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‘Buy now’ advice for Burgundy 2018 reds as quality outstrips 2015

Published:  28 January, 2020

Bountiful crops and idyllic weather was the talk of Europe in 2018, following on from the dismal vintage shortfalls of 2017 where producers suffered bouts of frost, hail and a late spell of searing heat.

But what about quality?

With the en primeur tasting week(s) for Burgundy 2018 now behind us, the scores are now in – and it looks as if the 2018 reds have come out on top with a four-year high.

According to fine wine intelligence agency, Wine Lister, 2018’s overall quality level is the best of the past four years with an index score of 886.

This puts it ahead of 2015’s 883 and 2016’s 879, whose prices have already jumped to over £150 per bottle.

Wine Lister founder and CEO, Ella Lister, said: “Rising prices in Burgundy are no longer a surprising factor, but it is interesting to note the difference in average price between 2018 (£125 per bottle in-bond) and 2015 – now at £149 per bottle in-bond for a very similar level of quality."

She continues: “Burgundy was baking hot in the summer of 2018, with the highest amount of sunlight for half a century. While some wines that the Wine Lister team tasted during Burgundy week showed signs of fruit left hanging a day or two too long, many top producers succeeded in making both quantity and quality.

“In practical terms, 2018 is a vintage worth backing for both reds and whites across appellations providing the producers are chosen carefully, as vineyard management and picking dates were crucial in such a warm growing season”.

The quality scores come from a basket of ‘top 50’ wines that have been identified across a number of metrics, including the scores of wine world elites such as Bettane+Desseauve, Antonio Galloni, Neal Martin, Jancis Robinson, Jeannie Cho Lee and Jasper Morris.

Wine Lister has also looked at Burgundy’s white wines and the top performing appellations in terms of quality for both whites and reds.

While overall, white wine quality was “consistent”, the whites failed to “reach the highs of some reds”, said Lister.

Nonetheless, 2018 whites came in second place for quality of the last four vintages, just 31 points behind the 2017 vintage, which was lauded for whites.

The failure of the whites to reach the heights of 2017 seems down to the previous year’s variable weather.

While 2017’s cooler earlier summer caused problems for the reds, this was a boon for whites, helping to retain some of the freshness and acidity that 2018 lacked.

2018’s long dry summer has been flagged elsewhere, too.

At a private tasting of Chateau de Pommard at 67 Pall Mall last week, entrepreneur and owner Michael Baum said the vintage was so hot that it burned off some of the yeast. 

Berry Bros. & Rudd Burgundy buyer, Adam Bruntlett, meanwhile suggested 2018’s warm and dry summer offered a snapshot of what could be “the new normal in Burgundy” with the summer’s temperatures resulting in “perfectly ripe and healthy grapes”.

“Gone are the days when vignerons faced an anxious wait as grapes struggled to ripen before the onset of rot.”

He added however that there is variation in the quality of the wines, particularly the reds, echoing Lister’s comments about choosing producers carefully, with vineyard management and picking dates having an impact.

“The reds, while often outstanding, can vary significantly even within the same cellar. Those who picked their Pinot Noir too late often had high alcohol, stuck fermentations and bacterial problems,” Bruntlett said.  

In terms of appellations, Wine Lister’s average quality scores for both Charmes-Chambertin and Clos de Vougeot has improved over the last four years, with Clos de Vougeot emerging as the highest-achieving red appellation in 2018, with a quality score of 897. Scores from Gevrey-Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée, and Côte de Beaune reds (comprised of wines from Pommard, Volnay, and Corton) on the other hand decreased over the last fours years.

For whites, Saint-Aubin continues its upward trajectory, with the Côte de Beaune appellation emerging as the highest-quality white AOC in 2018. Though this is skewed slightly, as only two Saint-Aubin white wines made the top 50 list, “it is nonetheless striking that on this basis it is the highest-quality white appellation in 2018”, said Lister.

The Wine Lister scores are based on a ‘top 50’ list of wines that are most representative of the region. Wines make the top 50 based on a mixture of brand prominence, price and quality, including the scores of wine critics ranging from Bettane+Desseauve and Antonio Galloni to Jasper Morris and Jancis Robinson.

The data in the graphs and index scores included in this article focus purely on the quality scores of the top 50.