Opinion: Hamish Anderson on Burgundy's great price debate

Hamish Anderson

08 April 2019

Price rises might have put Burgundy’s top crus out of reach, but the region’s lesser lights now offer a realistic alternative to the on-trade

Tasting Burgundy en primeur, early January in London is my favourite trade occasion. A truer assessment of the wines can be made in-situ straight from barrel, but I love how a significant proportion of the region’s producers decamp to London when the wines would sell with ease, without any tasting. It feels like the producers are doing us a favour, bringing some vinous joy to liven up a dreary month.

It is impossible to talk about Burgundy’s wines without debating price. Rises have been steep and wines we sold for years at Tate became irrelevant to us within a few vintages as their new ‘normal’ price was found.

But I don’t begrudge growers the increases, nor do I agree that alienating existing customers is bad for business. There seem to be plenty of people willing to pay £1,000 a case for top Burgundy, so why charge £400 to keep old customers happy and then watch someone else make money on your wine in the secondary market?

That’s not to say that the inaccessibility caused by higher prices won’t have an effect. I’m lucky to have drunk (very different from tasting) plenty of great bottles from the region’s best producers and vineyards. It’s sad that the younger generation entering the industry are unlikely to drink these wines regularly.

They’re not only missing out on the pleasure they give, but these wines are also a benchmark for their palates, demonstrating how profound Pinot and Chardonnay can be in Burgundy.

Anyone who has the patience to hold onto any Burgundy will be making a wise cellaring decision

The upside of price increases has been the rise in quality across the whole region. Higher prices have enabled growers in less glamourous villages to invest confidently, knowing that the quality of their wines will be rewarded with a commensurate price.

Premier Cru Gevrey-Chambertin at £100 a bottle in bond might give the impression of a region pricing itself into inaccessibility, but there is now affordable brilliance in Fixin, Marsannay, Santenay and beyond.

It will be interesting to hear how 2017 performed. It is an excellent vintage, prices have remained stable and volumes are more abundant compared to recent years. The whites follow on from the 2014s in their potential, helping re-establish white Burgundy as a wine for the cellar and countering the damage done by premature oxidation in older bottles that are still on the market. The reds are mid-weight, delicious and seem unlikely to close up. Perhaps with an eye on the much more concentrated 2018s, they have been damned with the faint praise of being good for restaurants – which they will be. But anyone who has the patience to hold onto a 2017 Burgundy will be making a wise cellaring decision.

Burgundy is a fascinating region that is evolving in response to demand – I am already looking forward to what it has to offer in January 2019.

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