A new take on Burgundy
My most recent visit to Burgundy took place during the week of the annual Hospices de Beaune auction, although I got out of town before the gavel went down. All week, there had been a frenzied excitement brewing in the bourgeois streets of Beaune; press and trade were whispering under their breaths that prices would be astronomical; that this year it would be the négociants not the producers who would be buying the Hospices barrels and that the results of the sale would affect the future of Burgundy wines for the next few years. After all, with yields down for the second year running, sometimes to a piteously low level of 12 to 15 hl/ha and demand ever rising, the stakes were high.
The newly made wine from the 2021 vintage is auctioned off during a weekend of festivities called Les Trois Glorieuses and all proceeds go to supporting the active work of the Hospices de Beaune, one of the most magnificent medieval institutions, housed in the beautiful Hôtel-Dieu in Beaune, founded by Nicolas Rolin and run as a hospital from the mid 15th century until the 1970s.
The Hospices Auction edition 2021 didn’t disappoint. Records were broken, producers and collectors shook their heads with disbelief, and many pondered the dizzy heights of Burgundy’s glass ceiling. There was an impressive disconnect between the high 2021 Hospice prices and the poor reputation of the vintage. That disconnect has much to do with the rarity of the wines caused by damaging Spring frosts, rain during the flowering, and mildew.
Many of the Burgundy producers that I talked to during the week were sad that the small amount of wine that they managed to make after the ravages of the 2021 growing season was actually of excellent quality. Just like their counterparts in Bordeaux who have been talking about the 2021 vintage as being “a 20th century vintage”: cooler, leaner, more structured, and fresher, so the Burgundians have enjoyed the more traditional qualities of the 2021 after several years of hot, sunny vintages.
Such is the growth of enthusiasm for Burgundy, especially amongst the top appellations and the Grand Cru climats, over the last five years or so that seasoned observers and merchants wonder where the bubble will end. Burgundy has never had it so good nor has ever been so much in the press as now. I was in Burgundy to taste the 2020 vintage which will be released in the Spring of 2022. While the yields were down (although not as much as the 2021 to come) the prices have taken a hefty hike up. Despite this, Burgundy has never been in such demand. Certainly, there is reason to be excited with so many Burgundy producers performing at the top of their game and the new generation, the 30 somethings who are taking over their parents’ domains, are proving that they are certainly up to the challenges in front of them.
Hold onto your hats folks, it is going to be a vertiginous ride!
© Fiona Morrison M.W.
P.S. In the meantime, if you are looking for a beautiful Burgundy to drink with your Christmas dinner, try a bottle of Gevrey Chambertin 2017 for €44 from one of the young, rising stars, Pierre Duroché.