2007 and 2006 Red Burgundies

After the last funny money in America was spent on the 2005 reds at ever-higher prices, Burgundy lovers have cut back dramatically on their purchases of 2006s, and all indications are that the 2007s will also languish on retailers’ shelves. But 2007 is yet another vintage rescued by fortuitous weather conditions just before and during the harvest, and the best 2007s are utterly captivating and delicious wines. Both 2007 and 2006 offer considerable appeal—as well as markedly different personalities—to the serious Burgundy collector who can still afford pricey wines. The rest of us should have ample opportunity to snap up excellent bottles as they are dumped in the market by cash-poor distributors and retailers.

While both vintages are variable in quality, depending largely on the work done in the vineyards during challenging summers, both produced many very good to outstanding wines. At their best, both vintages are quite likely to give greater drinking pleasure over the next 10 or 15 years than the more massive 2005s, which should evolve at a snail’s pace. As a rule, the 2006s are firmer and less immediately sweet and seductive than the 2007s, and the best of them are probably going to enjoy a slower evolution in bottle. The 2007s, meanwhile, offer lovely purity of red pinot fruit, well-defined terroir character and great charm. They are generally fleshier than the 2006s, and only the exceptional ’07 will need to be held for more than six or seven years before it embarks on its plane of peak drinkability.

The growing season of 2007. Two thousand seven was one of the strangest seasons in recent memory. It began as a hot year, with a flowering even earlier than the precocious heat-wave vintage of 2003, and, following a mostly dismal summer, ended with the conditions of a relatively cool year (especially so for chardonnay). It is no exaggeration to say that the poor summer actually saved the vintage from becoming another 2003.

April might as well have been Burgundy’s summer in 2008. The month shattered temperature records and set the stage for a freakishly early flowering in mid-May. Much of the summer was then dreary, with cool weather and damp conditions necessitating treatments to prevent rot and mildew. The ripening process slowed down, and a harvest that might ordinarily have started by the middle of August was drawn out. Indeed, when the growers came back from their earlier-than-normal summer vacations, the fruit looked mediocre and depression was widespread. But then the weather improved dramatically during the last week of the month: the sun came out, the temperatures rose, and the sugar levels in the grapes began to mount quickly. A drying north wind through much of the ensuing weeks prevented rot from spreading further and helped to harden the skins and concentrate the grapes.

The ban de vendange was set for mid-August, in order to give vineyard owners maximum flexibility for organizing their harvests, but virtually no fruit was ripe at that point. Most of the best pinot noir was picked during the first ten days of September (and even a bit earlier on the Côte de Beaune). A number of growers told me that the longer one could wait to pick, the more one could benefit from the favorable weather conditions. Others demurred. According to Virgile Lignier (Domaine Lignier-Michelot), by early September the long vegetative cycle was essentially over and any further concentration of the grapes came via dehydration, at the expense of acidity. I was tasting Barolos and Barbarescos in the Piedmont between September 11 and 20 in near-perfect conditions: warm days, cool nights, plenty of sunshine and not a drop of rain. At the time I imagined that Burgundy must be enjoying a great harvest, but in fact the pinot noir harvest was just about over by then. (Interestingly, the chardonnay actually flowered a bit earlier in 2007 than the pinot noir but its ripening was slowed down by the lack of heat in the summer more than was pinot’s, and in the end most growers on the Côte de Beaune picked their pinot first.)

The vinification of the 2007s. The grapes were not especially large, but following a summer with limited sunshine the skins were rather thin. Perhaps due to the length of the growing season, which featured up to 120 days between the flowering and the harvest, versus a more typical 100, grape sugars at the level of the top producers I visited in November were generally quite healthy—mostly in the 12% to 13% range, and sometimes even higher. Acidity levels were generally sound, with a lot of malic acidity remaining due to cool nights during the late part of the growing season, and as a rule the grapes showed moderate phenolic maturity and lowish tannin levels. Most of the growers I visited were sensible enough not to attempt to extract what wasn’t present in the skins, with the result that the 2007s are generally supple wines with a pleasing balance between flesh and structure. The 2007s that seem meager or green—and there are plenty of wines like this—were more likely to have come from underripe fruit than from insufficient extraction during vinification. Some winemakers vinified with a portion of the stems to add backbone to their wines, but others were afraid of introducing an herbaceous element, or feared that the stems had been affected by botrytis.

In most cases the young 2007s made for very agreeable tasting in November, but it must be noted that they had softened dramatically during the secondary fermentations, which typically took place later than usual. Two thousand seven would appear to be a vintage with mid-term aging potential, which means that most village wines will be at their best within the next seven or eight years, premier crus roughly between 2012 and 2020, and grand crus from 2015 to 2025. The best wines kept in cold cellars may well last longer. A positive sign for the vintage is that most wines from the better producers have supported racking and sulfuring better than their winemakers might have anticipated. Of course, the more important question with the 2007s, as it is with all vintages, is how the wines will evolve, not just how long. Freddy Mugnier of Domaine Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier told me he was confident that the ’07s would age well but asked: “Will they become greater? I’m not sure there’s a hidden dimension to the wines.” On the other hand, I doubt he would consider 15 years of deliciousness to be a shortcoming.

The young ’07s show wonderfully pure, fresh fruit (raspberry and red cherry abound), rather refined textures and an absence of hardness. Exceptions occur where the grapes were picked too early, wines were overextracted, or tannins were added on recommendation from enologists (the latter not generally a step taken by the producers I visit). Although pHs tend to be above average, the better wines generally come across as vibrant. And the best 2007s show a truly exhilarating characteristic I have rarely found in red Burgundy. They finish with an almost electric impression of lift and perfume, as if their fine tannins were sparkling on the palate like diamond dust. If I were a lab rat in a cage, I would suck this stuff out of a water bottle until I drowned.

As to comparisons with past vintages: Some growers say the 2007s combine the fleshiness and succulent fruit of the 2000s with the firmer spine and more intriguing soil tones of the 2001s; others compare them to vintages such as 2002 and 1993; and a couple growers I visited went so far as to say that their 2007s compared in density to their 2005s but had more energy. A few producers even compared 2007 to 1997 in terms of the maturity of the grapes, but were quick to point out that the 2007s retained better acidity. My own sense is that the much cooler and damper conditions of the summer of 2007 allowed the grapes to retain their fresh fruit, mineral and spice character, and very few ’07s come across as hot-vintage wines.

As a general rule, the best 2007s come from well-drained sites and from older vines with a lot of millerandage, noted Jeremy Seysses of Domaine Dujac, because that meant smaller grapes, better aeration of the fruit and therefore less rot. I had expected the Côte de Beaune to have fared less well than the Côte de Nuits, as rot pressures here were generally greater and most vineyards were picked earlier, before the fruit could take maximum advantage of the concentrating and drying effect of favorable weather in early September. But in fact, at the level of the growers I visited in November, there are plenty of standout wines from south of Beaune and these are sweet, rich and sexy.

Many growers admitted to eliminating 5% to 20% of their 2007 fruit owing to rot, while others said rot was less of an issue but that it had been critical to toss out underripe pink berries. While some estates reported normal yields, in most instances production will be down 10% to 30% from 2006, which itself was a vintage of average to slightly below average quantities by recent standards.

These moderate production levels following a 2005 vintage that is sold out at virtually every address have kept pricing of the ’06 and ’07 vintages fairly stable. Early retail prices I’ve seen on ’07s suggest that the new vintage will generally be slightly less expensive than the 2006s, but in some cases as much as 15% or 20% lower, due mostly to the recent strengthening of the U.S. dollar against the Euro. But even though less wine from these vintages will come to America due to weak demand, some very good ‘06s are already being dumped, and the same thing may happen with 2007s. As I say, Burgundy lovers should have an opportunity to buy some excellent wines at much more reasonable prices, but do your due diligence to maximize your odds of getting bottles that have not been mishandled.

The 2006s revisited. This has turned out to be a classic, firmly structured vintage whose wines offer good energy and the structure for a slow development in bottle. Yes, there are lean and tough wines that don’t possess the mid-palate stuffing to support their tannins, and others in hail-hit areas of Gevrey-Chambertin that show a dry edge that will never go away. I also tasted some wines that may have been bottled too late. As a rule, the fruit was healthier and the wines clearly better on the Côte de Nuits than on the Côte de Beaune. And the 2006s, like the 2007s, are true to their soil. They show neither the liqueur-like sweetness of the sometimes superripe and massive 2005s nor the peppery, herbal aspect that characterizes some 2004s.

Following are brief producer profiles and notes on the 2007s and 2006s, based on my visit to Burgundy in November and subsequent tastings in New York. As always, precise scores are provided for finished wines and ranges for wines that were not yet bottled at the time of my tastings. I have omitted early notes on numerous 2007 village wines that figure to be good to very good but not outstanding.