrusive nor totally understated. In other words, the White Burgundies of 2014 are to be treasured as they provide exactly what many lovers of Burgundy crave: wines of rich fruit, minerality, refinement and balance - the perfect recipe for excellent drinking.
The Besson Chablis AC and “Montmains”, Premier Cru, of 2014 are superb examples of that essential balance between fruit and acid. Both wines have an abundance of fruit, a Besson trademark, but also deliver minerals, ripeness and acid balance. The Gambal White Burgundies we have tasted are equally well balanced, rich and refined.
In a recent discussion I described the 2014 Red Burgundies that I have tasted and drunk as being “mother’s milk” - sweet, ripe, full of minerals, lovely texture and “sexy”. Apart from one producer’s Bourgogne Rouge, which is as serious a Bourgogne of its appellation that I have come across, the rest have been nearly perfect in their essential richness, texture, balance and softness. It is a vintage to buy “down” the food chain with the generic Bourgognes and the Village Appellations providing excellent value for money and pure hedonistic enjoyment.
On the other hand, if you want to wait an appropriate period of time the Premier and Grand Crus will pay many years cellaring.