Dear Vino, I've read the criticisms of overpriced and undernourished red burgundies. I've seen and tasted some expensively awful ones myself. Yet I can't get rid of this longing for a really good burgundy. I've tried other pinot noirs. They're all right for a night or two, but don't give me the long-term satisfaction I want. What can I do?
Go out and shop. Buy '78s and '79s. They may not be ready for drinking, but now, this winter, is the time to buy.
I'm not suggesting that Burgundy's problems have disappeared. They exist, all right. But at last there's been a stirring of interest in burgundy in Washington. We're seeing a better selection. The revival has been sparked by some of the smaller importers and, of course, by the strong dollar. These importers have gone after quality, not price. They've looked for domaine or estate wines, rather than the regionals or commune wines, and for growers who are not overcropping, overchaptalizing and so on. Quality still exists, too.
However, it's not guaranteed every year, which is why the '78s and '79s are worth buying. A short review of recent vintages of red burgundies might help. The crop for 1978 was small but excellent. It opened at high prices. The 1979 harvest was large and of good, sound quality. It helped to stabilize prices and fill the trade. Then came 1980: variable, never above average. Although few of the reds are on the market, the small crop enhanced the desirability of the '78s and '79s. Another problem year was 1981. Following serious frosts in April, the small crop is reported to be mediocre at best. However, the prices of the '78s and '79s remained steady, helped by the favorable exchange rate.
To bring the review up to date, I talked to Pierre Sarrau, who has interests in Bertagna of Vougeot. He described the 1982 vintage as being massive. Rainfall during the harvest followed a hot, dry summer. The result was that the acidity in the grapes was on the low side--an unusual problem for Burgundy. For this reason, Sarrau feels that the whites will be better than the reds, but that both will be short-lived.
His opinion has been backed by prices at the annual Hospices de Beaune auction last November. The auction is a forecaster of price trends for the new vintage. In '82, the reds were up 6 percent over the '81 prices. The whites were up 58 percent. Quite a difference, reflecting the continuing international interest in fine chardonnays.
So, how does the '82 vintage affect the '78s and '79s already on our shelves? It makes them look even more attractive than ever. Burgundy prices don't seem as outrageous as they did two or three years ago. They are still high, but in two years' time, when those '82s are released, you can bet that any remaining '78s and '79s won't be as reasonable as they are now.
As a burgundy lover, you'll welcome the return of the Moillard wines to Washington. I suggest that you try the domaine wines. The '79 Saint-Veran, Domaine de la Verch,ere, and '79 Montagny, Chateau de Davenay, both at $10, have good flavor and finesse.
In the reds, the light, stylish '78 Volnay, Clos de la Barre, $24, and earthy, tannic '78 Morey-Saint-Denis, Monts Luisants, $24, are good. And the '78 Nuits-Saint-Georges, Les Richemones, $30, and '78 Beaune Greves, $24, should develop into the smooth, sensuous burgundies you desire.