The best of Burgundy 2017 at Berry Brothers
Burgundy week is always a treat. London’s vintners show off their ‘en primeur’ wines to prospective buyers, who will reserve them ‘in bond’ often before they are even bottled. I covered the tasting of the venerable Berry Brothers and Rudd for The Buyer and this was my report. These are far from everyday wines, but they are wonderful if you have a cellar, and some patience! Prices are here.
After a couple of challenging years in Burgundy, most 2017 tasting notes should probably capture the smell of relief. With most places avoiding the cruel embrace of frost, production was higher and the mood of most vignerons is warmer. This feels like a ‘back to business’ Burgundy vintage.
That said, in France, whatever you talk about, there always seems to be an ‘exception’. Sadly, this time it was Chablis, which suffered a dreadful frost in April that drove an icy scythe through yields.
With Chablis in short supply, those wines had a meagre showing, confined to the first table. However what little there was managed to be a pleasant surprise. Le Domaine d’Henri 2017 Chablis Saint Pierre came from a minuscule crop, down by as much as 80 per cent, which might have explained some of its concentration, tense crisp green apple, citrus zest and a lovely saline finish. It actually outshone its bigger brother, 2017 Chablis, Fourchaume, Premier Cru, which felt closed and a little flatter by comparison.
Sébastien Dampt was literally holding a torch for his wines in this vintage. Six successive nights of candle lighting saved around 75 per cent of his crop. The wines are decent value too. Domaine Sébastien Dampt Chablis 2017 is crisp, fresh and steely whilst 2017 Chablis, Côte de Lechet, Premier Cru is bigger, more generous, with classic oyster shell, grapefruit zest and structure that should make it a keeper.
… a muscular firmness …
It wasn’t just the Chablis frost making merry hell with volumes in 2017. In Mâconnais, there was drought stress in the stifling summer heat, although that also made for some deliciously ripe wines. At Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon, precision in picking times was critical to success for Dominique Lafon and Caroline Gon. Les Hérities du Comte Lafon Macon-Milly-Lamartine has plenty of concentration, with plump fruit and a lovely tension bringing a muscular firmness.
Dominique also makes a few wines under his own label and one of them, Dominique Lafon 2017 Bourgogne Blanc was one of my stars of the tasting. Made with Cote D’Or fruit, this has fleshy Honeydew melon, juicy grapefruit and a delicious mineral streak, with lovely concentration and remarkable depth, like a clock that keeps chiming.
At Domaine de la Soufrandière, close to Pouilly-Fuissé, the Bret brothers picked early, capturing freshness in their organic, biodynamic wines. Domaine de la Soufrandière, 2017 Mâcon-Vinzelles, Le Clos de Grand-Père comes from land at the bottom of a slope. It’s juicy and vibrant, with ripe Galia melon and Granny Smith apple.
Its neighbour, Domaine de la Soufrandière, 2017 Pouilly-Vinzelles comes from the slopes above and has a bigger character, beautifully balanced, with intense, ripe fruit that walks a tightrope, retaining a bright citrus freshness.
In the Côte de Beaune, Jean-Yves Devevey has been experimenting with the role sulphur plays in his winemaking. A trial bottling without SO2 resulted in a loss of terroir expression, so he is now focusing his efforts on how little he can get away with, and when to add it. Jean-Yves Devevey, 2017 Rully Blanc, La Chaume is very structured, notably high in acidity, with a symphony of citrus fruits bursting to play. This wine needs a lie down.
… an honest, precise vintage …
Jean-Baptiste Bachelet summed up 2017 as “an honest, precise vintage”. Jean-Claude Bachelet & Fils, 2017 St Aubin, Les Champlots, Premier Cru also represents ‘honest’ value, at today’s Burgundy prices. Full bodied and silky smooth, this delivers superb depth of interest. Still more so, Jean-Claude Bachelet & Fils, 2017, Puligny-Montrachet, Les Aubues, a delicious feast of grapefruit, rich, ripe and long.
Last year, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle gave Olivier Leflaive a quite unexpected publicity coup, choosing Les Sétilles (we know not which vintage) for the reception at Windsor Castle. I have always bought this wine, as it generally represents excellent value, but confess I was a little disappointed this time. Olivier Leflaive, 2017, Bourgogne, Les Sétilles lacked some of the firepower of previous years. For a few pounds more, I would opt for the Olivier Leflaive, 2017, Montagny Premier Cru which was showing really well: fresh, creamy and perfectly poised.
Retaining freshness is an obsession for Laurent Martelet at Domaine Comtesse de Chérisey, with oak never more than 10 per cent new, and a guiding mantra that it is merely a container, never a flavour. Domaine Comtesse de Chérisey, 2017, Meursault-Blagny, La Genelotte, Premier Cru was a real favourite, with complex grapefruit, green apple flavours, a thrilling sense of tension and divine depth. I actually narrowly preferred it to its bigger brother Domaine Comtesse de Chérisey, 2017, Puligny-Montrachet, Rameau de Blagny, Premier Cru which has a bigger personality, but offers slightly less excitement.
Old vines are credited for the richness of Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard, 2017, Chassagne-Montrachet, Les Chammies, Premier Cru which boasts ripe pear, baked apple, pineapple flesh and buttery toasted brioche among its layers of flavours. Interestingly, this was one of the few whites in which I emphatically observed oak. Well-integrated, I like a bit of that, so it was just fine.
… deserving of centre stage …
It has been said that Burgundy 2017 is a year for whites to shine, but many of the reds are deserving of centre stage. David des Croix is, according to the tasting booklet “delighted that he finally has a good crop”. So am I, because the wines are wonderful. Domaine des Croix, 2017, Beaune is approachable and charming, with pure red berry and cherry and a gentle waft of baking spice. It represents pretty good value too, as does Domaine des Croix, 2017, Beaune, Les Cent Vines, Premier Cru, which is bigger, more complex, with velvet tannins and a good few years ahead of it.
Thibault Liger-Belair might reasonably have expected his Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair, 2017, Nuits-St Georges, La Charmotte to be the star of the show, with its smooth, sophisticated elegance. However, for less than half the price, his old vines in Beaujolais delivered a real highlight, despite an attack of hail that caused havoc down south. Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair, 2017, Moulin-a-Vent, Vieilles Vignes reveals just how much Gamay has to give. Vibrant, intense, ripe and ballsy, this has energy balanced with elegance. The hail damage was so bad that it apparently cost him more to pick the grapes than he can possibly make from the wine, but the results suggest it was worth it.
An appealing trio from Louis Boillot also showed Moulin-a-Vent in a very positive light. Domaine Louis Boillot, 2017, Moulin-a-Vent, Vieilles Vignes has the red-fruited freshness of great Gamay, with a savoury edge you don’t always find. Domaine Louis Boillot, 2017, Moulin-a-Vent, Les Rouchaux is slightly chewier and a little riper, while Domaine Louis Boillot, 2017, Moulin-a-Vent, Les Brussellions is more intense and polished, with redcurrant, ripe blueberry and smooth velvety tannins.
Brothers Jean-Luc and Eric Burguet are all smiles, with a full cellar once again after a good ’17 and an even more generous ’18 vintage. Their 2017 Vosne-Romanée, Les Rouges du Dessus, Premier Cru is a punnet full of red and black cherries, with real richness and a soothing dark chocolate note on the finish.
… out of this world …
Finally, my top wine from an impressive tasting. Jean-Pierre Guyon took a calculated risk, harvesting later than his neighbours, resulting in some beautifully expressive wines. All those on show were laudable, but Domaine Guyon, 2017, Echezeaux, Grand Cru is quite simply out of this world. Playful and perfumed, elegant and poised, with red fruits and spice delicately revealing themselves like petals drifting from a rose in a soft summer breeze. This is beautiful, certainly age-worthy, but almost impossible to cellar on the basis that temptation would get the better of me.