“In Order to Make Great Wine, the Vines Must Suffer..”
I attended a recent trade tasting given by the Bureau of Burgundy Wines on Tuesday, April 23rd at the Capital Wine School in Washington, D.C. – it was taught by a very affable and precise Jean-Pierre Renard who took us through history, philosophy and ultimately a tasting of 9 wines from the lowest classification up to a Grand Cru – Corton Grand Cru, les Renardes, 2008 Domaine Maillard.
We covered the basics of Burgundy which can actually be quite confusing. In a nutshell, Burgundy is a region and the wines are named from their location in that region. The basic breakdown is Regional wines, Village wines, Premiere Cru wines and Grands Cru wines, each respective layer being more rare and specific to a smaller number of wines and thus normally costing more as well. If you purchase a regular Bourgogne with little more information on the bottle, it most likely can come from grapes grown anywhere in that region. Village wines have regionality, but are not specific to any site while Premiere Cru and Grands Cru grapes come from specified parcels. Add to this the complexity rule-wise of “climats” which loosely translates according to the speaker as the “DNA of the individual Bourgogne Vineyards” – I actually found a site in English that delves deeper into the climats concept – the “climats”. Climats equates closely with “terroir”..
OK, now that you’re probably totally confused, let me say that much of what the speaker said rang true with what I had learned over the past 15 years at various wine classes and courses.
Burgundy has been producing serious wine since the Roman times, and afterwards the plots of land came from Church donations by nobles – they always gave their worst sites (poorest and rockiest soils) to the local Monasteries. Ironically, the rocky soils and hills they donated actually produce the world’s greatest wines!
The concept of “terroir” has really been developed from the wines of Burgundy more so than any other region – why?
1)They pretty much only use Pinot Noir for red wines and Chardonnay for white wines (a few exceptions like Aligote, but these are not blended)
2)hillside vineyards grow very different quality grapes from vineyards grown in the valley – hillier/higher sites produce more intense wine flavors, valley grapes are more generic.
3)Each vineyard site has it’s own weather patterns, geology, geography and even human/historical conditions. This last point is very confusing to most Americans: wine is made by humans, NOT by nature! Choosing the right site and propagating the best grapes is a human endeavor, but Nature is always adding chance to the equation. There is science as well as mysticism in the vineyard, maybe even some witchcraft..
“People can’t wait for aging wine any more, they want to drink everything young..”
A sad refrain by Jean-Pierre, but the reality of the modern wine drinker – people today don’t want to age their wines, so they want to drink young vintages before they’re ready to shine. There is so much history in Burgundy and even though winemaking today is better than ever, to truly understand and appreciate a fine age-worthy Burgundy, you simply must wait – Patience!
Charlie “I Drink on the Job” Adler
Upcoming French Events on TasteDC April/May 2013:
-April 30th – French Cooking: French Basics 101 at Cookology, $65
-May 1st – Wine Maker Dinner at Eola, featuring Château Léoville-Poyferré, $135
-May 20th – French Classics: The Suckling Pig, $60