1999 Vintage Overview

1999 Vintage Overview

Written: September 2021


Modest in Bordeaux but a banner year for Burgundy: 1999 is the antithesis of 2000. A large crop set, but ripened easily. For once the Côte de Beaune had a slight advantage over the Côte de Nuits in terms of the weather. The whites were a success, but became one of the vintages more prone to premature oxidation. The reds have really proved their quality and will still give pleasure for years to come.

The Weather This was altogether an easier vintage for the Burgundian vigneron than its predecessor. The vines compensated for the low yields of 1998 with vigorous shoots the following spring. These evaded frost damage and burst into flower in the first of the summer’s heatwaves, around June 1st. Flowering in the Côte de Beaune happened early, rapidly and evenly; it was a little more strung out and less regular in the Côte de Nuits. Throughout Burgundy a huge crop set.

The rest of June and early July saw indifferent weather, cool and sometimes wet, but late July and August were mostly hot and almost entirely dry. Plenty of winter rainfall alleviated fears of major drought, but even so the vines badly needed water by the end of August. Happily, a mixture of storms and showers provided what was necessary.

There followed another burst of glorious weather and ripening surged ahead. The Ban de Vendanges was set for Wednesday September 15th in the Côte de Beaune, two days later in the Côte de Nuits. Those growers who paid careful attention to how the grapes were ripening started as soon as they were allowed to, especially in the Côte de Beaune where the early, even flowering paid off in early, even ripening.

However, it rained a little on the 15th, a lot on the 19th, again on the 23rd and increasingly frequently thereafter. At first the rain did little harm, but the cumulative effect was to dilute the grapes, though happily little or no rot developed. It was a huge crop – every Côte d’Or village was allowed a 40% tolerance above the supposed yield of 40 hectolitres per hectare (red) or 45 hectolitres per hectare (white) instead of the usual 20 per cent. But those who were not too excessive and who were able to pick earlier rather than later made some fabulous wines.

First impressions An extremely attractive vintage for white wines. A handful of producers, those who typically keep their yields below those of their neighbours, made sublime wines capable of ageing well. Overall, however, the picture was more one of extremely attractive wines, reminiscent of 1992 in terms of being delicious rather than classic keepers. They were quite low in acidity (by analysis) but did not taste that way – a question of their pH being also quite low.

The reds showed no sign of dilution despite the size of the crop. The more I tasted them in barrel, the better I found them. They were well coloured, though not excessively so, full of fruit, reasonably complex and – above all – tasted perfectly balanced. The hallmark of the ’99 red wines was the quality of their tannins. They were, apparently, more tannic than the 1998s by analysis and yet the tannins were clearly perfectly ripe and added a silky structure to the charm of the fruit. I thought that this was a vintage whose reputation would grow and grow.

The wines in bottle The white wines, having shown great promise in barrel, went into a quiet phase before beginning to show their qualities at four or five years old. This vintage has suffered relatively severely from the premature oxidation phenomenon, which has taken the lustre off what would otherwise have been a banner year for white burgundy. One reason for this may be the size of the crop with producers, having obtained the maximum permitted yield, filling their barrels with clear juice and leaving no room for the solid matter which contains the anti-oxidants. The occasional 1999 whites which I come across now – and I only recently discovered a hidden case of Meursault Genevrières 1er Cru from Domaine des Comtes Lafon, of which almost all the bottles have been on fine form – seem to support my theory that wines can recover from their prematurely oxidative stage.

The reds retained their early promise, eschewing fears that the size of the crop would get the better of them. At ten years old, the village wines were reaching their prime, while it did not feel like complete infanticide to enjoy the occasional grand bottle – even though the top wines would have more to offer later on, the richness of the fruit and the sense of energy were giving great pleasure already. Now, in 2021, I would scarcely move my position from what I wrote 10 years ago. Village wines have maintained and the 1ers and grands crus, while accessible, still usually suggest an upside to come from further cellaring. Just occasionally there is a sense of slight dilution in some Côte de Nuits wines.


Tasting Notes

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Click to read tasting notes on wines from 1999


Tasting Reports

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Click to view – 1999 Vintage 20 Years On


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