1990 Vintage Overview

1990 Vintage Overview


One of Burgundy’s most successful vintages, arguably the finest between 1978 and 1999 for reds and also good for white wines. Not everybody is a fan, because the heat of the summer produced rich wines which are not entirely typical of Burgundy. Overall, this is a very fine, sunny, vintage for red Burgundy with life ahead for the best wines, but drink up the whites.

The weather The vines budded early, producing a large number of embryo bunches; were held back by cool weather at the flowering; developed well over a long hot summer; then were saved from drought by much-needed August rain which revived the ripening process. The cool weather at flowering was significant as it resulted in a certain amount of millerandage in the Pinot Noir, providing small grapes with a high proportion of skin (hence colour and extract) to juice.

The harvest began on September 20th in the Côte de Beaune, a week later for the Côte de Nuits, and was strung out in part because of the variable flowering and in part because the weather remained fine enough to make holding off a reasonable gamble.

First impressions The white crop was on the large side, but with plenty of fruit and a refreshing acidity, suggesting a fine vintage if just short of a great one. On balance the 1989s seemed to have the edge. Everywhere there were reds of excellent colour, delicious perfume and impressive weight. The extra plus which suggested a great vintage was the balance between acidity and tannin. Some growers, and indeed critics, however were less enamoured of the almost Californian style of the vintage where, they felt, the weight and ripeness of the grapes came at the expense of elegance and nuance.

Commercially, the vintage escaped too much hype as much of the western world was about to fall into deep recession.

The wines in bottle The early assessments have been subsequently borne out in bottle. If 1959 and 2005 are the greatest vintages of the past 50-plus years, then most people would cite 1978, 1990 and 1999 as years competing to join them on the podium. The best wines from the Côte de Nuits are showing no signs of undue ageing, and those from the Côte de Beaune are still holding their own. In the great vintages it seems invidious to pick out one producer when so many have ‘filled their boots’. I have had some amazing bottles from Rousseau, Bachelet, Dujac, Roumier and the Volnays from Lafon and Lafarge. Possibly the greatest single bottle though might be the Chambertin from Domaine Leroy.

Most white wines are fully ready to drink, but the best bottles can still hit the heights of greatness. The ’89 or ’90 argument has probably seen a victory on points for the former, but by no means decisively.


Tasting Notes

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Click to read tasting notes on wines from 1990

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