Some impeccable wines emerged despite Burgundy’s calamitous 2013 season.
Despite the potential for disaster in the calamitous 2013 season, the skill of Burgundy’s wine producers resulted in some truly impeccable wines, writes James Suckling
Sometimes burgundy wine producers aren’t able to predict what will happen when Mother Nature doles out just about every calamity a winemaker can imagine during a grape-growing season. That’s exactly what happened in 2013.
I had heard about the problems of nearbiblical proportions during the growing season and harvest—disastrous hailstorms, a lack of sun, heavy rain and rampant disease. But winemakers in Burgundy’s Côte d’or turned out some surprisingly high-quality wines. “It’s really amazing that a year like 2013 made such excellent wines,” admits Dimitri Bazas, winemaker and general manager of the small négociant Champy. “Decades ago, it would have been really difficult.”
The year produced some truly excellent whites with classy density and acid tension, while many reds showed good fruit, firm tannins and bright acidity. In the past, these would have become thin, green and unripe wines, but today it’s a different story thanks to the know-how of the top names in Burgundy. Over the course of five days in June, I tasted a few hundred wines in Beaune (primarily the 2011 to 2014 vintages) from top names including Louis Jadot, Louis Latour, Joseph Drouhin, Bouchard Père et Fils, Domaine Faiveley and Olivier Leflaive.
I wasn’t expecting much, but the results clearly showed in the glass. “Sometimes you just can’t explain why a vintage is excellent— and 2013 is just that,” says Jean- Charles Thomas, the winemaker of Louis Latour. “That’s Burgundy. The wines have transparency and finesse. They are a little like 2002 or 2010. The whites are really wonderful and the reds have no astringency. To be honest, it’s astonishing that they’re not austere and hard. Instead, they show well already and, in two or three years, they’ll be wonderful.”
I developed a wonderful impression of many of the 2013s, especially the whites. I even tasted one potentially perfect 2013 white—the Lucien Le Moine Montrachet Grand Cru. It’s a compelling wine, with incredible density and electrifying acidity that combines for terrific texture and length. There were many others of note, including the 2013 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Clos des Mouches Premier Cru.
Also look for some of the village wines from Puligny-montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet. In some cases, blends of wines from different vineyards were better than single-vineyard wines. I was also impressed with some of Chassagne’s white premier crus, particularly Louis Latour and Alex Gambal.
“We had very low yields—in some instances only seven hectolitres per hectare compared to the usual 20 or 25—with our top whites in 2013. But what we made was excellent quality,” says Véronique Drouhin-boss, head winemaker of Joseph Drouhin. “The best whites remind me of the 2010 in style, with good ripeness and very intense acidity.”
The reds were a little inconsistent compared to the whites; some were too lean and lacking fruit. But I enjoyed many of them for their freshness, clarity, and expression of the unique soils and microclimates.
“Each wine is so different,” says Rotem Brakin, co-owner of the small négociant Lucien Le Moine. “It’s hard to generalise in 2013—all you can say is that it’s a very Burgundian year.”
The 2011s and 2012s I tasted were better overall than the 2013s, and the 2014s show promise. Nevertheless, I will always remember the 2013s because of their extraordinary results in the face of undeniable hardships.