“In Burgundy, the best wines,” wrote the 18th-century Cistercian monk, Dom Denise, “are produced in years when the harvest occurs in mid-September,” and as I tasted the 2019 vintage up and down the Côte d’Or this fall, I often found myself reflecting that, as maxims go, it isn’t a bad one. This is a thrilling year for Pinot Noir, delivering wines bursting with head-turning perfume and fresh, succulent fruit. Supple and enveloping, they are simultaneously serious and immensely charming, prompting Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier—who crafted some of 2019’s most compelling wines—to remark that he had never before encountered “a vintage that tasted so good, so young.” In Chardonnay, 2019 is more heterogenous. The small crop ripened rapidly, and the results are invariably muscular and concentrated; but the year’s best white Burgundies are as incisive as they are powerful, with bright acidity to balance their undeniable weight, and attentive producers excelled. In short, 2019—as Dom Denise might have predicted—is a superb vintage, and these are wines that all Burgundy lovers are going to want to secure for their cellars.
What were the conditions that conspired to produce these wines? The winter was mild and dry, setting the stage for drought conditions later in the season. Budbreak came early, and spring was comparatively cool, with April frosts impacting above all Saint-Aubin and lower-lying sites in Chassagne- and Puligny-Montrachet. Flowering began early in June, and it was both protracted and uneven, resulting in significant millerandage (shot berries) and coulure (aborted berries). Combined with the lack of precipitation, that made for low yields and bunches with small, thick-skinned berries. Summer was warm and sunny, with heat waves in June and July compounding with hydric stress to slow ripening. August and early September were cooler and sometimes cloudy, though sunny conditions returned for harvest; but it was a dry north wind, rather than excessive temperatures, that concentrated both sugars and acidities alike in the final weeks before picking began.
Harvest itself was comparatively rapid, with several producers complaining that everything ripened at once. The first to bring in their Chardonnay were getting underway around September 5 or shortly thereafter, and the first Pinot Noir followed hard on its heels. By September 15, picking on the Côte de Nuits was well underway, and among the producers reviewed in this report, only a handful began after September 20. Acidities (mostly tartaric) were stable, but in the dry, breezy conditions, sugars concentrated rapidly in the final days, sometimes taking growers by surprise and certainly adding to the logistical pressures of harvest. With temperatures some 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above average over the course of the growing season, with a hydric deficit of some 60% and with 20% more sunshine than average, 2019 was, on paper, a rather extreme vintage, yet the vines proved remarkably resilient—and the wines their grapes produced, remarkably classical in profile. “We are convinced that the vines are adapting to warmer, drier years, and we find this very reassuring,” observed Aubert de Villaine, a sentiment that Burgundy lovers will surely share.
Ten favorites that show the 2019 vintage at its best:
“One of the wines of the vintage, Lachaux's 2019 Romanée-Saint-Vivant Grand Cru soars from the glass with a kaleidoscopic bouquet of raspberries, blood orange zest, peonies, violets and exotic spices, complemented by subtle hints of coniferous forest floor and raw cocoa.”
“The 2019 Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Chênes is a magical bottle in the making…. Medium to full-bodied, layered and complete, it's elegantly powerful, with lively acids, powdery tannins and a long, perfumed finish.”