The Magical 2005 Burgundy Vintage
I began visiting the cellars of Burgundy in 1989, and I have never tasted a greater young red vintage than 2005. These wines have everything, with sumptuous and velvety palate impressions, brilliant purity and focus, and the depth and complexity that only pinot noir grown in perfect conditions can deliver. The wines are complex, tangy wines where the ripe and opulent fruit is beautifully framed by zesty acidity, which keeps these wines fresh and succulent from beginning to end. There are tannins in many of the wines that will carry them far into the future, but the tannins are supple and beautifully integrated into the fruit of the wines, making them utterly irresistible to drink in their youth. One of the most beautiful things about the class of 2005 Burgundy is that all this opulent fruit is coupled to most extraordinary expressions of minerality and soil, which the French call terroir, and for which the greatest red Burgundies are so prized. It is this combination of opulence and terroir that will make the 2005 vintage one of the greatest of all time.
The growing season of 2005 in the Burgundy region was absolutely perfect for the sometimes fickle pinot noir. During the eighteen days that I spent in Burgundy in November tasting through the 2005 reds, I constantly heard refrains from winemakers that they had never seen such perfect grapes coming in from the vineyards, and that the quality of raw materials was so high that the wines nearly made themselves. One of Gevrey-Chambertin’s brightest young stars, Jean-Marie Fourrier of Domaine Fourrier, stated that he “used the fermentation time to catch up on his internet research into cork issues” that had been plaguing recent vintages of white Burgundy, “as there was simply nothing to do in the cellars other than listen to the vats gently bubbling away.” Sorting out grapes that are not of top quality has become one of the cornerstones at the best addresses in Burgundy over the last dozen years, but the sorting tables were unnecessary in the fall of 2005, as the crop was in stunning condition. This was true from the northern reaches of Marsannay and Brochon (small villages just north of Gevrey-Chambertin) all the way down to Chassagne-Montrachet and Santenay in the south, as pinot grapes this consistently beautiful have not been seen in Burgundy in several generations. In between, in the lyrical villages such as Morey St. Denis, Vosne-Romanée, Savigny-les-Beaune and Chambolle-Musigny, the treasure trove of magnificent wines that are about to be unleashed on a thirsty world is simply unprecedented.
Burgundy is often portrayed as a difficult region to master, and one in which the best wines are only available at stiff tariffs. In some vintages this may well be the case, but this is emphatically not true of the 2005 reds. In fact, the 2005 Burgundies will offer some of the greatest values to ever emerge from the region, as the sheer quality of the vintage has allowed lower level bottlings to perform as if they were Grand Crus. Burgundy’s hierarchy of quality is essentially a three-tier system, with vineyards (rather than producers) ranked as either Grand Cru (the very highest level), Premier Cru (superlative wines as well, but not as long-lived or as complex as the grand crus) and Village wines (sometimes an inconsistent category, but shockingly superb in 2005). In this vintage the differences between the three categories is nowhere near as broad as is often the case, as many 2005 Village wines and some of the less well-known Premier Crus are the quality equivalent of most vintages’ Grand Crus.
The key to unlocking the best wines of Burgundy remains learning who the best producers are, as the top winemakers make good wines from every level of vineyard. A great producer such as Joseph Drouhin, Frédéric Lafarge or Christophe Roumier will make profound Grand Crus in virtually every vintage, but in 2005 this same magic can be found in virtually every wine in their cellars. A less accomplished winemaker will never make as good of a wine from his plot of Grand Cru vines as one of the top producers’ Premier Crus (or even their Village wines), so it is essential to get to know which vignerons are currently at the top of their games. The beauty of this approach is that some of the most talented winemakers today are outside of the best known villages, with many not even owning vines in any Grand Crus. But their wines remain reference point examples of the vineyards from which they work, and when this perfectionist expertise is coupled with the extraordinary raw materials of the 2005 vintage, the resulting wines utterly transcend their less-exalted origins. The link at the bottom of the page provides a snapshot of who, in my opinion, are the best red wine producers in each village in Burgundy today, and whose 2005s are guaranteed to delight the senses and set free the heart.
John Gilman is the author of the bi-monthly wine newsletter View From the Cellar, dedicated to the discussion and analysis of maturing wines and the history of the world’s greatest wine estates.More.