On the Trail

Burgundy's Fantastic 2015 Vintage

David Driscoll

Now that we've gotten all the Burgundian introductions and explications out of the way, let's talk about why we here in the Côte d'Or this week: the upcoming 2015 reds. There hasn't been a vintage as warm and forgiving in Burgundy since 2009, where the pinot noir shows this much lush fruit and utter charm. 2010 was a solid year, but the reds had structure and over the course of our time here we've found a number of wines are a bit closed at the moment. 2011 was tough. 2012 had its bright spots. 2013 was another rough harvest. 2014 was classic and textbook. However, as we all know, in order to capture the attention of the mass market, you have to have ripeness. For Burgundian pinot noir, a wine that can often overwhelm American drinkers with its course earthiness and high acidity, the wines must be approachable immediately and showcase a somewhat silky sensibility. Lucky for those us who enjoy the wines and are looking to bring newcomers into the category, 2015 offers exactly that. Not only do the 2015s have ripeness, they have an incredible freshness to bolster all that fruit. They're vibrant and electric, often filled with bright cherries and plenty of spice. While the 2009s had ripeness, they lacked acidity. The wines were quick out of the gate, but they don't have the stuffing for the long haul. 2015, however, is looking like a vintage that can be consumed in both the short and long term.

As if that wasn't enough good news, the real surprise for us on this trip has been the whites. I think all three of us assumed the warmer weather may have stripped the whites of their crispness and minerality, but I'm happy to report that the 2015 chardonnays are fantastic. Much like the reds, they have both fullness of fruit and plenty of fresh acidity on the finish. With no other portfolio is this dichotomy more apparent than with the wines of Paul Pernot, who was up early to greet us with an absolutely spellbinding collection of elegant and refined selections. We were joined by my new best friend Jeanne-Marie de Champs, an experienced agent of Burgundy who helped guide us through our appointments. Jeanne-Marie is an absolute character; she's from another era in France. Tasting with her and Mr. Pernot was like eating with Julia Child and Paul Bocuse, each recounting stories about vineyards in the region and the memories that form their associations with each one. The reds were like velvet on the palate, but they were never flabby. The whites were just as elegant and graceful. His Puligny whites were the stars of the show with ample weight from the fruit, but balanced earth and mineral undertones. "We made sure to pick earlier," Pernot mentioned, adding that those who didn't keep a close eye on their chardonnay risked losing that freshness. His Volnay sang with fleshy tannins, crunchy cranberries, and long finish of baking spices and earth. I can see myself buying cases and cases of these wines when I get back. We've already sold through a number of what we've received in, which worries me. At this point, however, I'm more worried about my financial ability to afford the incredible wines I've been tasting. 

If $70-$150 bottles of Burgundy are out of your price range, don't worry. There's going to be plenty of delicious 2015 reds coming in at less than thirty bucks. One of our most popular and value-oriented producers is Domaine Bart, a family operation in Marsannay that has been a go-to for me since my early days at K&L. The wines are good in practically any vintage, so I was really excited to get a taste of the fifteens. Marsannay is at the very top of the Côte d'Or, to the point that it's almost like a suburb of Dijon (which you can see in the distance if you look closely). True to form, the reds from Bart were everything we hoped they would be: loaded with raspberries and brambly fruit, but again with a zesty acidity and firmness from the tannins on the finish. In no way does 2015 lack power or structure in the face of all that ripeness. Many of the reds we tasted this week were as meaty and bold as they were fruity. I was imagining the Bart wines would be rather pretty and soft, as is typically their style, but they had gusto and grip. It was enthralling. 

Where you're really going to see the quality of 2015 as a red vintage is in the big guns: the grand cru vineyards like Chamberlain, Clos St. Denis, and Clos Vougeot. We tasted numerous expressions from various producers and the quality of the wines was consistent across the board. We had a particularly inspiring sit down with Laurent Ponsot who poured us some of the best pinot noirs I've ever tasted in my life. I was practically speechless after a glass of 2015 Clos St. Denis (usually around $600 a bottle) that melted over my tongue and slowly seeped into my taste buds. Ponsot has holdings in the grand cru site with 110 year old vines that produce small yields of concentrated fruit. Whereas the 2014 grand cru expressions we tasted were rather tannic and closed, the fifteens showed tremendous fruit even in their youth. It was pretty incredible.

And then it was off to Paris. Our week in Burgundy is done. We're getting ready to board a plane shortly back to California, but we're pretty inspired by what we've tasted. We had one final meal at La Fontaine de Mars, and then we called it a night. I think 2015 will be an exciting development for experienced drinkers and a gateway vintage for newcomers who want to get involved with a heralded and approachable vintage. We'll have more to say as the year goes along, but it's looking good so far.

-David Driscoll