The 2009 Red Burgundies

by Antonio Galloni

The 2009 red Burgundies have attracted considerable attention for their ripe, seductive personalities. Is all of the hype justified? In most cases it is. The wines are open and expressive, with a warm radiance that seems to echo the extended sunlight that is one of the defining characteristics of the year. The 2009s are fleshy, generous wines that are impressive for their textural richness, even if at times they lack the verve, transparency and inner perfume that is such a big part of what makes Burgundy unique. It is a very even, consistent year across both the Côte de Beaune and the Côte de Nuits at all levels. In the Côte de Beaune in particular, many wines are almost excessively rich, yet remain well-balanced. The sweet spot in 2009 is at the entry-level, where a great number of wines outperform their humble pedigrees (more on that below). Because of the sheer harmony of the more modest wines, 2009 presents a great opportunity for the trade to introduce younger consumers to the wines of Burgundy, an opportunity I hope is not squandered. This article focuses on the 2009 reds, but I also include notes on the 2008s where I had an opportunity to taste them. All of the wines in this article were tasted between late February and early March 2011.

The 2009 Harvest
Warm weather during the spring triggered an early flowering. Higher than average temperatures continued into June and July, but without extremes. A spell of heavy rain fell in mid-July which increased the juice inside the grapes. Temperatures then climbed, quickly in some cases, as the days moved into the middle and end of August, the period that essentially defines this vintage. Warmer than normal temperatures led to a rapid accumulation of sugars at a critical point in the maturation cycle. Most growers picked in the first half of September, earlier than normal. Sugar levels were on the high side, yet I tasted only a small number of wines that had a cooked or roasted character, and most of those came from warmer microclimates. Hail, rot and other vagaries of Mother Nature that give producers fits were kept to a minimum in 2009. Most growers picked what they described as very healthy, clean fruit that required little work at the sorting table. Yields were higher than average virtually everywhere. In the cellar, fermentations were largely uneventful. Many producers remarked about the ease with which the wines were made. The post-harvest fall temperatures stayed higher than the average, which helped trigger relatively early and fast malos at many domaines. A number of growers told me their 2009s finished malos before the 2008s! The quick malos led many properties to bottle earlier than they might otherwise have. The vintage is characterized by a very clear flattening of the traditional hierarchy of vineyards at the lower end of the spectrum. In other words, many village level wines outperform, and in so doing close the gap with quite a few of the lesser 1er Crus. At the grand cru level, though, the hierarchy of vineyards is more closely reflected in both absolute quality and the extent to which wines capture the essence of their sites. The best examples are absolutely fabulous. One of the big questions is whether or not the wines will shut down post-bottling, as the 2005s have. Pinot Noir is the ultimate fickle grape, but it’s hard to see the 2009s possessing the kind of underlying structure that marks the 2005s. I may be wrong on that point, but if I am I will have plenty of company, since most producers think the 2009s will remain relatively open throughout their lives. Comparisons abound with the 1959s. I will leave that discussion to those lucky few who actually tasted the 1959s when they were young wines.

In Praise of Marsannay, Fixin and Bourgogne
I tasted a number of terrific wines from some of Burgundy’s less well-known appellations this year. Best of all, these bottles should be available at fairly reasonable prices. Readers will find no shortage of absolutely delicious Bourgognes in 2009 that won’t break the bank. I was also quite taken with the many terrific Marsannays I encountered. One grower mentioned 2009 was the best vintage for Marsannay since 1990. I didn’t taste those wines upon release, so I can’t comment, but the simple fact is that Marsannay is one of the most exciting villages in 2009. Marsannay, which sits at the top of the Côte de Nuits, is favored with a cool climate that naturally balances the vintage’s tendency towards ripe, voluminous wines.

Don’t Forget About 2008

Vintage 2008 has turned out far better than anyone, growers included, could have ever hoped. A cold growing season was saved by a miraculous, warm September that dried the rain soaked fruit. The harvest took place later that month and stretched into October at a number of domaines. Early expectations were not positive given the uneven quality of the fruit, but then again, Pinot is a mysterious grape. The malolactic fermentations were extremely long. Some wines took more than an entire year to complete their malos. Now, with nearly a year of bottle age, the potential of the vintage is easier to discern. The best wines have a transparency of color, aromas and flavors that is truly striking. This is a high acid vintage best suited to long-term aging, especially at the top end. It is also a year in which the traditional hierarchy of sites is much more clearly delineated than in 2009. Quality is irregular, though, so readers must be especially selective. The 2008s are likely to be significantly less expensive than the 2009s. Readers who can wait for the 2008s to come around should take a hard look at the best wines. Personally, it is a style I very much like. The same can be said for many growers, who also prefer their 2008s to the 2009s.

A Word on Pricing
Unfortunately, pricing for the 2009 will be in the stratosphere. At press time, many US importers had not made pricing available, but based on the level of interest for the vintage there is every indication prices will be high. As always, a handful of the most collectible and highly-desired wines will require eye-popping sums of cash, but behind that many delicious Burgundies should be available at less egregious premiums. Savvy readers should focus on less well-known, but high quality producers, the entry level wines of the best domains and pay special attention to the finest 2008s.