Wish for the good old days? Don’t look, but they are now.
Recently I was enjoying an old bottle of something very good, but obscure, from 1976 vintage. My companion commented how lucky I was to have bought wines at great prices, unlike today where good bottles are prohibitively expensive. You can’t buy good Burgundy these days without wasting money.
I thought for a moment, reviewed some notes, and disagreed. Perhaps just the opposite is true. You must focus what is in front of you.
My ‘old days’ were frequented by fewer great vintages than I cared to remember.
I started in the 1970’s. Before I was in the business, I started my cellar with some 1969s. It was a tough vintage to follow. 1970 did not seem deep, 1971 was variable due to hail, and 1972 was initially dismissed, perhaps because Bordeaux was so disappointing. It balanced eventually the acid and provided some nice wine.
Then, as I first went to Burgundy, I faced the 1973, 1974, and 1975 trio. The immediate faults made these years a tough sell. 1976, which has been an ‘infant terrible’ in my cellar, embarrassing me and taking forever to resolve. 1977, less said the better, finally a very good, sometimes great 1978, but very good deep. finish with 1979, wonderful whites and some excellent reds in the cote de Beaune. All told, 2 vintages with depth, and 2 vintages with possibilities if you shopped carefully.
Todays decade, still short by one vintage, reads differently. 2010, essence of elegance, very enjoyable. 2011, as tasty as some wines are, it lacks some definition. It is growing out of it. 2012, intense, short crop. 2013, also short but developing well. 2014, maybe the unsung hero of traditional style. 2015, currently the darling of the press, dramatic.
2016 short, but better in a different way than ’15. 2017 large crop, very even , charming? and 2018, came off the vine on time and clean…could be surprisingly good!
1978, as good as it is, may be superceded by 3 or 4 of the above, and it was best of decade 40 years ago. If 2011 is the most challenged of the lot, it is by far and away better than ’73, ‘74, ‘75, and ’77.
You see my point, by the seventies decade standards, all but two are outstanding.
The importance of this is to see the other issue, the number of superb bottles are available… not grand cru or premier cru, but commune and villages. In a great vintage everything compresses in the vines. Site differences are much more subtle, the village category dresses up to look like a premier, sometimes a grand cru.
The press misses this, as the ‘rush to rate’ pushes their words into tired categories. No one screams, ‘the Bourgogne tastes like a Clos St. Denis!’ Why not? Every wine is tasted in order, the same order as appellation, so the anticipation removes the challenge.
And they are there for the taking. Many famous wineries can give you the style for a fraction of the price. Doubly impressive, Chardonnay did every bit as good as Pinot Noir. I have seen some special wines in the communes that will be difficult to recognize in a few years. They will finish way above their caste. Talent abounds today, and the pride shows.
What is required of you, is to lose the influence of categorization. Judge by what is in the glass. Appellation has always been overthought, use it as a guide not a dictum. Results will be rewarding.