The 2013 and 2012 Vintages 2013 – Yet Another “Belle Échappée” that produced many surprisingly fine and elegant reds (Belle échappée in French means a narrow or lucky escape from what looked to be all but certain disaster). Grower after grower in the Côte de Nuits riffed off of this one theme that they were not only fortunate but actually down right lucky to have made anything respectable let alone in many cases very fine burgundies.

This has in a way become a common theme because when you consider the growing seasons of 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012, every one of them presented their fair share of challenges, even if those challenges were not cut from the same cloth, particularly since 2013 had the latest harvest date in the last 35 years!

Before I address those challenges in more detail, I always like to get right to the point as to wine quality in my vintage summaries. And the short answer is that quality is highly, even frustratingly variable, ranging from the awful, to the acceptable, to the excellent and in a very few cases, to the genuinely sublime. But I will say that 2013 is the kind of vintage that I absolutely love. It’s a burg geek’s vintage par excellence.

The best wines are superbly fresh and transparent as the underlying terroir is truly on parade. In fact I would go so far as to say that the terroir is so crystalline in 2013 that if nonbelievers are not persuaded by the transparency of the 2013s then they are never going to be. But laser beam-like definition is not all there is, as the wines are strikingly refreshing and while “fun” is often used as a pejorative descriptor when discussing “serious” wines, the 2013s are quite simply fun to drink.

I wrote last year that “2012 saw just about every possible growing season misfortune possible with the exception of botrytis. There was frost, cool weather at the wrong time, hail (mostly in the Côte de Beaune), constant rain, a poor flowering, severe attacks of both mildew and powdery mildew (oidium), an intense heat wave that sunburned exposed fruit and a heavy storm during the harvest. It’s honestly hard to pack in more problems in just one growing season.”

Well, this description fits 2013 pretty much to a tee except that you have to add the botrytis that was missing in 2012 as it was a major factor in 2013. In fact, 2013 was so arduous one grower quipped that “2012 was the most difficult vintage that I have ever experienced….until 2013 arrived!” To make matters worse, in many cases the yields in 2013 were even smaller than they were in 2012 and remember that the yields in 2012 were generally the lowest since 2003. As was also the case in 2012 that despite all of the problems, the quality of the raw materials, and the resulting wines, are not only good but in many cases excellent. The 2013s are ultra-fresh and concentrated wines with ripe and moderately firm supporting tannins and bright but not aggressive acidities that contribute to their highly refreshing finishes.

If there is one aspect of the 2013 vintage that could be nominated as the biggest surprise of all, it would be just how good the phenolic maturities are, at least among those growers that waited to pick (which as I will discuss in more detail wasn’t always easy to do). Sugar ripeness levels in terms of potential alcohols were actually pretty modest at between 11 and 12%. Usually there is good to very good phenolic maturity then there are solid sugar levels too, but that wasn’t necessarily the case in 2013; indeed most wines were chaptalized at least .5% and 1 to 1.5% wasn’t rare.

2013 produced many really lovely wines that should provide for delicious drinking early on yet be capable of amply rewarding mid-term cellaringand in a few cases, they will be as long-lived if perhaps not as long-lived as the 2010s or 2012s. However it also produced any number of herbaceous and/or edgy wines that possess a bit too much acidity for them to be properly balanced. When the 2013s are good though they are a joy to drink, not only because they are delicious but also because they are capable of appealing to the intellect as well. I hesitate to call them the “thinking person’s burgundies” but there is an element of that in the wines.

To craft another comparison, they are stylistically about as far away from 2009 as one can get and still have ripe wines. To this end, if 2012 is some rough combination of 2009 and 2010, then 2013 is like a riper and better balanced 2008 or perhaps a less powerful and more approachable 2010.

Allen Meadows, Burghound.