Yes, it is expensive and it can be confusing, but it is much less of a minefield than it once was. In fact in some vintages, like 2009 for example, you can pretty much find great quality at all the price levels you might be searching in.
What can remain difficult is the wide variation in style from producer to producer, though this is really no different than any other wine producing region.
I recently blind-tasted eight 2009 Burgundies with some surprising and satisfying results. Check out the wines and then see my $5000 Cellar Suggestions for more details on my favorite producers!
Photo courtesy radloff via Flickr/CC
The 2009 vintage has been widely reported on. Coming as it did after several less exciting vintages (2006-2008), it seems many were just waiting to crow about the next great vintage to come along. As usual, there is now some back pedaling going on after the tastings of the reportedly “even better” 2010 wines.
About 2010: Yields are down, but favored sources have almost uniformly told me that these are gorgeous, absolutely classic wines that you should buy early if you love delicate, perfumed Burgundy.
Now back to 2009. 2009 is indeed a very fine vintage. It’s rich and ripe in most cases, but the wines tend to be a bit soft. One problem of the vintage, and one which recalls the minefield moniker, was uneven ripening. Grapes that looked great in 2009 were often not quite ripe, and some producers were fooled into picking early by appearance. While it’s not a widespread problem, it is worth pointing out.
Following the less than exciting 2006-2007 vintages, and don’t get me wrong there were excellent wines made in each, the media was rightfully cautious in their judgment of the vintages as a whole. There was a lot of pent up demand in the Burgundy world.
That demand came from producers, wanting a pay day to match that of Bordeaux, to wine aficionados, waiting to stuff their cellars with only the best, and it has had a profound impact on wine pricing. A quick look at many of my favorite producers shows pricing up from the previous vintages by anywhere from 10 to 40 percent, with some notable exceptions coming from Jadot, Pousse d’Or and Rene Leclerc. Conversely, the biggest jumps I’ve seen were with de Courcel and d’Angerville.
Of the producers I routinely purchase, only Bize was included in this blind tasting. Almost all the wines showed well, and some fabulously so, but they are in a rather accessible style. One does have to question why people would be willing to spend premium on wines that appear to have only mid-term cellaring potential.
Perhaps that is the point though. These are wines that you won’t have to wait five to 15 years on, they are wines that are going to be delicious early and often. I can’t begrudge anybody their preferences, but mine remain classically structured wines, wines that do tend to close down, unpredictably and often. This is the true Burgundy minefield, and we are only willing to endure its torture because of the treasures that lay at the other side.
Buy the 2009 wines if you’re looking for near term enjoyment, they are delicious wines and carry an unusually bright and fragrant set of aromatics. But if you are like me, looking for subtlety, complexity and the possibility of future brilliance, you might want to keep at least some of your powder dry!