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2019 vintage Burgundy report: the best year since 1865?

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The long, hot dry summer of 2019 created the perfect conditions in Burgundy for a bumper vintage. Bernard Hervet, former director of Faiveley and Bouchard, two of the biggest maisons in the region, went so far as to say that it could “perhaps rival 1865, the greatest vintage of all”. So, as my TGV pulled into Beaune station last month, I was excited to see if the hype was justified.

The winemaker Philippe Pacalet in his cellar in Beaune
The winemaker Philippe Pacalet in his cellar in Beaune

First the reds. The impact of the combination of low rainfall and above-average temperatures on the wines is certainly evident. Philippe Pacalet, a revered but maverick winemaker based in Beaune, told me the vintages between 2015 and 2020 resemble the great reds of 1945-49: “This climate brings more tannins, more acids, more sugars, more aromatics, more everything.” Tasting his extensive range of wines reveals quality and drama in abundance.

Jane Eyre’s Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Corbeaux
Jane Eyre’s Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Corbeaux

Gevrey-Chambertin also seems to have had a very good year – I was particularly impressed by the wines of one of its makers, Pierre Duroché. His 2019s resemble 2017 for their definition and red fruits but have more concentration, and pitch-perfect ripeness. Meanwhile, the wines of Pierre’s friend Charles Magnien, a grower firmly pushing into the front rank, are more gourmand in style but still more classic than 2018, with better acidity and more fresh Pinot character. Another standout from the village is Jane Eyre’s 1er Cru Les Corbeaux, while Gevrey giant Dugat-Py’s Charmes-Chambertin epitomises the best of the vintage: intensity, depth and precision.

Corton Rognet Grand Cru, Domaine Taupenot-Merme
Corton Rognet Grand Cru, Domaine Taupenot-Merme
The headquarters of Domaine Taupenot-Merme
The headquarters of Domaine Taupenot-Merme
Albert Bichot Echezeau Grand Cru, made in the village of Vosne-Romanée
Albert Bichot Echezeau Grand Cru, made in the village of Vosne-Romanée

Pommard, further south in the Côte de Beaune, appears to be another strong beneficiary of the hot weather, its heavier soils retaining sufficient moisture to keep the vines happy. Traditionally rather four-square in character, the wines are showing more supple fruit, and plusher, more polished tannins than ever before. Domaine de Montille’s 1er Cru Pommard “Les Pézerolles” is sensational. Meanwhile, I’m falling in love with nearby Corton Grand Cru, after trying a number of fine examples – with Romain Taupenot’s rich and powerful but precise Rognet being especially memorable. 

Benoît Stehly, winemaker at Domaine Georges Lignier in Morey-Saint-Denis, claims to have made “the vintage of [his] lifetime”. His best harmonise the power of 2012, 2015 and 2018 with the elegance and definition of 2014 and 2017. The nearby village of Vosne-Romanée, the jewel in the crown of the Côte de Nuits, has produced gorgeous, intense, richly perfumed elegant superstars – for those with deep pockets, there is an abundance of thrilling, lip-smacking Echezeaux Grand Cru to consider.

The Clos de la Roche vineyard in Morey-Saint-Denis, in the Côte-d'Or
The Clos de la Roche vineyard in Morey-Saint-Denis, in the Côte-d’Or

Meanwhile, the traditionally slightly more rustic, earthy wines from neighbouring Nuits-Saint-Georges are benefiting from the warmer summers in much the same way as Pommard, continuing to produce wines that are increasingly sophisticated as well as satisfying.

Deep roots that can stretch for water in the hard limestone bedrock and canopies of foliage acting as a sunshade are protecting Côte-d’Or vineyards against extremes of drought and heat. At the same time, historically overlooked sites with less sunny aspects or heavier water-retentive clays are demanding more attention, precisely because the new climate is shining more light on them. I was really encouraged by the outstanding quality of these more affordable appellations like Fixin, Marsannay, Savigny-lès-Beaune, Ladoix, Santenay and the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits.

I’m confident the reds have lived up to their early promise, and am calling the vintage “a supercharged classic”. Instead of the density of 2018, 2019 wines favour concentration and depth, while remaining focused, vibrant and with greater transparency to their terroirs. This also holds true for the whites – which have turned out extremely well too. In fact, I can’t recall such a stellar year for both colours since 2010. 

In Chassagne Montrachet, Philippe Colin’s 1er Cru whites are powerful with waxed apples, yellow plum and salty farmyard butter, but remain fresh and vital. They have the matière (richness and density) and intensity of the great 2014s with more of the generosity of the warmer vintages. One particular white highlight was Edouard Delaunay’s Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Les Referts – the nose of ripe orchard fruit and brioche immediately recalled the 1996 that made me fall in love with white Burgundy 20 years ago. It was no shock to learn Delaunay’s winemaker Christophe Briotet has been named an IWC winemaker of the year 2020.

The cellar at Edouard Delaunay
The cellar at Edouard Delaunay

Very hot summers can lead to wines in which the subtle qualities of the terroir are lost but this has not happened in Chablis, where the best, like Christian Moreau’s Les Clos Grand Cru, show the precision and crushed oyster shell salinity one craves. Meanwhile, the southerly Chalonnaise vineyards are actively benefiting from climate change, as the sun shines bright on these traditionally less hallowed sites and brings out riper fruit. From the region, the Jacquesons in Rully, François Lumpp in Givry, and François Raquillet in Mercurey have crafted some of their finest wines to date, both white and red. Other similarly traditionally more modest whites impress generally – from the village of Saint Romain, down to generic Bourgogne Blanc, and even the humble aligoté grape (once only used as the base for kir) are all commendable.

However, while 2019 is a great year, Domaine de Montille’s winemaker Brian Sieve counsels caution: “We are in a window in Burgundy that is slowly closing – we need more water and less sun,” he says. If global warming continues, a couple of degrees’ more sustained heat and a few centimetres less rain could shut that window within a generation. It might not come to that – but just in case, I advise everyone to stock up. If it turns out as well as 1865, it will be money well spent.

@winechapuk





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German accounting watchdog chief to step down in wake of Wirecard

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The head of Germany’s accounting watchdog is to step down following mounting political pressure over corporate governance shortcomings exposed by the Wirecard fraud.

Edgar Ernst, the president of the Financial Reporting Enforcement Panel (FREP), said on Wednesday he would depart by the end of this year. He is the third head of a regulatory body to lose his job in the wake of one of Germany’s biggest postwar accounting scandals.

The collapse of Wirecard, which last summer filed for insolvency after uncovering a €1.9bn cash hole, triggered an earthquake in Germany’s financial and political establishment.

Felix Hufeld, president of BaFin, the financial regulatory authority, and his deputy Elisabeth Roegele were pushed out by the German government in January for failing to act on early red flags suggesting misconduct at Wirecard. Ralf Bose, the head of Germany’s auditors supervisor Apas, was fired after disclosing he traded Wirecard shares while this authority was investigating the company’s auditor, EY. The German government is also working to revamp the country’s accounting supervision and financial oversight.

Meanwhile, criminal prosecutors in Frankfurt are evaluating a potential criminal investigation into BaFin’s inner workings and on Wednesday asked the market authority to hand over comprehensive documents, the prosecutors office told the FT, confirming an earlier report by Handelsblatt. The potential scope of any investigation as well as the individuals who might be targeted is still unclear. BaFin declined to comment.

Ernst came under pressure as the parliamentary inquiry commission uncovered that he joined the supervisory board of German wholesaler Metro AG in an apparent violation of internal governance rules, which from 2016 banned FREP staff from taking on new supervisory board roles.

Last week, the former chief financial officer of Deutsche Post filed a legal opinion to parliament defending his move. He argued that his employment contract was older than the 2016 ban on board seats and hence trumped the tightened governance regulations.

The German government had subsequently threatened to ditch the private-sector body which currently has quasi-official powers.

In a statement published on Wednesday evening, FREP said that Ernst wants to open the door for a “fresh start” that would be untainted by the discussions around his supervisory board mandates. “FREP is losing a well-versed expert in capital markets,” the body said.



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Putin and Lukashenko’s ski fun shows cold shoulder to EU

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As news of new EU sanctions against Russia began to leak out of a meeting of bloc foreign ministers on Monday afternoon, Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko were discussing a different challenge to the Russian president.

“You can try to compete with Vladimir Vladimirovich,” Lukashenko, in ski gear, said to his son, Nikolai. “But you probably won’t catch up,” he added, with a smile to Putin as the Russian leader pushed off down the slope.

Putin and Lukashenko are the men behind Europe’s two repressive crackdowns over the past six months, who have both jailed or exiled their most prominent opponents and seen their security forces violently assault and detain thousands of peaceful protesters.

But in a summit in the snow-covered mountains of Sochi, on Russia’s southern coast, they revelled in their twosome of leaders shunned and sanctioned by Brussels, in a calibrated message to the EU that the cold-shoulder was mutual.

For foreign policy experts there were few details to digest, despite the complex negotiations going on behind the scenes as the two post-Soviet states seek to recalibrate their future relationship.

Putin is keen to deepen integration on Moscow’s terms. Lukashenko is desperate for Russian investment and trade co-operation but is loath to relinquish sovereignty. Yet in place of diplomatic negotiations and policy pronouncements, photographs and video footage of the two leaders enjoying each other’s company were in full display.

At the outset, Putin, in jeans and an open-collar shirt and blazer, greeted his guest with a handshake and a hug. “Even our appearance, clothes and so on, suggest that these are serious negotiations in ordinary clothes,” Lukashenko quipped. “It suggests that we are close people.”

Pleasantries exchanged, it was time for the salopettes and ski boots, and a shared chairlift to the summit. Putin, pushing off confidently, set off down the gentle slope, Lukashenko in his wake.

After a short ride on snowmobiles back to their chalets, discussions continued over more than six hours — and what appeared to be three different sized wine glasses.

“The optics for the international audience is that they have been able to maintain their positions and nothing can be done against them,” said Maryia Rohava, a research fellow at Oslo university specialising in post-Soviet relations.

“Now we’re talking not just about sanctions against Belarus but also against Russia,” she added. “And it seems like they look at that like, ‘Well, we don’t care . . . We’re just enjoying our winter break like autocrats do.’”

To be sure, the fun on the slopes was not wholly without power games. Putin was clear to underscore he was the senior partner, from wrongfooting his guest at the top of the ski lift to releasing photographs of their meeting showing Lukashenko scribbling notes as his host spoke.

But the mood music was in sharp contrast to Lukashenko’s last visit to Russia in September. Then, with protests raging and the Belarusian leader’s position looking shaky, Putin reprimanded his guest for mishandling the unrest and risking the toppling of an ageing post-Soviet regime that could weaken his own.

Then, in a businesslike and cold atmosphere, Lukashenko pleaded with Putin that “a friend is in trouble” and was granted a $1.5bn loan from Moscow — but not before his host remarked that Belarusian people should be given a chance to “sort this situation out”.

The absence of such language on Monday also sent a subtle signal to other illiberal regimes, particularly those on the outer rim of Europe who, like Belarus in the past, find themselves lured towards Brussels by economic opportunities but repelled by the reforms and democratic standards demanded in exchange.

The message to the likes of Georgia, Moldova, Armenia and Turkey is that Putin, whose relations with the EU are at rock bottom, is always ready to talk.



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Mitsubishi Motors set to reverse move to withdraw from Europe

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Mitsubishi Motors is set to reverse its decision to withdraw from Europe and build cars in France after months of pressure from Renault and Nissan, in a sign of fresh rifts within the alliance.

Mitsubishi will formally consider the move at a board meeting on Thursday, according to three people with direct knowledge of the matter, following months of fractious discussions with its alliance partners.

A framework agreement between the three carmakers was reached on Monday during an alliance meeting, two of the people said. They added that the deal may still fall apart.

The decision to have Renault produce Mitsubishi cars at its French factories in a manufacturing deal, if finalised, would force the Japanese company to justify the U-turn — and face down accusations it yielded to a Renault campaign to protect French jobs.

The coalition between the three car groups is held together by Renault’s 43 per cent stake in Nissan, which owns 34 per cent of Mitsubishi, the smallest of the companies.

The French government’s 15 per cent stake in Renault has fed longstanding fears at the two Japanese carmakers that alliance strategy would be heavily influenced by French industrial politics.

In July Mitsubishi announced plans to in effect pull out of its lossmaking operations in Europe by cancelling model launches and running down its current line-up. This would lead to the end of all car sales in European markets as early as this year.

Following the announcement, some dealerships have already sold operations in preparation for Mitsubishi’s exit, while others are preparing to become repair garages for the brand instead.

An agreement to build Mitsubishi cars in France would be held up internally as a sign the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance was working under new management teams installed after the arrest and ousting of former boss Carlos Ghosn in 2018.

But people within both Mitsubishi and Nissan have expressed concern about such a deal that would mean Renault building Mitsubishi cars — increasing work for its French plants and providing a political boost in the country, where it is cutting jobs. 

Executives were particularly worried about a potential repetition of Renault’s 2001 decision to move the Nissan Micra from the Japanese group’s Sunderland plant to its own underperforming Flins factory outside Paris. This was seen as a political move by the French group to shore up union support.

Mitsubishi said there was no change in its policy to halt development of new models in Europe.

Nissan and Renault said they would not comment “on speculation”. Renault added the alliance always “aims to enhance competitiveness and enable more effective resource-sharing for the benefit of all three companies” and that there “are always ongoing discussions between the three companies”.

Last month, Renault chief executive Luca de Meo suggested in an interview with the Financial Times that a deal could be done, saying: “We have space in our plants; we have platforms.”

De Meo also suggested that Renault could end up building more cars for Nissan in its French plants, something that was resisted by Nissan, according to people familiar with the discussions. That led to pressure being applied to Mitsubishi by both sides of the alliance, the people said.

Before last year announcing its withdrawal, Mitsubishi sold just 120,000 cars in Europe in 2019, giving it less than 1 per cent market share.

The tentative agreement reached on Monday is the first big deal between de Meo, who joined Renault as CEO last summer, and the heads of Nissan and Mitsubishi, and a test of the relationship between the three sides.

Nissan and Renault are focusing on turning round their own businesses as well as repairing the alliance, which came near collapse in the wake of the turmoil that followed Ghosn’s ouster.

De Meo announced a scheme to save €3bn by cutting factory capacity as part of a company overhaul last month, while Nissan aims to save ¥300bn ($2.85bn) through its own turnround plan.



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