The 2013 Red
Burgundies: Fascinating and Challenging
thousand thirteen is not generally a vintage I would recommend for red Burgundy
neophytes. There are too many green, dry or otherwise undernourished wines. Some
are a bit too tart to give much pleasure. Even the best wines are not especially
user-friendly in the early going. But for long-time connoisseurs, this cool, late,
difficult year is ripe with rewards and is endlessly intriguing.
contrast to the friendlier, fruitier 2014 vintage, 2013 was a year without a
September miracle. Strict sorting of the fruit was essential to making good
wines in 2013, with many producers eliminating grapes with less-than-healthy
skins (from rot or oidium) and
underripe, pink (rosé) berries. The
harvest was extremely tricky as the need to proceed slowly in order to do a
more careful selection, both in the vines and in the wineries, had to be
balanced against the pressure to pick quickly due to deteriorating fruit.
Estates across a large swath of the Côte de Beaune faced
the added challenge of a major hailstorm on July 23, which cut production
sharply, affected the ripening process, and could throw off the balance of the
Domaine Armand Rousseau, Gevrey-Chambertin
The 2013 Growing Season and Harvest
wrote last year, the 2013 season began with cold, wet weather during late
winter and much of the spring. An uncommonly rainy, cold May set the stage
for oidium and mildew problems as well as an extremely late flowering. The
vineyards were so muddy in April and May that growers could not get their
tractors in and had to do their treatments by foot, wearing moon suits.
were much better during the first half of June but the latest flowering since
1978 took place during the second half of the month—and even into early
July—under mixed conditions, with cold, rainy weather drawing out the process
for as much as three weeks. The result was significant coulure (shatter, or poor fruit set) and millerandage (shot
berries, or “hens and chicks”). The stage was set for a small, very late
harvest and inconsistent ripeness. Constant vineyard treatments were needed to
protect the fruit against mildew and oidium, and on-and-off rainfall throughout
the season often confounded the efforts of even the most conscientious growers.
Ultimately, though, the well-aerated clusters and small berries helped to
protect the fruit against rot.
and August brought better but frequently humid weather, with some rainy spells,
so the threat of mildew and oidium was now a constant. The second half of
July was quite warm, and the longest hot period of the season extended from
July 21 through August 5, after which August temperatures turned more moderate
through the end of the month and into early September. But a severe hailstorm
on July 23 did major damage to many vineyards on the Côte de Beaune. Hardest
hit was the area between Savigny-lès-Beaune and the northern part of Pommard,
where some vineyards lost as much as 90% of their crop; but the Pernand side of
the Corton hill, the rest of Pommard and much of Volnay also suffered losses.
second and third weeks of September were cool and overcast, with multiple rainy
spells. Better conditions arrived after the 20th but did not last
for long. On the Côte de Beaune, growers rushed to bring in their Chardonnay in
late September as the grape skins were fragile and rot was spreading quickly.
But very little Pinot was ripe by the end of the month: sugar levels in the
grapes were still very low and acidity levels were high, as the ripening
process had been affected by the hail (damage to the vines’ leaves had a
deleterious effect on photosynthesis).
estates that started picking during the first few days of October were
interrupted by a washout of a weekend on October 5 and 6, after which
temperatures turned sharply colder, which at least slowed the spread of rot. Some
fruit was harvested in a rush in advance of the rainy weekend, before it was
fully ripe, while much more came in directly after the weekend, before the
vineyards had had a chance to dry out. There was another significant day of
rainfall on October 9, after which the grapes still on the vines deteriorated
more rapidly. By most accounts, the window for picking Pinot Noir with adequate
phenolic ripeness, sound but not excessive acidity and reasonably healthy skins
was very narrow in 2013.
The Upside of the 2013 Vintage
weather conditions were tricky in 2013, the growing season benefited from low
yields and potentially long hang time. While the rule of thumb in Burgundy is
that there are normally about 100 days between flowering and harvest, many
growers reported that in 2013 it was more often 105 to 110. Even so, grape
sugars were relatively low in 2013 due to the cool weather and lack of sustained
sunshine. But phenolic maturity was often good—in fact, roughly half of the
producers I visited last fall reported that the grape skins were slightly riper
in 2013 than they had been in 2014—and the wines often show a density and a
chewy impression of extract that were partly due to the longer growing season.
made from clean (i.e., carefully sorted) fruit typically display outstanding
transparency to soil: their vibrant fruit components are complemented by savory
soil tones, spices and minerals. And as levels of malic acidity were preserved
in the grapes by cool weather in the weeks leading up to the harvest, the best
wines of 2013 often exhibit invigorating treble notes (such as rose petal, blood
orange, citrus peel, white pepper, cranberry and pomegranate) that are typically
cooked out of the grapes in hot years. In less-favored sites, however, or where
crop levels were too high, the wines can be tart or even bitter-edged.
many Côte de Beaune wines show incomplete flavor development or dry tannins
owing to the late-July hailstorm, some are remarkably concentrated—and
potentially long-lived—thanks to the infinitesimal crop levels. Of course,
brutal selection was critical.
The northern side of Gevrey-Chambertin
A Cold Maturity
vintage’s successes possess enough mid-palate stuffing and flavor development to
support their acid/tannin spines. In fact, with their outstanding inner-mouth
tension and powerful minerality, the vintage’s winners can be quite
exhilarating. Some of the best 2013s remind me of the brilliant 2010s in their
energy and saline minerality. But note that the ’13s as a rule are not
particularly full-bodied: with lowish alcohol levels the wines rarely carry
much baby fat. Grape sugars were typically 11.5% to 12% and most growers
chaptalized, although few admitted to bumping up octane levels by more than a
full degree. (Several growers I visited, particularly those who picked late,
claimed that their grape sugars reached as high as 13%!).
2014, 2013 is a vintage with very little surmaturité.
But 2013 brought a colder maturity than ’14, and this quality will appeal to
Burgundy lovers who prefer slight underripeness to slight overripeness, just as
it appeals to so many Burgundy producers who believe that clear terroir expression requires sound acidity
and inner-palate energy. The better
examples of 2013 deliver an exciting balance of fruit and structure, concentrated
mid-palate flavors that are silky as well as clearly delineated, and very
suave, harmonious tannins to support graceful aging. Where phenolics were
sufficiently ripe and the wines adequately concentrated and vibrant, I would
expect them to gain in weight and complexity with bottle age. Indeed, a narrow
majority of the producers I visited in November and December believe that their
2014s will give pleasure earlier but that the 2013s may outlast them. Still,
wines that are too skinny or green or dry today are more likely to fall away in
bottle than to gain in dimension.
of all, these wines are alive—and somewhat unpredictable. Most of the 2013s I
sampled for this article were tasted in the cellars from bottle in November and
December. However, I also tasted another 100+ wines at home in New York in recent weeks. I was struck by how an entire set of
wines could be dominated by fruits, flowers and spices one day, with savory
soil tones accompanying on bass, while the next day saline minerality and
underbrush came to the fore. As I say, 2013 is not a vintage for the Burgundy
A Word on Pricing
red Burgundies have become scarce and very expensive owing to a series of short
crops and to steady demand from around the world, many consumers who have heard
the hype about the very warm, early 2015 harvest may be less likely to purchase
2013s and 2014s at this point. This may well turn out to be a mistake,
especially if the 2015s turn out to be more vintage- than site-driven. So it’s
still possible that there may be relative
bargains to be found among the 2013s, if you know where to look.
You Might Also Enjoy
The Glorious 2002 Red Burgundies, Stephen Tanzer, January 2016
The Consistently Delectable 2014 Red Burgundies, Stephen Tanzer, January 2016
The Mâconnais on the Move, Stephen Tanzer, December 2015
The 2014 & 2013 White Burgundies, Stephen Tanzer, August 2015
Chablis: 2014 & 2013, Stephen Tanzer, August 2015
The 2012 Red Burgundies from Bottle, Stephen Tanzer, March 2015
The 2013 Red Burgundies, Stephen Tanzer, January 2015