Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Wines from Burgundy, "Bourgogne" in French, come from the Côte d'Or ("coat door") which is comprised of two main parts, the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune. These are the two areas where you find the vast majority of the really famous and expensive wines. Also included in Burgundy for our purposes would be wines from Chablis, the Côte Chalonnaise (Givry, Rully, Mercurey, and others), the Mâcon (like Pouilly-Fuisse), and Beaujolais. We'll exclude Beaujolais for now because the red grape there is gamay, and we want to focus on the primary grapes for Burgundy which are pinot noir for reds and chardonnay for whites.
What is so thrilling about these grapes? Well, nothing really. You can buy the very popular pinot noir and the much maligned chardonnay from many countries and there's nothing really special about that. The magic is in Burgundy. Because of a variety of factors, the wines from Burgundy display a flavor profile and balance unlike any other wines. Let's take pinot noir. The grape is very fickle climate-wise, it's easy to overripen resulting in a wine with over 14% alcohol and super ripe, jammy berry and cherry flavors. In Burgundy, the reds have nerve, an acidic spine that runs through the wine from start to finish. Even the big silky Grand Crus have it. That acidity helps define the flavors and keep things precise. In addition, those flavors have great complexity, both in fruit and non-fruit flavors and even those change from vineyard to vineyard. This is one of the truly great things about Burgundy, just a slight change in location will yield a different wine that's still Burgundian but also expressing individual personality.
Let us not forget chardonnay. The most emulated style of chardonnay by fine winemakers around the world, is that of the ripe, barrel fermented and full-bodied wines from Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet, two highly esteemed villages in France's Côte de Beaune. What some of these wines can get is the ripe apricot-tinged fruit and some of the toasty character of oak aging. What they don't get is the balance, the creamy mouthfeel, and the finesse and minerality of fine white Burgundy. I know why people say they don't like chardonnay, they've never had a great one. It's undeniable, nobody else has the richness and the lift without being heavy that white Burgundy has. Within that, the wines change from vineyard to vineyard as well, so it's infinitely interesting.
Shopping? What to buy? Honestly if you don't drink a lot of wine, some of the nuances may miss you at first. Especially if you are in a social situation and not paying attention. I've had people say that they "just don't get it." That's okay. Some of these wines are super expensive anyway. Not to fret, there are good places to start. Two excellent options are to try a basic wine labelled Bourgogne Pinot Noir or Bourgogne Blanc from a good grower, or something from a less heralded village. It's a great way to get in the ballpark without paying luxury box prices. Don't worry about the specific wines, just ask us. That's what we're here for and we'd love to show you some bottles. Whatever you choose, the bottles will taste like Burgundy and you can start to see the what the fuss is all about.