Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Burgundy basics

I had a great time at the Burgundy wine evening at The Dorchester, and it made me realise that there really is a lot to learn about the region (Bourgogne in French). I thought I'd share the basics. Picking a Burgundy wine that you know you'll like can be very difficult, so hopefully this will help.

A white Burgundy is normally made with Chardonnay (if it's not 100% Chardonnay it will say so on the label) and a red Burgundy is normally a Pinot Noir (and sometimes also Gamay, although this is usually found in Beaujolais, and has been banned from Northern Burgundy).

Chardonnay can be affected by many factors (its know as the tart of grapes), it can take on character of the earth it is grown on (also known as terroir), and its flavour can change through techniques like aging in oak and malolactic fermentation (which creates the creamy, buttery flavour), which means it can vary greatly.

Pinot Noir is a light red wine with low tannin and red fruit flavours. If you're not keen on red wines that dry out your mouth, stick to Pinot Noir (or a Beaujolais). Pinot Noir is very difficult to grow, it requires specific growing conditions, so it can be temperamental, and a good one hard to find.

Another difficulty with Burgundy is that it is divided up into many small plots due to the Napoleonic law, where a vineyard is split up into equal parts to the owner's offspring when they die, which still continues today (unless the vineyard is owned by a company). This means that there are many producers all trying to make their mark in an overcrowded marketplace. Plus wines from Burgundy villages can sell for a higher price even if they're rubbish wine, just because of the name.

My WSET instructor taught me that finding a good burgundy is like kissing a lot of frogs to find your prince. And they can be expensive frogs. The trick is to learn by producer, once you find one you like, you'll probably like other wines they make.

What to choose:

  • If you like light and mineral whites, choose a Petit Chablis (cheaper than a Chablis but still very good)
  • If you like a bit more body in your whites go for Cote de Beaune (Mersault is my favourite but can be pricey)
  • If you prefer tropical fruit flavours try Macon (good tip is Les Enseigneres, a cheaper version of Montrachet)
  • For reds, I would go for Cote de Nuits every time

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