THE big names in Burgundy wines unveiled their first 2013 vintage last week in Britain, their main export market, with tasters gathered at the majestic Institution of Civil Engineers in London branding it a "good year".
"It's not a great year but it's a good year," said influential British taster Jancis Robinson, a veteran of "Burgundy Week", held annually in January.
"It's a success as no-one during the season believed it would be," she said, judging the quality of the wines on offer as "fairly high".
"In 1970, I was a student at Oxford and it was a 1959 Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses that lit the flame for me," explained Robinson, with a smile.
Under the chandeliers of the building's hall, 22 Burgundy estates presented almost 110 red and white wines including Chablis and Meursault, averaging £50 ($76, 64.5 euros) a bottle at the sale organized by Berry Bros, Britain's oldest wine merchant.
Despite a third year of bad weather, producers are still rubbing their hands together.
"The UK is a very big market for us and it is on the up," said Caroline Parent-Gros, from the AF Gros estate.
"It represents 30-35 per cent of our export sales, which itself represents 90-95 per cent of our total sales," she added.
2013 'quite light'
According to Jasper Morris, head of Burgundy at Berry Bros, 80 per cent of the French wines bought by his company 15 years ago were from Bordeaux.
Now, a third of them come from Burgundy.
Journalists, wine professionals and private buyers flitted between the stands, sampling each wine with well-worn ritual.
"It's a nice vintage, quite light, with acidity, more red fruits than black fruits, an enjoyable wine that probably won't age a very, very long time," judged Mat Waldon after tasting one of the 50 products he hoped to get through on the night.
Richard Michael Cartmel, author of The Richebourg Affair – a thriller based around murder and fraud in the Burgundy wine industry – said he had not yet formed an opinion on the 2013 vintage but was impressed by the Clos blanc de Vougeot.
This white Premier cru, priced at €60 ($69), "was the holy wine of the Cistercian monks, and is sold a lot in England," said winemaker Pierre Vincent, manager of the estate.
Testing the Clos blanc de Vougeot, private buyer Barbara Woyczys could not hide her delight, saying: "It's gorgeous!".
The Burgundy Week veteran said however that, to her taste, overall "2013 was a very difficult vintage as there was not a lot of fruit and a lot of acidity".
"When it's a vintage like 2012 or 2010 which were extraordinary, you do not hesitate but when the vintage is a little bit more difficult, you restrict yourself," said Woyczys, adding that she would not be buying any of the 2013 wines.
In 2013, Britain was the second largest importer of wines, behind the United States, bringing in 1,300 million litres at a value of $3.7 billion, according to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV).
France was Britain's main market in terms of value, making up 36.0 percent of its total, and comes third in terms of volume after Italian and Australian wines but ahead of Spanish and Chilean ones.