Last week was one of the the busiest in the London wine calendar. There were more than 20 trade and public tastings of the newly released 2015 wines from Burgundy. There has been massive hype about the vintage, especially the Pinot Noir. Having spent the last week tasting scores of them I do think that a lot of the hype is warranted. There are some brilliant wines.
The bad news is that the prices reflect the hype. Producers have taken account of the widely decimated 2016 vintage. In an effort to balance their books they have increased prices, which alongside the weakening of the pound following the Brexit vote, gives us increases of anything from 20-50%. The prices for the top wines are eye-watering and out of reach to me and probably most of you lot too.
But, you know me, I am a complete tight-arse. I haven't been wasting my lunch breaks tasting those out of reach grand and premier crus from Burgundy's most sought after domaines. I have been seeking out value in this very expensive Burgundy vintage.
I attended tastings by Lea & Sandeman, Flint, Liberty and the three Aussies in Burgundy (Le Grappin, Mark Haisma and Jane Eyre). Based on the wines I tasted, here are Wineloon's tips for enjoying 2015 Burgundy on a budget.
The hype about the vintage has all been about the reds. The 2014 vintage was widely acknowledged as the best for white Burgundy in years. The 2015 whites I tasted are not in the same league. Given the significant increase in prices for many wines, I cannot recommend buying 2015 whites, bar a couple of exceptions.
Before I set out the exceptions to this rule, lets have a proper whinge about the prices.
I have a soft spot for Chablis and have bought en primeur every year since 2008. But I won't be buying this year. Despite buying a lot of 2014 last year, I'm actually tempted to buy more 2014s now, given the rise in price of the 2015's and the likelihood of more increases in 2016. Crops are down about 60% on 2015 volumes, so prices will go up again.
One of my go to Chablis producers is JP Droin. Comparing a couple of the Droin wines, both available at Uncorked, the Vosgros Premier Cru 2015 is £115/6 in bond (in bond meaning it does not include the duty and VAT, i'll prefix with ib from here on), yet the 2014 is still available for £85/6 ib. That's a 35% increase. It's a similar story at Grand Cru level, Droin's 2015 Grenouille GC is £250/6 ib, compared to £195/6 ib for the 2014. That's a 28% increase.
If you want some Chablis in your cellar, buy 2014!
It's not just Chablis. I bought a case of Hubert Lamy's St Aubin, Premier Cru, Clos de la Chateniere 2014 from Lea & Sandeman last year for £255/12 ib, the 2015 version is £350/12 ib. That's a 37% increase.
Right, enough doom and gloom. What white burgundy would I buy?
One of the best whites I tasted all week was Daniel Barraud's Pouilly Fuisse sur la Roche (£108/6 from Howard Ripley or £225/12 ib from Lea & Sandeman). It has that richness you expect from the Macon, but with the finesse and acidity to carry it. I have enjoyed this wine in previous vintages and it will last for a long time (up to 15-20 years) but is also delicious now. This would be my go to white wine from the vintage.
For my other white exception I am moving a bit further north to the Cote Chalonnaise, just short of the more expensive addresses in the Cote de Beaune. The range of Rullys I tasted from Domaine Jaeger-Defaix (two reds and a white) were all really good and offered good value. I would pick out the white as an exception to my "don't buy 2015 white".
The Premier Cru Les Cloux (£165/12 ib from Flint/Stannary Street Wine Co) had an exotic nose of lychees and had a lovely creaminess on the palate and spice on the finish. A really balanced but interesting wine.
Is Aligote the answer?
One final thought before I finish on the whites, is my position on Burgundy's other, lesser known white grape, Aligote. There has been a lot of talk that 2017 is the year of Aligote and its resurgence has been on many a wine blogger's wine trends list for 2017. But I'm not convinced. Just because its a bit different, off the radar and relatively cheap, doesn't mean it represents good value.
I tasted three Aligotes this week - Domaine Bernard Defaix, Domaine Perraud and Mark Haisma - and none of them blew me away. I am yet to be convinced by the grape.
As I read my tasting notes for each of these wines, I see the same words; limes, pepper, herbs, spice, saltiness. I automatically think of Muscadet. Come to think of it, they tasted a bit like Muscadet too, just not as good. Less vital and refreshing. It also appears to be more expensive, so I am struggling to see the value proposition.
I must say Mark Haisma's was a bit different, it was much fuller than the other two and had a bit more about it, but it was £17.50 a bottle, so not that cheap.
I think I'll stick to Muscadet for now but I am willing to be convinced otherwise. I have just ordered a 2014 Aligote from Sylvain Pataille so I will continue the experiment.
If I change my mind, I'll let you know...
I may not have bought any whites this year but I filled my boots on the reds. It does appear that, despite the big price rises from last year, it is one of those vintages where you really don't have to break the bank. There are good wines at all levels.
Starting at the basic Bourgogne and Cotes/Hautes-Cotes des Nuits level, I tasted a lot of wines that I would happily recommend. The warm vintage shone through and there were many ripe, fruit forward wines which were showing beuatifully but I never felt anything was overripe or jammy. There seemed to be consistently good acidity and freshness and many basic wines had the structure to carry the ripeness of the fruit.
The Bourgognes and Cotes/Hautes Cotes des Nuits that I would recommend for buying include;
Domaine Guiton, Bourgogne Pinot Noir (£115/12 ib from Flint/Stannary Street Wine Co) - really drinkable, light and fresh fruit flavours. Great value.
Domaine Berthaut-Gerbet, Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Nuits (£135/12 ib from Flint/Stannary Street Wine Co) - really good value this from one of the new star winemakers of Burgundy, Amelie Berthaut.
Domaine De La Douaix, Hautes Cotes des Nuits, Clos des Fervelots (£165/12 ib Lea & Sandeman) - run by bearded Belgian Gilles Moustie, a small estate of 4 hectares in the village of Arcenant, about 8km from Nuit-Saint-George. The vineyard is relatively high and south facing which means it cools quickly at night but during the day it gets a lot of sun. Gilles thinks this gives the wine more freshness. I agree with him, I thought the wine was really delicious for this level. It has intense sweet fruit and great length. I preferred it to his more expensive Cote de Nuits and Nuits Saint Georges wines.
Jane Eyre, Cote de Nuits Villages (Jane wasn't sure of the price at the tasting, I'd guess about £20 per bottle all in) - Deep purple in colour, this has intense aromas of dark cherries and berries. Great energy on the tongue, this is rich and ripe with nice sweetness. I thought this showed brilliantly and felt grander than its status. Would be a brilliant restaurant wine.
Mark Haisma, Bourgogne Rouge (£18 per bottle all in direct from Mark Haisma) - I always buy Mark's basic Bourgogne and you should too. Its smooth, silky, refined and balanced. What else do you want from Burgundy for £18?
Stepping up from the basic wines, I found many of the village wines were out of my reach price-wise. Of the most popular villages my heart lies in Volnay and I'd also cross a busy motorway for good Morey-St-Denis, Gevrey Chambertin and Chambolle Musigny. But it was a struggle to get something I thought I wanted to buy below £200/6 which I think is outrageous for village wines.
Therefore I looked to the "lesser" communes for value. Consistently I thought the best wines for value at village level came from Marsannay and Fixin. But even these still were not exactly cheap in this vintage.
My "value" village recommendations are as follows:
Domaine Huguenot, Fixin, Petits Crais (£225/12 ib Lea & Sandeman) - Cherry bakewell sweetness and spice. The cherry and almond flavours continue to a very long finish. Really good.
Domaine Huguenot, Marsannay, Champs Perdrix (£240/12 ib Lea & Sandeman) - Another really good wine, less body than the Fixin but leaner, with more acidity. Great structure.
Domaine Berthaut-Gerbet, Fixin Les Crais (£240/12 ib Flint/Stannary Street Wine Co) - probably my recomendation of the vintage. I thought all of Amelie's wines were fantastic. If I could afford it I'd buy them all, but this is the one I actually bought. The texture is to die for, really soft and long. It feels really fresh, pure and vital. A really exciting wine.
I also bought wines from Le Grappin and Mark Haisma at village and Premier Cru level across their respective ranges that I think offer good value. The benefit of these offers are that you can buy a mixed, which allows you to enjoy the vintage across a range of villages rather than buying a case of the same thing. Variety is the spice of life after all.
Beyond these wines, there are obviously others I tasted and really enjoyed, but they are all a lot more expensive. However for those of you with deeper pockets than mine, here are my pick of the pops from what I tasted of the Burgundy 2015 vintage last week.
You should note that I made a point of not tasting the Grand Crus and expensive Premier Crus which were clearly out of range, so this is a list of mainly village and premier crus at a price I might consider spending rather than the desert island list.
Domaine Lignier-Michelot, Morey-St-Denis, Rue de Vergy (£330/12 ib Lea & Sandeman)
Domaine Berthaut-Gerbet, Vosne-Romanee (£195/6 ib Flint/Stannary Street Wine Co)