2017 Burgundy Vintage: A Follow-Up
Now that I’ve actually tasted some 2017s from Burgundy; it’s time to follow up my earlier post on the 2017s with some actual impressions, based on tasting.
This blog follows a single event: the barrel tasting of Burgundies imported by Frederick Wildman for the trade, held February of every year. I tasted a lot of wines at the event and I also talked extensively with producers and other tasters. Here were my five main take-aways:
1. 2017 is a really good vintage, perhaps just short of being one of the legends like 2005 or 2010.
The 2017s I tasted were delicious. They were balanced and fully ripe. They were transparent, accurately reflecting their respective terroirs. I really, really liked them. Did I have quite the same feeling I got when I tasted wines from 2005 or 2010? No. This may not be the vintage to buy with bequeathing to your grandkids in mind, but it is a great vintage to buy for drinking now, in ten years or, for top wines, in 20 years. To give it some more context, I thought these were a little better than the 2014s — a vintage that I really adored — as they had just a little more substance and ripeness, but also 2014’s freshness and transparency.
2. This is not a problem vintage.
This may seem kind of obvious, given point #1. But, it’s a point worth making in a different way here. One of the most useful things I’ve learned at these Wildman barrel tastings is whether a vintage has any real problems. The very first tasting I attended was the 2004 vintage. My tasting book from that event was filled with comments like “what is that green note?”. A few months later, the wine chat boards on the internet were filled with discussions about the “greeny meanies” that have plagued 2004s ever since. I similarly noticed the phenolic under-ripeness of the 2011s, wondered about the high acidity in 2008, and so on. This is all to say, when a vintage has a problem, you can tell at this barrel tasting. The 2017s are problem-free. There is simply no reason to avoid or be wary of this vintage.
3. Some people have been under-estimating this vintage...sort of.
Although the most widely-followed Burgundy critics have had very high praise for the 2017s, we’ve heard lots of people referring to this vintage as a “restaurant” vintage, often comparing the 2017s to the 2000s and the 2007s. To be fair, they do not mean this to be insulting. It is great to have “restaurant” vintages (vintages that you can drink young), and both the 2000s and the 2007s have ended up aging much better than expected (I mean, wow, the top wines from 2000 are so good today!). To the extent that the 2017s follow this pattern, nobody should be disappointed. But my own impression tasting the 2017s last week -- and this was a view shared by virtually all the other tasters that I spoke with — is that these wines are considerably more serious than either the 2007s or 2000s. My guess is that the wines have gained a little weight since those early impressions were first formed. It is true that the tannins are not at all aggressive, making the wines far more approachable in their youth. But the wines otherwise seem far more structured than either earlier vintage and they really seem like wines that will age very well, if not for as long as, say, the 2015s.
4. This is not a vintage that obviously favors red wines or white wines.
Some of the earlier reports I read or heard about suggested that white was stronger than red. My impression form this event was that the reds were slightly better (and more serious!) than expected — as noted in #3, above — and that while I loved most of the whites I tasted I did find some of them to be just a touch too creamy and lacking the slightest bit of definition. They did not seem as crispy and crystalline as, say, the 2014s — though many of them really were excellent. My impressions may change over time, but for now, having slightly upgraded the reds and slightly downgraded the whites I’m now pretty much equally bullish on both colors of Burgundy from 2017.
5. Chablis is a sweet spot.
As I mentioned in my first post, there seemed to be a wide range of opinion on Chablis from 2017. I tasted only from two producers — Christian Moreau and Billaud-Simon — but I loved them both! The Moreaus, in particular, were stronger than every vintage I have tasted since 2010, except maybe the 2014s. The difference between these 2017s and the 2014s is that the 2014s had a touch of austerity to them while the 2017s already give lots of pleasure. This might suggest that the 2014s will out-perform in the long run, and they probably will, but I did sense that there was plenty of power and stuffing lurking beneath the pretty 2017 fruit and I’m very confident that they will keep nicely as well.
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This was, of course, just a small sampling of producers. There is plenty more to taste, and very few of the wines have even been bottled yet. Impressions will surely evolve, but with few exceptions over the years, my general vintage assessments, based on the Wildman tasting, have held up pretty well.
Another little observation not directly related to the wine: When I first started going to these tastings, only buyers from the top restaurants and retailers would come. Over the years, things have become more democratic, and I was really surprised at how well and how broadly attended this year's event was. I've long expected trickle-down effects in the Burgundy market, and maybe that's finally happening. By that I mean that all the immense hype at the very top level of Burgundy -- DRC, Roumier and all that -- is now spreading out across Burgundy and across the market, so now even smaller retailers are getting in the game by carrying wines from lesser-known corners of Burgundy. This is probably a great thing for Burgundy, though it does mean that we're inevitably going to see even second-tier producers becoming far more tightly allocated. Oh well.
As I post this we are now in the midst of our Wildman pre-sale campaign, offering a lot of what they import had the best prices you’re likely to find in the U.S. Please be sure to email us if you’re not already on our list getting our pre-sale offers.