The 2011 Côte
de Beaune Whites: Grace in Motion
By Antonio Galloni
I was quite pleased with
the 2011 white Burgundies I tasted in late June and early July. The wines are
generally open, accessible and delicious right now, making this a great vintage
to enjoy while the 2010s rest in bottle. Puligny is the clear overachiever, as
it is the village in which vineyard signatures are most clearly marked.
The 2011s are the product of a year
that can only be described as freakish. Flowering was a full month ahead of
schedule because of an unseasonably warm and dry spring and early summer.
Otherwise, though, there were no real problems during this critical period with
the exception of a few highly localized hailstorms. Warm conditions persisted well into June and
early July. I was in Chablis and in Beaune at the time and growers were quite
worried as they contemplated a mid-August harvest, something that had never
been seen before. But Mother Nature has a way of taking care of things. Late
July and early August saw cooler than normal temperatures and quite a bit of
rain, both of which slowed down the pace of ripening. The 2011 whites were
harvested beginning in late August. A general rule of thumb is that vineyards
need 100 days between flowering and harvest to achieve full alcoholic and
phenolic maturity. The plants got that, and more in some cases in 2011. As an
example, in the torrid, scorching 2003 the days from flowering to harvest were
90 days or even less. Yields are all
over the place, and range from the high side of normal to normal to -30-40%
where hail was an issue.
The Comtes Lafon cellar, Meursault
As a group, the 2011s are
attractive whites that will drink well upon release. When I tasted the 2011s
from barrel last summer they were very raw. At the time, growers were quite
candid about the year and many of them told me they planned to give the 2011s
more time on the lees to fatten them up as the wines broadly lacked structure.
What a difference a year makes.
While the 2010s had a lot of
everything (sugars, acidity, structure) it can be said that as a rule the 2011s
have less of everything, but in proportion, which is why the wines generally
have terrific balance. The style of the
year is open and resonant, but the wines have less volume and ripeness than the
2009s. In some ways, 2011 can be viewed as taking elements from both 2009 and
2010, with less voluptuousness than 2009
and less of the intense, mineral-inflected, terroir-driven
style of 2010.
I found many of the most beautiful,
expressive wines in this report in Puligny, where the best whites have tons of
site-specific signatures, although even in Puligny the vintage makes itself
felt in the early approachability of the wines. On the other hand, Chassagne
struck me as the most challenged of the villages in the Côte
de Beaune. I encountered quite a few wines with signs of dilution and otherwise
lacking in structure, complexity and pedigree.
Clos de la Pucelle, Puligny-Montrachet
Unlike Chablis, though, I did not
see signs of under ripeness or greenness in the 2011 Côte de Beaune whites I tasted,
which puts the vintage for the Côte de Beaune a notch or two higher than
in Chablis, where the wines are also less consistent across the board.
As I mentioned in my recent report
on Chablis, I expect we will see a shortage of top-notch white Burgundy in the
next few years. The popularity of the wines has never been higher, but it comes
at a time when Mother Nature has been cruel with regards to yields, especially
in 2012 and 2013. From a practical perspective, my advice is to purchase the
2011s for near and medium-term drinking and hold the 2010s dear for the future.
Some Thoughts on 2013
Conditions were damp and
unseasonably cool during the two weeks I spent in Burgundy in late June and
early July. Among other things, the poor weather had the effect of delaying
important work in the vineyards. Disease pressure was high. As most people know
by now, several hailstorms hit various parts of Burgundy later in the summer,
virtually decimating the crop in some spots. It is far too soon to have any
idea of quality, but once again Burgundy’s growers have been dealt a very tough
hand. Here’s to hoping the wines themselves exceed the attributes of the year
Most of the wines in this article
were tasted in late June/early July 2013. A few producers I cover regularly,
Domaine Leflaive and Arnaud Ente in particular, preferred to show their bottled
wines this fall rather than during the summer, so I will report on those
collections as soon as I have an opportunity to taste them.
Clos des Perrières, Meursault