There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to decreeing a great wine: the producer, the process, the grape, the harvest. Chief among them, however, is undoubtedly the weather – the conditions that give life to the grapes that will eventually end up in the bottle. This is encapsulated as the vintage year, and you can learn more about what makes a truly spectacular vintage here.
When it comes to Burgundy, the area is extensive, which means quality can vary greatly across the region, even in the same vintage year. This is why it pays to do your research into Burgundy’s crus and producers – there are some that have arguably never had a truly bad vintage, such as Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. Nonetheless, generalisations can be made, with some vintage years showing more promise than others.
The best Burgundy vintages of the 21st century
Burgundy may be well-known for its red Pinot Noirs (its name is fitting, after all), but the region is also revered for its gold-standard Chardonnay, so when we consider the best Burgundy vintages it’s important to look at each offering separately.
For reds, look to the 2005, 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2015. The 2009, 2012 and 2014 in particular generally boast the most refined balance of flavours overall, while the most collectible – and potentially legendary – are the 2005 and 2015, which could easily age for another 30 years.
Reds regarded as average include the 2010, 2011 and 2013, with the 2010 showing the most potential. Those to be wary of, meanwhile, are the 2006, 2007 and 2008. These years were plagued by mildew and uneven ripening which led to problems across the region. That being said, there are still some gems here – particularly in the 2006 – but this will entirely depend on the producer.
In the white corner, the best Burgundy vintages are considered to be the 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2014, with the 2014 likely the best investment due to its aging potential for at least another 20 years. The success of the 2005 means it was a great year for both red and white, so if all else fails, keep this year in mind.
Average years for white Burgundy include the 2006, 2007 and 2009, as well as those ranging from 2011 to 2013. Be sure to pay attention to tasting notes accompanying these whites and opt for those whose producers grew their grapes to full ripeness – ‘green’ grapes were something of an issue in these years.
The best Burgundy vintages of the 1990s
The 1990s was a fairly lacklustre decade for Burgundy – the whites in particular were widely impacted by premox (premature oxidation) up until the early 2000s. But there are certainly several standouts.
For the reds, great years include 1990, 1995, 1996 and 1999. The 1990 was particularly high in quality, with Robert Parker bestowing his highest Burgundy scores of the decade to this vintage. This was followed by the 1999, where low temperatures throughout the season gave these wines a biting acidity that has given them almost unlimited aging potential. Best avoid the 1992 from Cote de Nuits, which Parker categorised on the cusp of ‘appalling’ – the 1994 only fared slightly better.
For the whites, Parker favoured the 1992, 1995 and 1996 – so again there was some crossover between colours. The 1997 is also revered by critics as a ‘classic’ that can be enjoyed for many years to come. The 1991, 1993 and 1994, however, are characteristic examples of vintages affected by premox and are generally not the best examples of Burgundy’s best efforts.
The best Burgundy vintages of the 1980s
The eighties was a mixed decade for Burgundy – both red and white – although fans of white Burgundy are liable to find better offerings here.
In the red corner, 1985 is regarded as the decade’s standout vintage, thanks largely to its fruit-forward nature and long aging potential. It was Parker’s favourite of the decade, followed closely by the 1989. The 1988 is also highly rated, although they are continuing to develop and still need more time to show their true potential. If you follow Parker closely, you’ll want to steer clear of the 1986 and the 1981, which was awarded an abysmal 50 points by the critic – one of his lowest scores ever.
There’s more promise in the Burgundian whites of the 80s, however. Parker’s favourite was the 1989 (marking another crossover with the reds), while 1982, 1983 and 1985 also found his favour. The rest of the decade is largely accepted to have produced decent vintages, although the 1987 and 1980 fell short of Parker’s criteria for ‘above average to excellent’ and remain firmly ‘average’.