There’s far too much going on in the world of Burgundy wines that leads the thoughts of a melancholic lover of those wines into deep, dark reflection. After 30 years in the wine trade, I tread the earthy pathways threaded through this region of storied vineyards with as much of a thrill as ever, but with a nagging sense of alienation that was not there before. Mud and memories cling fast to my boots, but I must admit that other musings now crowd this delicately beautiful landscape.
The series of small harvests since 2009 (brutally reduced in some villages) and a fast-growing demand from an ever increasing number of clients from new global markets makes obtaining and affording Burgundy highly challenging. That this is standard market forces of supply and demand at play is cold comfort for the souls that yearn to taste some of the world’s most fascinating wines.
The 2015 vintage was one of the kindest of recent years, yielding wines of near perfect ripeness and character in modestly generous quantity. Sadly, small harvests in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 required Burgundian estates to up their prices for the 2015’s (what better time to do it than with a superb vintage?). These people have bills to pay just like us, and no, not all are billionaires playing with toys! There’s still some reality left in Burgundy... for now.
But however much an estate may have increased its prices on the 2015’s, there is no way to compensate for losses that were over 80% for some producers in some of the preceding years. 2016 was another small harvest, and while 2017 is more promising, it’s not likely that we’ll see 2012, 2013 and 2014 pricing ever again. Welcome to the new, harsh reality of Burgundy.
What does a devotee of Burgundy do when they don’t have a limitless wine budget? Please note; in all of my suggestions, I am speaking to those of you who, like me, drink Burgundy and do not “invest” in it for any other reason than the pleasure of yourself and those with whom you choose to share the wine at some future moment.
Want to run with the big dogs? Then get ready to spend some big money as prices for Grand Cru (and highly regarded Premier Cru) wines have become astronomical. Remember also that with lots of new Burgundy buyers around the world, you are now competing with well-bankrolled players all gunning for the same prestigious, often miniscule production wines that YOU want!
One of the strategies here is to stay with growers that you know and trust. More than many other regions, the fanatic devotion to quality of such domaines means that you can (and should) avoid focussing on vintage as a gauge of desirability. This is not to argue that vintage does not count, but here’s what vintage really tells you: style and personality.
Some lesser producers are not as severe with their selection (a highly costly proposition) and therefore there are some lame 2013’s out there, for example. This is why you will notice the presence of estates that Metrovino has dealt with for years - we work with people, not critics and the latest scores, and certainly don’t buy from just any estate.
In terms of vintage re-evaluation, 2013 is probably the best case in point. Nobody will claim that this is the apogee of Burgundy vintages, but the heroic efforts and rigorous selections made by great estates still yielded wines of quality, robbed only of some concentration and potential longevity.
What bad news is that for the impatient and thirsty among us? But this is no exhortation for you to compromise your standards, nor to plead the case for a merchant who has some of these wines left to sell. It’s a plea for a reality check and a statement that if you love Burgundy, now’s the time to come back to earth.
Strategies for Burgundy buying in 2018
Look for any remaining 2012, 2013 and 2014 wines in the market. Sure, especially with 2013, caution must be exercised. Deal only with estates who you know release wines of high standards because many 2013’s lived down to the critics predictions of dilute and meagre wines. However, the exceptions are noteworthy. 2012’s are mostly unavailable, but the fine-boned 2014 vintage had really only one problem: it got lost in the much greater hype surrounding the 2015’s. 2014 might prove to be not only a “sleeper”, but perhaps the last good-value Burgundian vintage.
My darling village of Volnay is a severe drain on my Burgundy budget these days. Sadly, Volnay has suffered more than its share of harsh hits in recent years (it’s certainly amongst the most hail-prone villages). It’s time to walk around the neighbourhood and see what the unheralded villages such as Monthelie, Maranges and Santenay have to offer. There’s much to be excited about, with many famous estates reappraising vineyards once (unfairly) considered inferior. There’s precious little Volnay or Pommard to be had for $65-$75 per bottle, but a good Santenay is still available and don’t feel that you are settling for some form of “second-best”! A really well made Maranges from a good producer is worth far more than a mediocre Volnay from a similarly mediocre producer. Visit the “other” villages of the Cote d’Or!!
How many times have I said this, people? Beaujolais! The Cru wines, yes of course, but even outside these more celebrated villages, tons of joyous drinking if you show a modicum of self-confidence in your own tastes. What is “hot” or chic? What you knew WAY before everybody else - you’re toast if you wait to be told.
Simply, these are hard times for those of us who adore this region, its people and its wines. Yes, we can still go stick our heads under the refreshing taps of noble wines coming to us from the great villages and vignerons of the Beaujolais, where we of limited means can have some of the best tipple on less than “special” occasions. The Beaujolais may be the salvation of all of us acolytes of red Burgundy who want the pleasure of a high quality wine that we can generously share without hesitating if our company is “worth” it...
Call me “Clochemerle”...