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Côte de Beaune 2015 reds - Dec 2017

The December edition of Decanter – confusingly released in October – includes one of the first full and detailed reviews anywhere of the red Burgundy 2015 vintage. I doubt I need tell you just how much excitement and expectation there is about that vintage (if I do, take a look below). Until now, almost every review has been based on ‘premature’ barrel samples. This is definitely one of the first now that the 2015s are in bottle.

That’s not all that Decanter looks at, of course – there’s a full panel review of some superb, upper-flight Australian Chardonnays (cool-climate Victoria and Tasmania), where we have - exclusively - the top-scorer and only UK-available 'Outstanding'.

For all the wines we stock that feature in the December edition, click here.

For all our Decanter-reviewed wines in the last 15 months, click here.

 

Review parameters

The Burgundy review – pretty obviously – isn’t everything red from 2015. Rather, it confines itself to:

  • the Côte de Beaune (and not the Côte de Nuits, the Côte Chalonnaise or the Maconnais); and
  • the village/communal appellations (and therefore doesn’t deal with the nobility of the Premier or Grands Crus).

On those two points, here’s a quick reminder (for those that know) or briefing (for those that don’t):

The Côte de Beaune forms the southern half of the fabled Côte d’Or, largely all south of Burgundy’s wine capital, the beautiful walled town of Beaune. The Côte de Nuits, the other half of the Côte d’Or, lies to the north. Most famed for its whites – especially from Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet, the Côte de Beaune produces outstanding reds – from Pinot Noir (of course). These have most famously and traditionally derived from Pommard, Volnay and Aloxe-Corton (this review excludes the former two). By reputation - often more than in practice - the reds of the Côte de Beaune are typically softer, fruitier, livelier, lighter and less brooding than those of the Côte de Nuits…. but this is far from always so, especially in very good years. And, as we discuss below, 2015 is very much that.

On the appellation point, it’s unlikely - if you’re interested enough to have read this far about Burgundy - that you’ve not seen the Burgundy appellation pyramid before.

As the pyramid rather conveniently shows:

  • the village/communal appellations occupy the second rung of the four-rung appellation ladder in terms of origin and quality-producing factors;
  • the village/communal appellations account for for about 40% of all red Burgundy; and
  • (less relevantly, but surprisingly) about 68% of all Burgundy is white.

The village appellation denotes wines from vineyards classified to, and within, specific villages, giving them a higher sense of belonging and terroir than the regional appellations below them, which can be sourced (and blended) from throughout Burgundy. They lie below those of the Premier and Grand Crus (which only account, between them, for around 10% of red production, which begins to explain their prices). Quality-wise, the village-level vineyards are almost invariably found at the top and foot of the slopes of the two Côtes, with fine aspects, drainage and soils ... just not quite such perfect positions (ie the middle of the slopes) as those of the two top classifications.

 

The 2015 vintage

In years of 'questionable' vintage quality, the communal level can create some 'questionable’ wines for the prices involved. Broadly speaking, regional red Burgundies retail at £12-£20 a bottle, village wines at £20-£35, Premier Crus at £30-£80 and Grands Crus only get started at £75. In those poorer years, even the finest vineyards can struggle to make the most of the conditions. But, at the happier end, there exists a Burgundian adage that “in good years, everything is good”. There is much truth in that.

That’s what makes this Decanter review so interesting: in a year as good as 2015, the village-level crus can represent tremendous wines at sensible prices (let’s face it: nothing from Burgundy can ever be regarded as cheap). But - perhaps more so than for any other region -  it can still be devilish-difficult to make the right choices with so many appellations, crus and clos on offer. In such an intricate labyrinth, the Decanter review is a useful map.

But is 2015 really… all that?

It really does seem that way. I was lucky enough to be in Beaune a few days after the 2015 harvest. Conversations with producers on both Côtes led to sparkling eyes, hard-to-hide smiles and hushed, reverential tones. What was frustrating then – and has been for the two years since – is that a) you can’t find it to try and b) it’s really too early if ever you can.

Following an early, post-harvest article from an excited Andrew Jefford in Decanter (click here), the magazine published their first detailed overview of the 2015 Burgundy vintage back in February of this year (click here for the full article) - and made the following, eye-opening observations in scoring the vintage five-out-of-five for its reds:

The 2015 vintage is an extraordinary one throughout the Côte d’Or. The red wines are truly great: rich, powerful and statuesque but almost always underpinned by juicy acidity. The distinctive characters of the region’s diverse terroirs, which can be occluded by over-ripeness in warm years, are articulately expressed“.

and

Is 2015 a vintage to buy? Definitely, as this is the best vintage for red wines since 2005 and 2010, although the white wines are less consistent. Prices may cause many purchasers to wince, especially in the UK…. It is hard to imagine anyone being disappointed with the 2015s, and even the more lowly Bourgogne and village appellations can be first-rate”.

After such glowing tributes, there can't be much to add. In preparing for this Decanter, we’ve been lucky enough to try a few of the 2015s. It’s certainly hard to disagree: we are most definitely not disappointed. Where any disappointment may lie is in the availability and price of the vintage: this was a very low-yielding year and prices are all the higher as a result. Which, when you get to the next bit, makes our offering even more attractive. I might cautiously submit that this really is one not to miss given those lower availabilities.

 

The Decanter high-fliers

So, what have Decanter found you?

  • Three wines emerge from the panel review with 95-point (or higher) scores and the badge of 'Outstanding' to their names.
  • Despite a hard look, we can’t find one of the three available anywhere in the UK.
  • We have the other two, already here in the warehouse (definitely no transatlantic travel to contend with this month) … and looking for good homes to go to. If you can find them elsewhere, you'll be hard-pressed to find them at our prices.
  • The two come from within a mere throw of a cochonnet of each other (see map below), at the very southern (really: south-western) end of the whole of the Côte d’Or, in the neighbouring appellations of Santenay and Maranges.
  • Indicative of their quality, both are from individual named plots/vineyards (lieux-dits), rather than being - as is allowed and more common - blended from various wines from different plots within the same village appellation boundary.

 

Pick of the pair, in our view - particularly in terms of sheer value - is the 95-point Domaine Chevrot Maranges Sur le Chêne 2015. Chevrot are the very model of the small, family-run domaine (having been so for three generations, now run by brothers Vincent and Pablo Chevrot). A convert to organic production, the domaine produces reds and whites (both from Chardonnay and the lesser Aligoté), under both village and regional AC labels, from both Santenay and Maranges. You’ll find a lot more detail on Chevrot right here.

Sur le Chêne is a small (3-hectare) lieu-dit at the foot – and very end - of the Côte slope, within easy earshot of the bells of Cheilly-les-Maranges. Tasting the plot’s 2015 went down a storm here with fans and non-fans of Burgundy and Pinot Noir alike. As alluded to earlier, this is not – at all – in the idiom of the New World, ‘Cabernised’ Pinot Noirs, which verge into black fruit flavours almost beyond the remit of Pinot Noir. What you get here is wonderful red fruit richness – both on the nose and the palate – and the gentlest of oak hits (brilliantly managed in such a young red Burgundy where new oak can often seem quite unintegrated).

Domaine Chevrot Maranges Sur le Chêne 2015

£21.00

Beyond its being a wonderful wine in any case, what makes it super-attractive is the price. We’ve toiled to be a direct importer from Chevrot (one of very few, and by far the most reasonably-priced) and, as you may have spotted with us, we’re not into weighty margins. What you therefore get with the Sur le Chêne is a top-scoring, super-flavoured Burgundy from a much-vaunted vintage… for just £21.00. Frankly, most other UK outfits would be selling this well north of £25 and perhaps as high as £30.

Outscoring the Chevrot by a point - to land a heady 96 - is the slightly pricier Domaine Antoine Olivier Santenay Les Charmes 2015 at £29.90 (alas, we cannot import this directly). The family approach of Chevrot is every bit of strong at Olivier, where Antoine and Rachel, grandchildren of the founder and based in Santenay, produce a stunning fleet of village-level and Premier Cru reds and whites, predominantly from the south and central Côte de Beaune. We have recently taken on a broad range of their wines (3 reds, 3 whites) - click here. These are truly stunning Burgundies indeed and increasingly among our “go-to” wines.

Domaine Antoine Olivier Santenay Les Charmes 2015

£29.90

The Les Charmes 2015 shows all the richness, fruit and flavour of Chevrot’s Sur le Chêne 2015 above. The differences are fine indeed. Pushed into a corner, one might say that the Olivier sacrifices a little fruity rusticity to gain a little more restraint, elegance and a longer finish, with just a little more overt oak (again, all very controlled).

There is a wee snag with the Olivier Les Charmes, we should tell you. The photo below demonstrates this.

That is, there’s hardly of it anywhere. Very little was produced: very tangible proof of those low yields I told you about. Only 360 bottles are being made available to the UK market… ever. No one merchant or restaurant anywhere gets more than 36 bottles, we understand. We don’t like rationing, but we do see the need to do so here, and even then we know we’ll disappoint a good many regulars (but see below). So, the first 18 customers to see this may take their 2 bottle allocation, and then I'm afraid...

But we are nice folk at Exel. For the disappointees – and even for the fortunate – we offer a quantum of solace. Just above Santenay (see local map again), Domaine Olivier holds a portion of a Premier Cru vineyard - Beaurepaire - the highest up the slope in that appellation. From that, we present the Domaine Antoine Olivier Santenay Premier Cru Beaurepaire 2015

Domaine Antoine Olivier Santenay Premier Cru Beaurepaire 2015

£29.90

The grapes are vinified in the same way, in the same winery and the wines aged in the same oaks for the same time. As explained, the Premier Crus of the Côte De Beaune were beyond the remit of the Decanter revue, but we’ll let you work out for yourselves how the Beaurepaire - from a better and greater sun-trap of a vineyard - compares with their Les Charmes from the same year. The Beaurepaire really ought to sell at £35+, but we’re doing it at exactly the same price as the Les Charmes (£29.90). This may well be the best buy of the three, especially if your objective is laying down (to keep for some time) some of the 2015 vintage.

Finally, if you fancy something from right along at the other (northern) end of the Côte de Beaune - perhaps to vary, bulk out or balance your case(s) - we have a 93-point 2015 Ladoix from Domaine Chevalier. Here, you begin to get a bit more “darkness” in your Burgundy and a bit more tannic depth.

Domaine Chevalier Ladoix Rouge 2015

£28.60

 

We’ve offered some great wines in 2017 with the Decanter Headliners we’ve brought to you. But It’s no exaggeration to say that this is the most interesting bundle yet.