Burgundy’s 2002 Vintage

Burgundy’s 2002 vintage is in bottle, and it’s now clear that the excitement that’s been brewing over the wines is absolutely justified.

“They are great wines, there is no doubt about that,” says Frédéric Drouhin of Maison Joseph Drouhin. “In the white wines, we had both ripeness and acidity. In the Côte d’Or reds, the wines have the ability to age for decades. They have color, fruit—they are charming. The alcohol, the acidity and the tannins are all in balance.

“It’s rare to have a great vintage in both white and red,” Drouhin explains. “That happens once a decade. You have to go back to 1999, 1985 or 1978 to find similar vintages.”

It was even a dream vintage for the winemakers. Grégory Patriat, winemaker of the Jean-Claude Boisset brand, says, “It was so easy to work. You had to control yields, of course. But if you did that, you couldn’t have had it better.”

Vintage 2002 continues the run of successful vintages (some for reds, some for whites, some for both) that Burgundy has seen since 1996. Demand is intense, despite the weak dollar against the euro. British buyers have been particularly active, so wines may be available from the United Kingdom, if they are not accessible from your usual American supplier. Many top producers’ wines are already sold out, and only canny importers are likely to get enough wine to satisfy demand.

As for price, these 2002 wines are not cheap. The 2002s cost at least 10 percent more than the 2001s, and buyers who did not get enough of the great 1999s are coming back into the market with a vengeance. With such a small crop of 2003 wines in the pipeline, the prices for 2002 are likely to harden even further. You could pay as much as $175 for a top grand cru wine, while a village wine will cost around $60 a bottle.

Drouhin believes that “for the consumer who can’t wait, the reds can be drunk in the next two to three years. The fruit will certainly please an American palate. But,” he cautions, “of course, fruit is only part of the wine. Great wines only reveal their heritage and quality and their terroir after aging.” He believes that while the village wines and entry-level Burgundy will be drinkable after five years, the premier crus will need 10 years, the grands crus even longer.

Although, as Drouhin says, the wines will age, they are also immediately, tantalizingly attractive. I tasted nearly 200 wines, mainly reds, for this month’s Buying Guide, and one fact stood out: The fruit is so delicious, so mouthwateringly drinkable that it will be hard to keep these wines for the decades they deserve.

While acknowledging the high quality of the reds, Louis-Fabrice Latour of Maison Louis Latour believes that “the whites could be even better than the reds. They have not been this good since 1996. [2002] has great sweet fruit, with lovely acidity and crisp flavors.” Certainly his signature Corton-Charlemagne is powerful and concentrated, the hallmark of a great vintage.

For Burgundy growers, 2002 was a miraculous year. While the Rhône Valley and Languedoc in the south suffered appalling rains and floods at harvest time, Burgundy somehow escaped. “It was amazing, the rain stopped 100 miles south of here. We had sunshine,” says Michel Lafarge of the Volnay domaine of the same name.

While Bordeaux’s pre-harvest heat wave turned rain-sodden 2002 from a potential disaster into a near-miss, in Burgundy the fine weather just went on and on.

As with much of France, the weather during July and August 2002 was mixed. Burgundy got more rain than it usually does; by early September, rot had begun to set in. In mid-September, everything changed: The sun shined, while the northeast wind kept the conditions cool and dry, perfect for long, even ripening. Because Burgundy typically harvests toward the end of September, there was time for potential disaster to be turned into good fortune.
This was especially true of the more northerly areas, including Chablis and the Côte de Nuits. They harvest later there than in Beaune or Mâcon, and, accordingly had a longer period to benefit from the late summer sunshine. It’s no surprise that these are the two regions—one white, one red—that produced the most consistently outstanding wines in 2002.

The two stellar villages in the Côte de Nuits are Gevrey-Chambertin and Chambolle-Musigny. The wines here already show the individual characters of each village: Gevrey is rich and muscular, Chambolle is softer, more exotic. Vosne-Romanée’s wines have enormous structure but some of them seem to have missed out on the intense 2002 fruit character.

Further south, in the Côte de Beaune, the vineyards around Beaune itself have produced red wines where the fruit really shows its paces. The best from the premier cru vineyards are packed with soft, rich, juicy fruit that will develop relatively quickly. They are unlikely to age as well as the wines from the Côte de Nuits, but will be great to drink in about 2010.

In the Côte de Beaune, the whites also score well. Both Puligny and Chassagne grand crus are enormously rich, yet have some intense acidity from the cool wind during final ripening. They should age well as a consequence.

Any lover of Burgundy should buy these wines, despite their high prices. This year, if it comes to a choice between Bordeaux 2003 and Burgundy 2002, I would go for Burgundy without hesitation. In the short term, these wines will offer much pleasure and, in the long term, the region’s greatest will join the pantheon of the best wines of the last 20 years.

It is, as Bernard Repolt, joint managing director of Louis Jadot, says: “a classic year, well balanced with great acidity in both whites and reds.” That, to me, spells “buy.”

Published on September 1, 2004

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