In Beaune, at Maison Bichot, I tried the wines of Clos Frantin, always a reliable benchmark domaine, and well priced. The 2015s were impressive and 2016 looks to continue the current form. It was a difficult vintage, said winemaker Alain Serveau (the domaine was 20 per cent down in volume and made no Chambertin Grand Cru), but “the high points are very classic and truer to their terroirs”. Certainly the domaine’s flagship sites support the argument, including the brooding, densely packed Vosne-Romanée 1er cru “Malconsorts” – which lies next to La Tâche and of which Clos Frantin owns the largest holdings – and a silk-lined Echezeaux Grand Cru, supple and sophisticated. The very top crus, Grands Echezeaux and Richebourg, definitively prove it.
Heading north to Morey-Saint-Denis, I tasted with Thierry Brouin at Domaine des Lambrays. Brouin has been winemaker at the domaine (which was bought by Bernard Arnault in 2014) for 38 years, but is now handing over the baton to Boris Champy (formerly of Moueix, Dominus and latterly Louis Latour). Profoundly knowledgeable but with an impish sense of humour, Brouin will be much missed – but the domaine is in good hands. Production of the top wine, Clos des Lambrays, was in fact 20 per cent up on the previous vintage, while yields on other nearby grand cru sites were up to 80 per cent lower. Brouin suggested that the walls of the vineyard channelled the frosty winds away from the vines and jested that “proper grand crus don’t get frost”. Humorous claim aside, there is no doubt that Lambrays made an excellent set of 2016s. The Grand Vin showed especially fine balance between the tannins and depth of fruit and vitality. “It’s definitely a classic vintage, somewhere between 2005 and 2009,” says Brouin.
Next door at Domaine Taupenot-Merme, Romain Taupenot – who can always be relied on to offer one of the most honest and measured assessments of the vintage – was sanguine about the quantity (overall a loss of 45 per cent), but buoyant about the quality of 2016. While frosts had taken their toll on his Chambolle-Musigny and Gevrey-Chambertin vines, he had cropped his Morey-Saint-Denis 1er crus at a healthy 48hl/ha and made one of the best wines ever from here. The rains in July also meant that mildew was a problem and spraying was needed for the first time since 2001. The domaine has been organic for 15 years, but his mission to continually improve his wines means Taupenot felt it was better to treat the damp vines than leave them. If this paints a glum picture of the vintage, it should not, as the resultant wines were extremely impressive. Taupenot suggested that overall they had “the same sweetness as 2015, but with higher phenolic ripeness due to the extended maturation prior to harvest, and with the floral freshness, energy and crunchy acidity of 2014”. His village and premier cru Gevrey and Morey-Saint-Denis were spot on: succulent and well-delineated. The latter “La Riotte”, said Taupenot, is now closing the gap with Vosne-Romanée premier crus at blind tastings. “When you are in the shadows, you work harder to come out into the light,” he said, citing climate change as a factor that has helped Morey establish a firmer footing alongside its better acknowledged neighbours. His grand crus Charmes-Chambertin and Mazoyères Chambertin – the former only mildly affected by frost, the latter not at all – rival his best ever.
Blink and you’d literally miss Domaine Jean Tardy – an envelope-sized sign by a driveway off the RN74 just outside Vosne-Romanée being the only indication that you are in the right place. Unprepossessing as this domaine may appear, its wines show plenty of personality. Guillaume Tardy thanked the second budding after the April frosts and subsequent long, warm August that allowed him to reduce his initial estimate of grape loss from 50 per cent to nearer 35 per cent (small mercies!), although he still made less than half as much Chambolle-Musigny and Grand Cru Echezeaux as usual. Tardy does a particularly impressive line in vieilles vignes lieux dits – old vine, single vineyards. In these categories, his Vosne-Romanée and especially Nuits-Saint-Georges “Bas de Combe” and Gevrey-Chambertin “Champerrieres” – “a Gevrey made by a Vosne producer”, he quips – were exceptional and comfortably challenging for 1er cru quality and complexity. Tardy described his 2016s as “very classical, with good freshness, supple texture and more finesse than 2015, yet still with good body [from the low yields], and with more of the red-fruit acidity and aromatics of 2010”. Tardy concluded by suggesting that critics would prefer 2016 over 2015, and whether that turns out to be true, there is no denying that the conditions of this vintage have given his wines, always so supple and seductive, additional intensity and gravitas. Tardy has been under the radar until now, but with the undoubted success of this latest vintage and with international critics lining up to taste, the domaine is definitely one to get behind.
Tom Harrow is a fine-wine commentator, consultant and presenter. His Grand Crew Classé is the ultimate invitation-only club for fine-wine enthusiasts, with exclusive access to rare bottles and events around the world. Follow him on Twitter.