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Don't Overlook 2001 Red Burgundy

Per-Henrik Mansson
Posted: June 8, 2004

  Red, White and Beautiful in Burgundy
In 2002, thanks to an extraordinary harvest, both red and white wines are outstanding
  2002 Burgundy: Top Wines From Leading Producers  
  Red & White Burgundy's Simultaneously Outstanding Vintages  
  Buying Burgundy
Burgundy pre-arrivals offer the best way to get the wines you want
  Henri Jayer
A veteran of 60-plus vintages evaluates the new wines
  Christophe Perrot-Minot
After years of fine-tuning, it all comes together for this young vintner in 2002

Most Burgundy lovers are not focused on the 2001 reds from the region. The vintage suffered from a difficult growing season, and it follows the outstanding 1999 and precedes the highly promising 2002. So why bother spending hard-earned cash on these 2001s?

Because for shrewd Burgundy shoppers, the 2001 vintage offers an opportunity to acquire some fine Pinot Noirs.

In recent months, Wine Spectator has blind-tasted more than 350 '01 red Burgundies in its New York office; three-fourths rated 85 and above, a figure that reveals a surprising consistency. Not only that, about one in five rated outstanding (90 to 94 on the 100-point scale). Four even earned classic scores (95 to 100).

These recent tastings confirm my conclusions from my barrel-tastings in Burgundy in the winter of 2002-'03. "Savvy buyers and passionate collectors can find treasures among the 2001 red Burgundies," I wrote in February 2003. Now, I give '01 red Burgundy an overall vintage rating of 87 points ("very good").

Here are five good reasons to buy 2001s:

1. The 2001s are not as lean and tannic as they seemed at first. The Pinot grapes struggled to reach optimum maturity, but a surprising number of wines deliver enough ripe, sweet fruit to balance the firm tannins and tightly wound structure, especially in the Côte de Nuits, which suffered less from inclement weather than the Côte de Beaune.

2. Remember 1991 or 1998 red Burgundies? Both vintages were tannic at first, yet many fleshed out with time and got better as they aged. The 2001s are relatively tough young wines, but I predict the same magic will happen. Give them a few years in the cellar, or if you can't wait, decant the bottles. This seems to soften the tannins and open up the fruit.

3. What the 2001s lack in opulence they make up in focused definition of their origins, or terroirs. The '01s are what the winemakers like to call classiques ("typical") red Burgundies, and experienced Burgundy fans know what that means: They taste more like Nuits-St.-Georges, Cortons and Gevrey-Chambertins than like varietal Pinot Noirs.

4. Serious producers made excellent wines. They thinned the crop and delayed picking until improved weather in September helped ripen the grapes. Such actions resulted in a harvest of fine raw material, allowing top producers to make scores of '01s rating 87 to 94 points. Still, with Côte de Beaune's quality lagging behind Côte de Nuits', the 2001 vintage delivers less consistent quality than 1999 and 2002.

5. It's a buyer's market. The 2001s have clogged up the pipelines and collected dust in retail shops. Bargain hunters should still be able to find the sort of hard-to-get, small-production wines that normally disappear quickly in hot vintages like 1999 and 2002.

"The 2001s started out very slowly," says Justin Kowalsky of Burgundy Wine Company in New York. "[Customers] heard that 2002 was the vintage of the decade, so they didn't buy any 2001. But each time we hold a tasting of '01s we get multiple-case orders. Our clients are turned on by the layers and layers of fruit, and now we sell every drop we can get."

This newfound enthusiasm should be no surprise given that 2001s are relative bargains compared with 2002s. The dollar was stronger against the euro when importers bought the 2001s than when they ordered the 2002s. And wineries kept '01 prices stable because the market was so cool toward the vintage. Today the 2001s retail for 30 percent to 40 percent less than the 2002s, says Kowalsky. At Burgundy Wine Company, Domaine Méo-Camuzet's Clos de Vougeot 2001 sells for $138, compared with $172 for the 2002, which isn't even on the market yet.

A prototypical 2001, the Corton from Bonneau du Martray (90, $65), is firmly structured, which gives it bulk and muscle on the lingering finish. Six hours after it had been opened, I drank a glass from a half-full bottle, and the wine had thickened and opened up, with succulent, sweet blackberry, raspberry and other flavors that reminded me of cordial-filled dark chocolate.

Americans tend to focus on top vintages. But great wines can come from good vintages, and sometimes there's more value to be found there. Look carefully among the 2001 red Burgundies, and you'll find some very pleasant surprises.

Per-Henrik Mansson, Wine Spectator's Switzerland-based senior editor, has been with the magazine since 1987.

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