Burgundy’s world famous auction kicks off
15 November 2014
By Panos Kakaviatos for Wine-Chronicles.Com
November in Burgundy is known for Beaujolais Nouveau and the Hospices de Beaune wine auction.
The latter is more interesting.
This year’s auction takes place in the midst of absurd prices for top Burgundies, so we should not be surprised if another sales record is broken. As I reported last year for decanter.com, last year’s Hospices de Beaune auction proved to be the biggest sale in the books – despite 2013 being a troubled and small harvest.
Some 150 journalists including your humble writer have traveled to Beaune from around the world to cover this event – which Christie’s estimates to include about 800 bidders, including a percentage online, from Hong Kong to London. Many bidders will be packed in the Beaune auction house for the ambiance.
Having arrived last night (14 November) I am here just in time to taste the 2014 vintage of Hospices de Beaune at the gorgeous Hôtel Dieu, Saint-Nicolas Hall building. The tasting of wines that have not undergone malolactic fermentation will be lead by Roland Masse, who is supervising his 15th and final vintage for the 60 hectares of vines belonging to the Domaine Viticole des Hospices de Beaune.
The Hospices de Beaune owns about 60 hectares of vines in many different appellations of Burgundy. They vinify the wines, under Masse’s direction in Beaune winemaking facilities. However, the domain does not age the wines and put them in bottle – that is the job of the negociant houses, after the sale. Basically, the wines are vinified in September, put in tanks in October and everything is sold in November. And then in January the wine goes to different negociant houses.
Masse had described last year’s vintage as his most challenging – he said that staff had “never worked so hard” to select high quality grapes, following difficult weather conditions. He is more optimistic about 2014, even though hail once again plagued vineyards in the Côte de Beaune.
His preliminary assessment of the wines is (of course) positive. He said that grands crus of Montrachet, Corton and the Côte de Nuits were spared by the hailstorm between Meursault and Beaune (check out my reporting on that 28 June storm). White wines – harvested mid-September in ideal weather conditions – “seem very precise and with great freshness”, he said. He praised the grands cru reds as being at “a very good level, with lovely bright colour, fine tannins, creamy harmony and balance, length and complexity in their elegance.”
Ludivine Griveau, 36, who has been working since 2004 at Maison Corton André in Aloxe-Corton, will replace Masse in January 2015. It will be the first time ever that a woman directs the domain.
As I will be reporting for decanter.com, news will certainly come out of a joint press conference for the wine trade and the Hospices de Beaune, scheduled at 10 am on Sunday 16 November at the Hôtel Dieu, Salle des Pôvres. Media gets a solid roundup of news concerning the Bourgogne wine region: the economic situation, the new vintage, the future Cité des Vins de Bourgogne, sustainable development, and more.
At the end of the conference, representatives of the charities benefitting from the sale of the Pièce des Présidents in the afternoon will present their activities and the projects that will be funded by the money raised.
After a lunch, the main event start at 2.30pm: the 154th Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction – at the Halles de Beaune, which has seen some famous VIPs to boost sales. Just two years ago, for example, Carla Bruni Sarkozy (former model, singer and wife of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy) enchanted bidders, see below video clip that I took from the auction. She and French soccer celebrity Guy Roux animated the sale of the President’s Barrel during the auction, which was purchased by a Ukrainian businessman for 270,000 euros – the second highest sale since the President’s barrel was included in the auction back in 1945.
This year, 534 pièces (228-liter barrels) of the 2014 vintage will be sold at auction (117 of white wine, 417 of red): almost 100 more barrels than in 2013 (438 barrels), but is still well below the average for the sale, which usually features 680 pièces.
Each year, the Hospices de Beaune supports one or more charitable works by donating the proceeds from the sale of a special wine, the Pièce du Président. For the 154th sale, the Pièce du Président will be a 228-liter barrel of Corton-Bressandes Grand Cru: Cuvée des Présidents.
This specific wine comes from the separate vinification of carefully selected bunches, exclusively from vines planted in Corton-Bressandes Grand Cru.
Famous Slovak model Adriana Karembeu (photo above) and Michel Drucker (French television presenter) will preside over this year’s auction, and will be accompanied by French journalist Tina Kieffer and the world judo champion, Teddy Riner.
Two charities will benefit from the proceeds of the sale of the Pièce du Président:
- Toutes à l’école, which helps provide an education for girls in Cambodia. Michel Drucker is the charity’s patron.
Imagine, which is a research and care institute, which brings together researchers, doctors and patients with the aim of understanding and finding a cure for genetic diseases.
Coming soon: Tasting the 2014 from barrel
My reflections on the 2014 vintage, as tasted before most have undergone malolactic fermentation. It is not very easy to taste such “pre-born” wines. But as Roland Masse told me in an interview I did with him shortly before the auction this month: “You have to taste more simply. You cannot find complex aromatics and flavors in these baby wines. We cannot make sommelier descriptions at this stage. I think that everyone is able to taste these young wines, but you need to understand the criteria.”
For Masse, tasters should look out for structure and balance, between tannin and acidity. “For reds it is rather simple,” he remarked. “We can discern tannin and acidity, which are two major factors for aging capacity, but it is more difficult to foresee the future for whites, because there is no tannin. But we can assess fruit and balance.”
One thing I look out for – based on previous years of experience and advice from more experienced palates – is both length and mid palate aspects: is the mid palate hollow? Is it full bodied? What about flabbiness versus firmness. I look out for such factors when tasting the wines.