2017 Burgundy: A First Look at the Vintage
This post was very preliminary and based on early reports from France. Jeff updated it here, after tasting at the Wildman barrel sample event in New York.
It has been as the wines are still in barrel and I haven’t even tasted barrel samples. Still, there is plenty we already do know, and plenty of well-respected commentators have already given useful guidance on the characteristics of the vintage. After I’ve tasted — I will taste plenty on February 6 — this post will link to a new post with my own impressions from tasting. So, stay tuned for updates and, until then, below is a summary of everything we already know.
What’s the big picture on the 2017 vintage? What’s the one thing I need to know?
At this point, most commentators are saying that they like the vintage very much. We’ll break that down for you in further detail below. It’s also a very abundant vintage. After nearly a decade of below-average yielding vintages, the Burgundians will actually have some wine to sell — the most since 2009.
What was the weather like in 2017?
It was a warm year. I was in Europe for much of that summer, and I can recall some extremely hot days! But Burgundy itself was a little more moderate than elsewhere. There was enough cool weather early in the growing season that at one point in May they were about three weeks behind where they usually would be in terms of bud maturity. Between May and August there were plenty of hot days, but also quite a few moderate days and just enough rainfall to avoid drying out the vines. If there is a “good" kind of global warming, this was it!
It was certainly warm enough that harvest was on the early side. People started bringing in their whites at the end of August and their reds the first week of September. Conditions during the harvest were mostly dry.
Basically, the weather didn’t provide any of the challenges that we’ve seen in recent year, with frosts, hail, excessive mildew, and whatnot. That’s why quantities ended up so high. There was a scary moment of frost in April, but it didn't end up doing any serious damage.
What kind of wines were made in 2017?
The French call this a “solar” vintage, a vintage of the sun. By all accounts, the wines are definitely ripe, but not to the same extent as vintages like 2009 and 2015. Commentators also note quite a bit of “freshness”, and a little less concentration than those vintages. As a result, people are calling the vintage “classical”, and many are observing that it is very transparent: each site produced wines that really taste of the site. Reading around, I get the sense that it is a lot like 2014, but better, thanks to a little more density and slightly riper fruit.
Is 2017 a better vintage for red wines or white wines?
Unusually, 2017 appears to be a very high quality vintage for both red and white wine. Since it is a relatively warm vintage, I was expecting it to be better for red, but the commentators I follow consistently note how amazing the whites have turned out — better than the 2014s in many cases, they say. We’ll have to see how the wines turn out when they are finished, but it seems likely that whites will have a slight edge over the reds.
Don’t the large yields in 2017 mean that the quality must be low?
No. Lesser producers may have produced more dilute wines, but the producers that we work with — those that are the focus of America's more respected importers and commentators — do what they need to do to optimize yields and ensure good concentration in the berries. Many performed green harvests, for example. I have not seen any reports of any decent producer making dilute wines in 2017.
Did the 2017 vintage turn out differently in Burgundy’s different regions or villages?
No doubt, as this is always the case! I will need to taste around before getting a full picture, because the commentators haven’t offered much yet in this regard, and some of what they say is a little inconsistent. I read somewhere that the Chablis did not have enough acidity, but somewhere else it was described as “classic”. One person said that Nuits-St.-Georges was his favorite village of the vintage; another said that it was a weak spot. We shall see.
What exactly do the commentators say about the 2017 vintage?
Here are some key quotes from some of the most followed commentators:
Burghound (on red wines): "The better 2017s are also well-balanced wines built for medium to occasionally extended aging yet they should also be approachable young if youthful fruit is your preference. Before I offer more detail, the short answer is yes on both accounts that the 2017s deserve a place in your cellars and there is no reason not to buy what you can afford as the wines should be generally available given the more generous quantities.”
Neal Martin (Vinous): "there are some quite brilliant whites that, many growers are beginning to opine, equal or even surpass the haloed 2014s. The 2017 reds are very good, often excellent, and from time to time, bloody awesome.”
Julia Harding MW (Jancis Robinson): "A lovely vintage north to south: wines singing their heart out."
William Kelley (robertparker.com): On whites: "For white wines, 2017 should be taken more seriously: classically balanced and beautifully defined by site, these white Burgundies are less tangy and tensile than the 2014s, but they approach and sometimes surpass that vintage in quality.” On red: "The reds are supple, charming and expressive, characterized by melting tannins and comparatively low acidities. Reminiscent of a richer, more sun-kissed version of 2007, or a cleaner, more concentrated 2000, the 2017 red Burgundies will offer more immediate pleasure than the more serious, structured 2016 and 2015 vintages, though they are unlikely ever to rival those years for depth, longevity and complexity."
Steve Tanzer (Vinous; on white wines): "The largest white Burgundy crop since 2009 has yielded pliant, elegant, pure wines with considerable aromatic appeal and early accessibility, along with the balance and stuffing for at least mid-term aging.”
Tim Akin MW (Decanter): On Chablis: "If you like classic Chablis for medium-term drinking, the answer is yes. Prices will increase on 2016 in many cases, but these wines remain comparative Burgundian bargains.” On reds: “Supple tannins and lots of sweet fruit on the reds.” On whites: “Focus, freshness and minerality on the early-picked whites."
So, what is the bottom line on this vintage? Should I buy them?
It sure looks that way. This is a vintage of good to excellent wines with abundant quantities, both red and white. Meanwhile, 2018 is looking like a vintage that will be too ripe for many Burgundy lovers. Probably, with global warming, we’ll have many more vintages like 2018 in the future. So the question becomes, how many more “classic” vintages like 2017 will there be in the next few years? And when they come along, what will the prices be like? If you’re the sort of loyal Burgundy consumer that buys in just about every vintage, this is clearly not one to skip. And even if you dabble in only the good vintages, 2017 seems like a solid candidate for your attention.
Great! When can I get started?
Note that a few Chablis, Macons and region-level wines are already available. Village-level and up wines from the Cote d’Or will start to arrive this summer, in 2019. A full tsunami of 2017s will hit in the Fall of 2019, though we will continue to see late releases throughout 2020.
But you can get started buying the wines before their arrival thanks to our pre-sale program that we’re launching this year, in combination with a number of pre-sale tasting events, many of which are free or nearly free, in both our New York and San Francisco shops. To make sure you’re hearing about the details for these events, sign up for our newsletter (when given the chance, be sure to indicate your interest in Burgundy.)