“When it comes to the two greatest wine regions in the world: Bordeaux and Burgundy are broadly masculine and feminine wines……Examine the natural response of an experienced taster encountering a great Bordeaux: more cerebral; there is reverence and high esteem. But the response to a great Burgundy is different; more emotional; like being swept off your feet by the girl of your dreams.You admire great Bordeaux but you fall in love with great Burgundy…”
Burgundy – What is it?
Burgundy is a personal thing and what ‘it’ is, varies from one person to another. For some, Burgundy is all about the wines of Puligny & Meursault – Chardonnay without equal! For others it could be the wines of Chablis, 60 miles north of the Côte d’Or yet inexplicably tagged together with Burgundy – also Chardonnay without equal – but different!! Then there are those whose pleasures come only from the red wines of Gevrey, Vosne or perhaps Volnay.
Personally speaking, I love the limitless opportunity to learn and taste – whoever you are, there is always something new to learn – the effect of this, the result of that and the influence of the other. Every vintage is a new expression of something that is still recognisably Burgundy. Whilst I have a love for great, even good, Chablis, it is the heart of Burgundy, the Côte d’Or itself, classically Marsannay in the north to Santenay in the south, that draws me in. The beauty of the Côte de Beaune, the magic bottles of the Côte de Nuits; couple these with the approachability and often the humbleness of the growers and owners and it seems to me a place of limitless reward. Although the sky can be the limit, Burgundy is also a place where you can buy plenty of age-worthy wine without needing to be in a higher tax bracket!
So who understands it?
I would say very few – and before I took an apartment in Beaune, I considered myself as having only ‘above average’ knowledge. To start with, you need to be there and live Burgundy; but that in itself is not enough. Growers will know Blagny or they will know Savigny, they will know Morey or they will know Aloxe, but it is a parochial knowledge – ‘Burgundy’ is a much broader subject and one that is forever evolving. Okay, I’ve discounted most growers because despite their depth of knowledge they typically lack breadth, so what about the pundits/critics? Given a long (many years) apprenticeship, and months rather than weeks per year in the region and we are getting closer to the type of person that actually understands the region. It is of course a tightrope that all critics walk, on one side objectivity and openness, and on the other, because of that, potentially a door closed to their return. There are many ways of conveying a description of the results of one year in a producer’s life – some manage this balance better than others.
In the end there is one group that absolutely does understand the region – the big négociants – who else has a hand in all the villages, makes wine, knows who is paying (or not paying) for what? Et-cetera. They may not write the books, but if knowledge is your goal, it is always worthwhile to keep a close contact.