When you think about the wines of Burgundy, which are the names that come to mind? Chambertin? Montrachet? Or what about Corton or Musigny? I guess that it’s no surprise that it should be the famous names, but the grand Cru’s of the Côte d’Or actually account for only 1% of the region’s wines. Given that even this exalted 1% can produce a “more than occasional” disappointment, imagine then trying to find a source of good wines towards the cheapest end of the spectrum – and where better to start then, than with the most humble of appellations – Bourgogne.
So what is a Regional Wine?
Bourgogne is the most basic of appellations and is classed as a regional wine – ignoring Beaujolais, the regional wines account for 55% of all Burgundy’s wine production. By ‘regional’ I mean it comes from non-specific sites anywhere in the Burgundy region. A blend of wines from, for instance the Côte de Nuits villages of Gevrey and Vosne could be named (no surprise) Côtes de Nuits Villages i.e. rather than being a regional wine, this blend receives the higher appellation of a ‘communal wine’. Likewise, a blend of wines from the Côte de Beaune villages of Pommard and Volnay could be named Côtes de Beaune Villages, but a blend of Gevrey and Volnay could only be called Bourgogne. Taken to extreme, any blend of Chambertin (Côte de Nuits) and Corton (Côte de Beaune) can only receive the regional appellation of ‘Bourgogne’ !
The regional wines can come in a number of flavours; red or white. In this case we’ll concentrate on the red version: just because it’s red and says Bourgogne on the label, don’t instantly assume you’re dealing with Pinot Noir; according to the rules, Bourgogne should be 100% Pinot Noir and have at least 10% alcohol. Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire could be declassified Bourgogne that has below 10% alcohol, or much more likely, is 100% Gamay – so if you check the alcohol level on the label and it’s more than 10%, you’re holding a bottle that was made from Gamay. Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains (or sometimes just Passetoutgrains) is a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay. Usually up to one-third Pinot Noir, the balance being Gamay.
What can you expect from Bourgogne Rouge?
That’s a difficult question to answer. Just like everything else produced in the region, there’s such a diversity of producers – each with their own personal recipe for ‘success’. You can find watery, inconsequential wines, you can find delicious early drinking wines and you can even find wines that are more interesting than those from higher appellations – and certainly not for drinking on release.
I guess the best way to see what to expect, is to open a few bottles. I chose a dozen wines which cover a range of styles and ages, I also chose producers with good reputations – from the results, this seems to have been justified. Frankly, I was surprised to see just how interesting and even exciting the older wines could be. I don’t expect it to be very easy to track down similar examples, but what the exercise reinforced for me was, don’t worry about losing a few of these in the cellar, you’ll be very happy when you find them :
2000 N Potel, Bourgogne Rouge, ‘Maison Dieu’ Vieilles Vignes
Medium-full cherry colour. The nose is of cooking cherries with a subtle undertow of oak and earth. Fresh acidity, concentrated cherry fruit and medium tannins. This is very serious for a Bourgogne – particularly in 2000. Very good wine and worth leaving for 2 years.
2000 Dominique Gallois, Bourgogne Rouge
Similar depth of colour to the Drouhin wine, though shaded to ruby. The nose is cherry and raspberry with just a hint of turned earth. The palate shows black and red berried fruits. Good acidity and smooth tannins. Nice length to the finish. Similar softness to the Drouhin, though with a touch more concentration. A good wine.
2000 Joseph Drouhin, Laforet Bourgogne Rouge
Medium-pale cherry colour. Sugared red fruits on the sweet nose. The acidity is fine and is coupled with light, smooth tannin. Relatively light bodied and very forward, this is a charming wine in a soft style. Makes a lovely aperitif.
1999 N Potel, Bourgogne Rouge, ‘Maison Dieu’ Vieilles Vignes
Medium ruby colour to the rim. The nose is very pinot with raspberry, strawberry and violets. The palate has good acidity, some tannin and very good depth to the red fruits. The finish is more persistent than many of the other wines here. Very good wine, excellent Bourgogne.
1999 Dominique Laurent, Bourgogne Rouge Number 1
Deep ruby with a cherry edge – this wine has the depth of colour you would expect from a much higher appelation. The nose starts with toasted oak and an almost ‘corky’ note. Given 20 minutes aeration, the corky note fortunately disappears along with much of the oak. What remains is a burnt wood note, a little spice, perhaps cinnamon and resin. Eventually there is also a cooked red fruit note. The palate is certainly concentrated with reasonable acidity and very good, fine tannins. At the moment it’s quite hard to get at the fruit due to the wood induced structure. A wine that has been made in a very serious and expensive way, in the future possibly a match for many village wines. I’d say this needs at least 4-5 years to reduce the impact of the wood – should be very interesting to see what the result is.
1999 Ghislaine Barthod, Bourgogne Rouge
Lovely medium density cherry red colour. The nose is deep showing red and black cherry notes, even a little raspberry and earth too. The palate shows good concentration and, perhaps, a more red fruity palate. Good acidity and sophisticated tannins. Shows good length too. Excellent Bourgogne Rouge
1998 A et P de Villaine, Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise La Digoine
Light ruby with definite hints of maturity – looks quite ‘fragile’ in the glass. The nose is relatively muted with strawberries and raspberries pushing through the undergrowth. The palate is a lovely thick and sweet thing with red berry fruits dominating. Perfect acidity and almost resolved tannin. This wine is only spoiled by a slight bitterness to the palate. Starting to drink nicely now, hopefully the bitterness will diminish, though to be fair it’s much less obvious with food.
1996 Leroy, Bourgogne Rouge
Still a deep and young looking ruby colour. The nose is a simply gorgeous blend of predominantly raspberry fruit plus other red berries and cherries. On release I remember this wine to be quite unforgiving and a bit acidic, 4 years has worked a little magic and the palate is now quite fat with lovely cherry fruit. Perhaps there’s still a slightly harsh edge to the acidity – which is not unlike many 1996’s today – but this certainly improved with aeration. Still a young and very classy wine, reminds me of a very good premier cru Savigny.
1995 Leroy, Bourgogne Rouge
Deep ruby core, fading to amber. Nose of baked plums, tea and soil with rose petals at the top-end – very impressive. Good acidity and still reasonable tannin. The palate is medium concentration, and shows almost ‘orangey’ fruit. The finish is reasonably long but ends on a bitter note. Actually pretty good.
1993 Leroy, Bourgogne Rouge
Some signs of seepage on the top of the cork. Colour is a mature ruby tending to brick. Nose, initially subdued, but sweet with very faint redcurrant, orange & tea, became more intense with time. Palate surprisingly thick and full for the appellation with stewed plum fruits and medium but persistent acidity. The tannin is still there – just, with a long but slightly astringent finish – the astringency disappeared with food. I’ve had 1er Cru’s which were inferior in every way.
1993 Mugneret-Gibourg, Bourgogne Rouge
Medium-plus ruby colour, starting to look mature, but no signs of amber or brown colour just yet. The nose is very understated, hints of sweet earth perhaps, though not much else. The palate has good density, good acidity and still some tannin. The fruit profile is cherry with a little blueberry. Lovely length to this wine from a subtle vanilla note. This wine made an excellent match with a simple plate of bread and cheese – Thom de Savoie and Reblochon. Very nice, and nearly ready !
1990 Leroy, Bourgogne Rouge
Medium ruby colour, fading to amber. The nose is a deep cherry pie affair and initially a little ‘farmyard’ but this fades after 2-3 minutes. The surprisingly fat palate shows good acidity, almost faded tannins and plenty of raspberry fruit. Probably reaching its peak right now – fabulous Bourgogne.