2019 Vintage Overview

2019 Vintage Overview


The second of the trio (to date!) of hot dry vintages, 2019 is currently considered as the most successful for reds except where alcoholic degrees went off the scale, while appreciation of the whites depends on whether or not the ripe sunny style suits your palate.

The weather The winter was never really very convincing – the first precipitation after the previous long dry summer came on October 30th – in the form of snow showers! There was some further snow in the first half of December and again in late January, but there was no prolonged cold snap. The first half of February was blustery and wet but the second half was gorgeous with very warm sunny days, wonderful to live through, but worrying in terms of vineyard development.

March came in like a lion, as the saying goes, with turbulent blustery conditions, and though there were some warm days, the weather was uneven throughout the month while fortunately remaining cool at night. In due course March went out like a lamb, by which time the vines were beginning to bud.

The first frost alarm came in the early morning of April 5th and was fairly well forecast, enabling producers to light their bougies and groups of vignerons to set fire to their piles of straw at daybreak. The former warm the air around the foot of the vines, by 1.5 to 2 degrees, while the latter block the rays of the early morning sun which can grill the new vegetation if it has iced up. The third solution newly in evidence this year was the employment of mobile wind turbines to circulate the warmer air to be found a few metres above the ground. Protective measures restricted the damage in the Côte d’Or and Chablis, but unexpectedly parts of the Beaujolais, including Moulin-à-Vent, suffered quite heavily.

However, Burgundy was not yet free from scares which continued into early May, doing damage in some outlying areas. May was colder than usual, though without excessive rainfall, and the first two weeks of June followed suit. The continued cool and damp weather were not ideal weather for the crucial stage of the flowering, which was strung out over several weeks, continuing into the third week of June.

The first extreme heatwave arrived while I was tasting in Chablis at the end of June. The temperature was nudging 40°C on Thursday 27th, while the following day recorded the highest ever reading on the thermometer in France. It reminded me that the most extreme vintage of all, 2003, began with a similar heatwave in mid-June, soon forgotten after the first two weeks of August delivered even higher temperatures and without a break across a full fortnight.

Part two of the canicules in 2019 was fortunately for a shorter duration than in 2003, affecting the Côte d’Or from 23rd to 26th July with temperatures almost as high as at the end of June. Along with all this was the continued shortage of water. There was some relief on Saturday 27th July with prolonged rain in the Côte de Beaune, noticeably less in the northern end of the Côte de Nuits. Every drop that fell was sucked up greedily, but without much beneficial effect for the water table which throughout 2019 was much lower than the previous year. The next drops on Wednesday 7th August were equally welcome but les copious. In general temperatures remained relatively high, though not excessive for the season.

Further mini-heat waves arrived in the second part of August, bringing a violent hailstorm in the Southern Beaujolais on 18th August, though fortunately the rest of the region was spared. The heat largely stayed in place through to the very end of the month, causing the usual head scratching over picking dates.

From early September the weather turned noticeably cooler, though still fine and dry. First to start picking were Benoît (Monday 2nd) and Arnaud (Tuesday 3rd) Ente, always among the first, though there was only sporadic activity elsewhere that week, as attentive growers brought in plots which were ripening more rapidly than expected. Most producers were waiting until the following week – still ahead of their original expectations. Rain was forecast for the Tuesday and Wednesday, and many wanted to hold off until afterwards, as rain would have been beneficial – however the forecast changed and the week was rainless, indeed cloudless, and increasingly warm – indeed properly hot by the weekend. Those who held back, waiting for rain, had to go without, resulting in a loss of crop and in some cases exceptionally high alcohol levels.

First Impressions 2019 is a small crop of healthy concentrated white wines with alcohol levels higher than the norm, but with good acidity too. I am encouraged by the fact that so many of the wines have retained a pale green tint in the colour. I occasionally find the wines to be taken out of their natural typicity by the style of the vintage but this is far from being automatically the case. Fine and floral appellations suffer more than the sturdier ones. A few wines give a sense of alcohol burn but not very many. What you will find though are aromas typical of a very ripe vintage – peaches, honeysuckle, ripe yellow plums – and then it is down to your taste whether or not that works for you, or is something to be avoided. I found that these aromatics sit better with, say, Pouilly-Fuissé than Chablis. The good news for the latter, though, is that the wines have absolutely retained their marine typicity.

The Côte de Beaune reds are a lot less exaggerated than the Côte de Nuits in two ways: there are fewer examples of excessive alcohol levels, but there are also fewer truly great hedonistic experiences compared to the Côte de Nuits, where the most breath-taking wines of the vintage are to be found, along with some disasters. In the Côte de Beaune high alcohols do feature but rarely destroy the wine. As with the whites, the question arises about style. The Pinot has put away the ballet shoes and taken to the athletics tracks, in which one can still be extremely graceful, in a more powerful idiom. More than one producer mentioned that the alcohol shows more in 2018 but the ripeness of grape flavours is more evident in 2019.


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