2013 – A tiny vintage that points to high quality
2013 was quite a nerve-racking vintage for the vignerons in the Côte-d’Or and yet many exceptional red and white wines were made, despite the extremely challenging conditions, even by Burgundian standards. In 2013 the best wines were produced thanks to good timing and hard work in the vineyards, rigorous selection and careful decisions in the cellars. The vigneron’s knowledge, respect of terroir and commitment to quality was instrumental to success. In the end, all of the exceptional domaines that we visited on our recent buying trip were delighted and slightly relieved with the high quality of the 2013 wines. Regrettably, they reported up to 50% less crop than in an average year and some appellations, like Volnay, hardly produced any wine. Many vineyards in Beaune, Pommard, Pernand-Vergelesses, Meursault, Savigny-Lès-Beaune were also severely affected by the hail that hit the region on the 23rd July. Other appellations suffered from poor flowering.
Worryingly, 2013 is the third consecutive low-yielding vintage in Burgundy and with the attention of international markets increasingly moving towards Burgundy, global demand promises to be very high this year. This coupled with the very short supply and high quality will affect the prices of the best 2013 wines. Indeed, the cellars of most of the domaines we visited in November were frightfully empty with fewer old bottles than ever and a reduced number of barrels filled with 2013 wines. En Primeur is still the best and, in many cases the only way, to get access to these fantastic wines and in a year in which allocations are likely to be significantly reduced we strongly recommend you confirm your interest early in order to secure your 2013’s and avoid disappointment.
Most of our producers were reluctant to specify one particular vintage that the 2013 reds can compare to. Many found similarities with 2010 in relation to finesse and aromatic profile, with 2011 for its generosity of soft open fruit and with 2008 in terms of its exceptional energy. Those with a long memory, pointed to 1991 and 1996. Nevertheless, they all agreed that the 2013 reds exude typical delicate Pinot Noir fruit and fully express the terroir and appellation character. And indeed the best wines we tasted are true to their origin. The cool summer ensured that the fruit is aromatic, precise and well defined and provided 2013 with refreshingly low alcohol levels. The aromatic profile ranges from red fruit, typical of a cool season, to some surprisingly dark but lively and vibrant fruit profiles. There is also exceptional energy to be found in the 2013 reds. Excellent levels of mineral acidity combine with soft and ripe tannins to form good structure that will ensure a good life ahead. That being said, most of the wines are very open and charming at this early stage, promising early drinking.
Due to the complicated growing season, the quality and style of the 2013 reds varies greatly but in the hands of good vignerons they are, at first sight, more serious and complex than their 2011 equivalents. There is perhaps less core density and firm structure than the 2010s but acidity was well integrated and the wines appeared to be more harmonious than the 2008s when tasted young. There are some exceptional wines produced in 2013 and excellent reds are to be found at every level, from the most modest regional wines to the famous Grand Crus. In terms of quantity Côte de Nuits was yet again more successful than Côte de Beaune, but in terms of quality a good producer is, as ever, better followed than the appellation.CA
The 2013 white wines are showing an equally attractive and pure character. The fruit profile is of precise restrained fruit and words like cool citrus, pear and white fleshed fruit kept appearing in our notes. The fruit is often accompanied by gentle white floral notes. The alcohol levels are relatively low but the most prominent feature of this vintage is a fresh, mineral character and really vivid energy. Most of our producers compared this vintage to 2008 thanks to delicious, vivid acidity but with more fruit substance and obvious immediate charm. Similar to the 2013 reds, the white wines seem to be better integrated and balanced at this early stage than in 2008 and the best whites have a rich multi-layered, mouth filling texture, and a superb saline minerality. Most are already very inviting, promising early drinking but the best wines promise to develop further weight and complexity and will keep happily from the mid to long term.
The quantity of white wine produced was significantly reduced by the hail that affected vineyards in Meursault, Pernand-Vergelesses and Savigny-Lès-Beaune but overall production of white wine is slightly better than reds due to more even flowering. However, the quantity was further reduced by strict selection enforced by the best producers. To a large extent the success of the 2013 vintage is down to the devotion and hard work of the growers overcoming the numerous challenges of a very difficult and complicated growing season.
The winter was cold with sufficient rain allowing the soil to build high water reserves, removing the possibility of summer water stress. The spring weather continued to be cold and wet slowing vegetative growth and delaying bud break. Recorded rainfall in May was nearly 200mm – more than double the average – bringing the threat of oidium and mildew. Hard work was required in the vineyards and some areas had to be treated using helicopters since tractors were getting stuck in the mud. The oidium problem was to some extent eased by cold weather.
The weather improved in June bringing two weeks of stable, dry weather. However, wet and cold conditions returned in mid-June causing late and poor flowering especially for the late flowering Pinot Noir. Millerandage and coulure that occurred will be the first reason for the large reduction in the size of the final crop. July weather was warmer and even occasionally hot but the size of harvest was further reduced by a disastrous hail on the 23rd July that hit the vineyards of Pernand-Vergelesses, Savigny-Lès-Beaune, Beaune, Pommard, Volnay and Meursault. As a result Pommard and Volnay production was significantly reduced for a second year in a row. Some of our producers reported they made no Volnay in 2013 and tiny amounts of 10hl per ha of Pernand-Vergelesses. Overall production of many domaines in affected appellations was down by up to 75%. Conditions finally improved in August bringing warm but often humid conditions particularly in the second part of the month. More hard work was needed in the vineyards to protect against rot just before veraison but the vines managed to recover some time and accelerate development. Progress was helped by the naturally small size of the crop due to millerandage and coulure.
A sunny and warm September was needed yet the weather that followed was variable and often cold with infrequent full days of sunshine. The already late harvest was promising to be very late indeed and picking started with Chardonnay from the 20th September, nearly 20 days later than in 2012. Picked grapes revealed satisfactory levels of sugar with naturally achieved alcohol of 12 – 12.8%, while pH was ranging from 3.15 to 3.30. Growers that picked Chardonnay early and quickly managed to avoid late September – early October rains. The situation with Pinot Noir was very different. During the first week of October most of the grapes were showing good levels of skin ripeness but low levels of sugar ripeness and producers were facing the dilemma about whether to wait further and risk losing the crop to botrytis. Some started picking on the 2nd and some as late as the 9th October. Due to uneven grape ripeness and the spread of botrytis, the gathered crop required rigorous selection and the best producers used vibrating sorting tables and rejected a large portion of the crop. The remaining healthy grapes displayed 11.2% to 12.2% of naturally achieved alcohol and the level of chaptalisation required was different from producer to producer. Malolactic fermentation occurred very late, slowed by the low temperatures in the cellars. There was excellent acidity with pH levels ranging from 3.40 to 3.60 post fermentation. Overall, early indications are that 2013 might be varied in style but in the right hands this vintage looks set to be high quality.