2021 Burgundy from Clark-Foyster wines – a lament

This is a report on the 2021 Burgundy en primeur tasting put on by Clark Foyster Wines on 13th January 2023. Only it is more than that. This is a lament.

My lament is that red Burgundy and I are losing touch with each other. I am terribly sad about this. I am even sadder that the wines of red Burgundy are losing touch with those who grow and make them. The Clark Foyster 2021 Burgundy en primeur demonstrated this clearly enough.

Firstly, why is red Burgundy drifting away from me? To understand this, I must explain the extremely fortunate position I was in when I came to love this glorious drink.

I was in a fortunate position to come to love Burgundy because I reached the age of wine appreciation, which is to say 18 in this country (I certainly did not go to London on wine shopping trips with my mother’s credit card before I was legally allowed to buy wine, oh no!) at the beginning of the 1990s.

This was a golden era for wine lovers. Despite no wine merchant having a website at that point, if you were willing to make a journey to London (which was cheaper than getting a few bottles delivered to Oxford), you could buy virtually any wine that you wanted.

There was a huge range of wines on offer, not only in London, but also in shops like Oddbins Fine Wine (of which there were two branches in Oxford). These were heaving with first growths, Burgundy producers as great as Ramonet, Hermitage La Chapelle from great vintages – you name it, you could buy it.

My, how things have changed! Any remotely serious Burgundy is allocated on release and if you want something as good as a 1er or Grand Cru you must buy loads of village-level wine to sweeten the deal for the importer. The great wines I used to buy and appreciate so readily are just out of reach.

This brings us to the elephant in the room. Côte d’Or Burgundy is screamingly expensive!

Now, I am fully conversant that the STAGGERING increases in the prices of Burgundy over my lifetime of loving it are just to do with supply and demand – they are a product of capitalism. As a believer in liberal democracy and free-market economics I recognise this is a slightly unreasonable thing to be complaining about, but what the hell, I will give it a go.

The price of every level of Burgundy has jumped by an incredible degree. For example, I used to buy Domaine Roulot Bourgogne Blanc for just under eight coins a bottle retail. Looking at one of my favourite wine merchants online I see that you would need to drop over twenty-one times that amount to get a bottle duty paid.

A less extreme example is Domaine Fourrier Bourgogne Rouge. Again, this used to be a £7-to-8 wine. It sells at the same wine merchant as the above for over £90 retail. However, it is not so much the scale of the price rises that upsets me, more the idea of quality/price ratio.

There are plenty of Burgundies that have less extreme price rises than those I give. However, Bourgogne Rouge and Blanc from producers you want to drink are routinely £25-40 and Villages-level wines £40-65. The wines are simply not interesting enough to merit these prices. There are better wines available for the cash.

Morey-Saint-Denis Domaine JouanIf we take an example the terrible range of 2021 Burgundy cask samples from Philippe Jouan, some of which were infested with Brett, other simply dirty, oxidised or riddled with any number of winemaking faults; that aside, his wines are a good example. If you wanted to buy an en primeur bottle of Philippe Jouan Morey-St-Denis 1er Cru Clos Sorbé it would cost you £115 (ex-duty and VAT). Shitting fuck!

For this price you could buy three bottles of Domaine Lionnet Cornas 2017 at retail prices (from Blast – their website does not permit linking). It is a fair comparison: if you include Grand Crus, the area of Morey under vine is in the same ballpark as the area under vine in Cornas. Both Domaine Jouan and Domaine Lionnet own about three hectares in across their AC wines.

Even if we pretend that Jouan Clos Sorbé is as good as it should be, there is no arguing that Lionnet Cornas is a damned fine wine that will age and improve for a long time. Three bottles of that seems the sensible choice; you will be extremely happy drinking those three bottles over many years.

The fact is, there are simply thousands and thousands of wines that are as good, or better, than Burgundy for a fraction of the price they sell for. Now, it is obviously true that some people disagree with me when I say the following, otherwise prices would not be so high. However, it would not matter if I had won a double-rollover-scum-tax Euromillions jackpot, there is no way I would pay £52 for a bottle of Jouan Morey-villages 2021 Burgundy as the quality in no way at all justifies the price.

With prices like these, one thing is for sure: Burgundy now is for selling, not for drinking.

Finally, I am drifting away from Burgundy because it is undoubtedly changing in style. Part of this is due to climate change and so is hard to avoid, but part is due to the demands of the overly moneyed half-wits who think £50+ on a village wine is a reasonable use of cash.

When I got into Burgundy, and my how deeply and profoundly I got into Burgundy, I loved drinking the aged wines of producers like Engel, Gouges, Faiveley, Mugnier, de Montille, de Courcel and so on. Hell, I loved drinking them young as well, but such was the ubiquity of fine, older Burgundy it would have been rude not to have done.

All these wines had fruit, lovely fruit, but they also had a delicious, upright savoury character to them. They were not like the New World Pinots that were all tits and teeth. They had more to say than that.

The Burgundies I loved asked something of you, the drinker, to appreciate them and you had to explore, examine and understand the wine to know the fabulous things these they were trying to communicate. Wines like this demanded ageing to show their best and to keep them was to be richly rewarded.

Modern-style Burgundy is all about fruit, they may be expressive of terroir, but they are about fruit primarily. Undoubtedly, this is to make them more accessible young.

This is understandable on the part of Burgundy Domaines. If someone has dropped over six-hundred coins on a case of villages Burgundy, they might expect to see a return on their investment pretty sharpish.

Domaine Heresztyn-Mazzini Bourgogne RougeSome of these wines can still age well, and as I said, they can be expressive of terroir. A big shout out to Domaine Heresztyn-Mazzini who make excellent wines in this style, plenty of fruit, but still cellar worthy and you can tell where they come from. Stand out 2021 Burgundies here were the Gevrey-Chambertin Clos Village (£55 per bottle) and a brilliant Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru Millandes (£82 per bottle).

Heresztyn-Mazzini wines were also very expressive of the vintage, ripe and concentrated, lots of fruit, they reminded me somewhat of 1985s. Nice to see Mme. Heresztyn-Mazzini at the tasting.

A bigger shout out to Vincent Ravaut whose 2021s retained the higher acid (although this is understandable given the villages they come from…), savoury-style of Burgundy that some of us miss. His Ladoix 1er Cru les Basses Mourottes (£29) was an irresistible combination of savoury structure, precise acid and good cellar potential. His Corton-Bressandes Grand Cru (£58.50) was a great, savoury, structured, vibrant Corton and, in my view, the red wine of the tasting.

Ravaut Aloxe-Corton 1er Cru

I should say that there is nothing necessarily wrong with making wines that are fruitier. Fruit is nice! However, one feels that there might be a slight loss in the cellar potential of these more forward wines. And, of course, is is a change from the Burgundies I grew older loving.

Change is not a terrible thing, but sometimes one can feel the baby is being chucked out with the bathwater. Nice as forward fruity wines are, other styles have prospered in the past and continue to at a few places like Ravaut. They are nice too…

So, whilst there were some excellent wines at this tasting, from a purely personal perspective it made me feel like I am drifting away from Burgundy. I started this off by saying the producers are drifting away from their wines as well; 2021 Burgundy shows this is for much the same reasons I am drifting away.

How could I say that producers were drifting away from their wines? For a start, a lot of them did not turn up to the tasting! It seems obvious to me that the reason they did this was, because in a small, but high-quality, vintage like 2021, they knew the wines would sell without them having to make any real effort. Burgundy is for selling, not for having to sell.

The growers who did turn up, like Mme. Heresztyn-Mazzini, M. Ravaut and Mme. Cinier (see penultimate section of this lament), had the best wines! They are strongly in touch with their wines and want people to know. They feel in touch with their creations and want to talk about them to people who care.

I may be being harsh here, but it is easy to get the feeling that those who just sent a bottle (Fourrier and Cathiard) or even a wider selection of 2021 Burgundy samples without attending, do not have the connection to the wine, the grapes, the soil that more involved winemakers do. Wine is just something they must make in order to sell it.

This feeling is re-enforced when the samples are simply dreadful, like those of Domaine Philippe Jouan. He does not know (if he did he would hire a winemaker in) or he does not care that he cannot make wine, he has just sent these piss-poor 2021 Burgundy samples as a requirement to sell the wines. No real involvement in the making or selling process.

Domaine Confuron-Gindre Vosne-RomaneeWhen the samples are showing badly, and one gets the feeling that the finished wines are going to be weird as hell, a similar feeling is engendered. Domaine Confuron-Gindre’s samples were all either heavily sulphured, slightly oxidised, or weird in a way that suggests little thought was given as to what barrels samples were taken from.

Moreover, what little one could tell about these wines underneath their sullen inexpressiveness was that they were pretty whacked out. Alcohol ranges on the labels were from 13.5% to 14.5%. One seemed quite a lot over that. Level of tannin extraction seemed to vary erratically from cuvee to cuvee, as did acid level. Again, these were not wines made by someone who loves them, they seemed, to The Editor and me, like wines made simply to sell.

Two producers only provided one bottle, both of which were sold out at Clark-Foyster Wines, so it really did feel like a desultory duty to send them along. Fourrier’s Gevrey Vieille Vigne 2020 succeeded in adding extra staid tedium to the word prosaic.

Gevrey-Chambertin Vieille Vigne Fourrier

I must make one thing clear about the single bottle duo: judging by the stellar showing of his 2020 Nuits Saint Georges, my harsh judgement on Sebastien Cathiard’s wines I have published in previous reports may have been hasty. However, I cannot tell until he pulls finger and releases more samples to taste. 2022 is a big vintage, Seb, show us what you can do with that next year!

So, there we have it, a small core of Burgundy growers who remain committed to their art, but a general drifting away by some of what they make. For the drifters, red Burgundy is a material that they make only to sell, they want little more involvement (my interpretation). So, for some Burgundy growers, and indeed myself, the 2021 vintage just marks a continued drifting away from the art of red Burgundy.

Those red Burgundy producers who are committed to their art (Mme. Heresztyn-Mazzini, M. Ravaut and Mme. Cinier (see below)) are worthy of the attention of those of us who feel disillusioned by trends in Burgundy, Ravaut and Cinier especially as when you get a bill for their wines you do not just think they have written their telephone number instead of the total cost!

Cinier Pouilly-Fuisse 2020

2020-2021 White Burgundy from Sophie Cinier

Clark-Foyster Wines’ white Burgundy selection is mainly in the hands of the Maconnais’ Sophie Cinier. They could not be in better hands. All her wines are excellent at their various quality levels, her prices reasonable, and she is one of the most personable people one could hope to meet. The 2021s to get are her Pouilly-Fuissé 1er cru Vers Cras (£35) and (especially) the Pouilly-Vinzelles Les Longeays (£37, this will be upgraded to 1er Cru status in 2022).

The hail and frost the vineyards experienced early in the growing season particularly effected the Longeays vineyard, reducing yield and therefore making for more concentrated fruit. The fruit is already distinctly concentrated as the vineyard was planted in 1905, so these are seriously old vines.

As a result, only two barrels, that is 600 bottles of this vintage for the entire world, of Longeays were produced. The result is a tight, dense wine that fizzes with energy, it has weight and density without ever being ponderous. Demand is sure to be high for this wine and, cripes, does not it deserve to be so? Easily the best Pouilly-Vinzelles I expect to drink in my entire life.

The Fuisse 1er Cru Vers Cras is a little lighter, a little more elegant, but lacks the furious, electric fondle-gloves of the Longeays. It will be in its prime before the Longeays, but will never quite have the excitement-value.

These wines from 2020 were both available to taste. Again, the Longeays (£30.50) seemed concentrated and dense with plenty of energy, the Vers Cras (£30.50) racier and more refined. There is not much to choose between the two.

From both 2021 and 2020, all the Cinier wines showed that, even if Clark-Foyster Wines do not have any Cote de Beaune Grand Crus, they have quality whites that one can drink on any occasion.

Should I buy 2021 Burgundy?

Frost, hail and, in some places, rot flayed the grapes as they were developing. Yields were down everywhere. Consequently, prices are up. This is bad news if you need to keep buying to retain your allocations every year.

However, with dodgy producers like Jouan and Confuron-Gindre (depending how these develop in cask) hastily brushed under the carpet, I felt the 2021 seemed like a good vintage. So it is not too bad a thing to be obliged to buy. They will provide a lot of pleasure, although they might not be keepers.

Buying the Cinier Longeays 2021 is an absolute must.

Will I buy any red 2021s? I never have any money, that hinders buying expensive Burgundy. Moreover, as I said at the beginning this report is a lament to lost qualities of affordability, cellar-worthiness and savoury-complexity in Burgundy. So, no, I probably will not be buying any 2021 Burgundy. I might buy some Cinier, if Lance and Isabelle can deal with tiny packages.

However, 2020 was a reasonably large and high-quality vintage and 2020s are just starting to appear on the market. Moreover, some places in Burgundy still make fruity-but-savoury, age-worthy, structured, complex red Burgundy at prices the un-moneyed Burgundy buyer can find some method of affording.

Head to the Big Red Wine Company and look at their collection of 2020 Joblot. They are the best producer in Givry and owned and run by a tremendously attractive young lady (who has taken over from her father). If buying one or two bottles of her top wine – 1er cru l’Empreinte – might make her speak to me; I will beg, borrow or potentially steal to get that bottle or two!

Many thanks for inviting us to the tasting, Lance and Isabelle! Next year I will do a proper report, I promise!