by Justin Knock MW January 11, 2021 4 min read

Of course Burgundy was affected, just like everywhere else. Restaurants were closed, tourists were absent, and some vignerons were reticent to host guests. France was between lockdowns but experiencing a worrying surge in COVID cases right across the country, despite the widespread adoption of masks and acceptance of social distancing measures. For the first time ever I ate in Beaune, alone, at my flat every night and managed to catch up with not one person I knew. It was a cold thought hanging over what is typically one of the best weeks of the year. Still, given what 2020 has wrought upon us all, I was lucky to even be in Burgundy - and in the end it delivered the delights for which it is renowned.

Fortunately I was already in France for a harvest project, and it made sense to add an extra week and visit Burgundy to taste the 2019s, thereby making the most of a compulsory quarantine upon returning to the UK. Burgundy had a record-early 2020 harvest, complete by the 9th September, and all of a sudden the first week of October looked perfect for visiting, assuming winemakers could ferment and press their reds within three weeks. My opportunistic emails to various importers yielded a surprising level of access on such short notice, an indication that many vignerons were as eager to see the rest of the world as we were to see them.

Guillaume Tardy was one of them, warmly welcoming the company. ‘When you made your appointment, I realised that since March I’ve only had five other visitors – all of them local winemakers. This is the first time I’ve spoken English in 6 months.’

The great injustice is that virus conversations overshadow what is clearly a fabulous vintage. But where we would normally be extolling our enthusiasm for the wines, we simply nodded our heads at the facts.

The Domaine Jean Tardy 2019s are brilliant, my first ever visit here following an ill-timed intervention during my 2016 trip. The domaine is built upon a rock-solid selection of old vine sites in Vosne-Romanée, Chambolle-Musigny, Echézeaux, Gevrey-Chambertin and Nuits-St-Georges. The style is concentrated and seductive not overblown, and the clarity of the individual terroirs obvious. The wines have great colour and perfume, the tannins are creamy and the rockiest sites like Bas du Combes (NSG) and Champerrier (GV) exhibit distinct minerality.

These were trademark characters in all the reds I tasted. Louis Boillot’s Volnays are perfumed and sandy-textured, the Pommard’s bright and pithy. Ghislaine Barthod’s Chambolles are expansively scented and tender, Stephane Magnien’s Moreys deep, pure, tense and utterly beguiling. Amélie Berthaut, of Berthaut-Gerbet in Fixin showed great elegance and bright spiciness. I love the 2019 reds right across Burgundy. Despite the warmth of the vintage the wines are pure and fresh, with noticeable tannins that are ripe, tensile and worthy of the cellar.

Ghislaine Barthod

~ Ghislaine Barthod

In a rare confluence of quality the whites in 2019 are every bit as good as the reds.  

Hubert Lamy’s St Aubins continue to stare like lasers down the valley into Chassagne, where Philippe Colin’s wines show much more sunshine and exposition. Jean-Phillipe Fichet’s Meursaults are as meticulous as ever, glistening with citron and white flowers and electric intensity. Jacques Carillon’s Pulignys rise and fall with rolling flavours of lemon oil and rock salt and nectarines. Droin’s Chablis wines, from the bottom to the top, are fabulous with positive richness and huge potential to improve.Benoit Droin

~ Benoit Droin

The only vintages this century that I could compare to 2019, with exceptional quality in both colours, are 2010 (bright, pure acid-driven wines) and 2002 (perfumed, concentrated and expansive). The key words this year are concentration and freshness. Unlike the 2017s and 2018s ,which have an immediacy and appeal to early drinking, the 2019s of both colours will be wines for the long-haul that will richly reward collectors over several decades.

Despite the circumstances the trip this year turned out to be great for two reasons. Thanks to COVID I was in Burgundy on my own, for the first time, and driving myself to appointments, also for the first time. Aside from the maddening stress of being on top of a winery but unable to find the front door, the need to navigate up and down the entire Côte (appointments are never scheduled ideally next to each other in neighbouring villages) has reinforced my mental map of Burgundy to new levels of competence.

And I was able to visit Chablis properly for the first time, arriving in town at 7:30pm on my last night in France. I checked-in to my hotel in 2 minutes, walked 100m to Chablis’ best restaurant Au Fil du Zinc at ten minutes to eight. It was open and virtually empty. I asked if they had any spare tables that night - no I didn’t have a reservation. They smiled, welcomed me in and within ten minutes the restaurant was full. The sommelier spoke comfortable English, had worked in London at The Ledbury. Yes we knew the same people. Yes a bottle of 2014 Raveneau is fine. I’m glad you enjoyed your three courses sir. Yes sir, the bill really is only eighty euros. Yes sir, Burgundy is still a delightful place- you just need to keep the faith.

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