Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Reflections from a week in Burgundy

If you brought a Chinese rice farmer to Burgundy, he might look at the top vineyards and think they are community property. Most have no fences around them or signs to indicate ownership. One vineyard -- and often one subregion -- leads directly into another.

Anyone can drive or walk through this hodgepodge of some of the world's greatest terroir. The great vineyards in the Côte de Beaune, for example, are almost all on the west side of the main road, in the mid-section of gentle slopes. There are a few impressive chateaus in Burgundy, but these are much more rare than in Bordeaux or Napa Valley, and they tend to be in the flatland, because the slopes are too valuable to put buildings on.

I can stand looking at Premier and Grand Cru vineyards and not really know what I'm seeing. Visually, Burgundy is just like its wines: not something that wows you with flash and power. It's a farmer's land, gentle yet historic: one that takes perspective to appreciate.


Americans almost always write wine names listing the producer first; i.e., Jordan Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. There are minor style differences between retail stores, publications, and wine lists; some would write Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2005 and some would write 2005 Jordan ... etc.

What you never see in the States is the way wines are described everywhere in Burgundy (and in most of France): Region first, vineyard name if there is one, then vintage, with the producer last -- if at all. On wine lists, you see something like "Pommard Clos des Epenots 2005 (producer name)."

Wine list in a bistro in Ampuis in the Rhone
And in bistros, you're likely to merely see "Pommard," often without even a vintage. With onion soup on Saturday, I ordered a glass of "Rully." I think from the acidity that it was a 2010, but I have no idea who made it.

This is unimaginable in the US. An obvious reason is that we have to tell the grape varieties: a red wine listed as "Russian River Valley" is likely Pinot Noir, but could be Zinfandel or Merlot.

But even accounting for our system of planting everything everywhere, I can't imagine a wine list reading merely "Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon, Ballard Canyon Syrah." Yet I'd estimate that  more than 75% of wines by the glass ordered in Burgundy are ordered just as I did: with only a place. Some Americans talk about terroir, but all Burgundians believe in it.


This post is the epilogue to my week of live blogging from Les Grands Jours in Burgundy, a biannual event where importers, retailers and journalists from around thew world come to evaluate new releases. It's an overwhelming week, with the opportunity to taste hundreds of wines every day, and it was challenging to write something coherent every day when it was tempting to simply say, "I drank all this great stuff!" But I had a blast, and will let you judge whether what I wrote transcended that overall accurate summation.

In case you missed any of my posts, here are some links:

Burgundy vintage '09 vs. '10: Voluptuous vs. sinewy

Rully white wines deliver grand-cru quality at working-stiff prices

Cremant de Bourgogne: one of the best values in sparkling wine

Clos de Vougeot 25-year vertical tasting (read it and weep)

The world comes to Chablis

Tomorrow I'll return to the wider world of food, wine and spirits with a visit to a topless steakhouse. But for now, please enjoy the picture above from the Banée de Meursault, a great party where I drank all this great stuff.

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1 comment:

Todd - VT Wine Media said...

Quite a jealousy inspiring adventure...so chock full, it is too dense to live vicariously through you. I expect I and others will have to wait for something more approachable such as the tasting notes and the extensive photo essay we expect from the steakhouse. ;)