En primeur is one of the key terms you learn as you begin to move in wine connoisseur circles. It’s an Old World thing; to be more precise, it is a uniquely French phenomenon. Buying wine en primeur means that you pay for it before it’s ready, I mean truly and really ready. This way you get a better price, the producer gets security from the money coming in, and you get your wine when it’s truly and really ready. Since en primeur is big business, especially when it comes to prestigious and therefore expensive wine regions, en primeur tastings are commonly held around this time of the year. The wines are still very very young and therefore what you taste now is not what you’ll have in a couple of years’ time, but on the basis of certain character traits – such as structure, intensity and acidity – experienced critics, merchants, and consumers can judge already at this stage which wines will be worth investing in. If the wine turns out to be amazing – and there’s always some risk that it will not – you can make a lot of money on your gamble if you trade in it, or if it’s for your own cellar, you will have made a good deal buying something outstanding at a bargain (i.e. somewhat lower) price.
At this year’s Burgundy en primeur tasting organized by O. W. Loeb, a wine merchant specializing in Old World wine, I was mostly interested in the whites. White Burgundy means essentially Chardonnay, in two distinct styles: dry and austere Chablis and the creamier, flavour-rich wines of the Cote d’Or. The vintage under scrutiny was 2018, and the results encouraging, despite the professionals’ slight misgivings about that year.
The winemakers I spoke to all said more or less the same thing: 2018 was a tricky year. It was very warm and the harvest had to be done earlier than later to preserve the acidity in the grapes and to avoid sky-rocketing sugar levels – which would then lead to high alcohol, not a good thing. It was also important to preserve relatively low yields – in warm weather the grapes can go crazy, and abundance of fruit is detrimental to quality.
The wines I tasted were generally very ready to drink. Most of them had good acidity, though there were some exceptions, which may have an adverse effect on longevity. Here are a few I particularly recommend.
Jean-Paul Brun Crémant de Bourgogne, blanc de blanc (100% Chardonnay)
My favourite sparkling wine at this tasting. Elegant, restrained, balanced, nice toasty flavours and some smokiness on the finish.
Jean Collet et Fils Saint Bris Sauvignon Blanc
This wine is the odd one out – it’s not made from Chardonnay, hence can’t be called a Burgundy, even though it comes from just outside Chablis. However, the village of St Bris has its own appellation, where Sauvignon Blanc is indeed permitted. And this particular specimen was a gem to discover. Romain Collet winemaker said, ‘I don’t like Sauvignon Blanc when it’s too green. I prefer to wait for full maturity.’ The wine is fermented in stainless steel, after malolactic fermentation it goes into barrels, and spends five months on lees.
In this wine I very much enjoyed the harmonious mingling of vegetal notes with the yeasty characteristics coming from lees ageing. The first Sauvignon of Collet – may it go from strength to strength!
Domaine Alain Chavy Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatières
Soft and creamy on the palate, yet held up firmly by a strong acid backbone. Nuts and butter and caramel. Pebbles dominate the superlong finish.
Tupinier-Bautista Mercurey Blanc 1er Cru Sazenay
Very buttery nose, pretzels on palate. All the great flavours coming from the lees combine beautifully with the strong acidity. The toasty flavours linger long on the finish.
Ramonet St-Aubin Blanc 1er Cru En Remilly
Intriguing wine with herbal notes – rosemary and thyme. Savoury character and strong acidity, but there’s a hint of sweetness from the fruit. Long, honeyed finish.