First (real) field report is here! I was fortunate enough to be able to swing by Wildman and Sons‘ Burgundy tasting earlier today–and try a great number of wines that I will likely be unable to afford a bottle of for several years.
Quick review of Burgundy (very very terse, honestly–I’m quickly realizing that there are very very few regions in wine that are straightforward or simple): almost exclusively chardonnay and pinot noir. There is a third grape, aligoté, but that’s mostly used in the southern region for easy-drinking quaffing wines of no particular distinction. And, also, I suppose technically, Beaujolais, but that is separated from the rest of Burgundy by both grape (gamay) and fermentation process (carbonic maceration), so while technically Beaujolais is Burgundian wine, it’s rare for it to be described as such on the bottle.
The region is almost as far north as Champagne (in fact, the chardonnay-only section of Burgundy, Chablis, is about twenty miles away), meaning a difficult, unpredictable climate prevails. This means that different vintages from Burgundy can vary wildly–grapes and vines having been subject to lesser or greater degrees of alarming things such as storms, heatwaves, hail …
The seasonal weather is a continental climate, with hot summers and cold winters.
Burgundy, as a whole, is broadly considered to be the most ‘terroir-conscious’ of the wine regions of France–”… in a thoroughly holistic way, they reflect the individual site and unique environment–from sun and soil to shade and slope–in which the vines grew. In fact, the very idea of terroir is a kind of mental construct that, at least in Burgundy, is inescapable” (MacNeil, 188). Even though the region itself is not large at all, the sheer variety that of wines produced there is staggered–as is the number of separate AOCs, with almost 150 different sections, all with different requirements for the Appellation. Furthermore, those are separated even more finely at higher levels; with the village-level distinctions (called lieux-dits, or, roughly, ‘called places’), the number of ‘AOCs’ jumps to upwards of 500. Yee-ha.
Moreover, these AOCs are categroized by tier–in ascending order: Burgundy Red and White (wine made anywhere in Burgundy), Village Wine (wine made exclusively from grapes surrounding a given village), Premier Cru (wines from a specific vineyard), and finally, Grand Cru, which is wine made from the best vines in the best vineyards of Burgundy. Staggeringly good, staggeringly expensive (for reference, a 2016 Montrachet Grand Cru is running around $1,000 a bottle).
In short, all this to say: even though all I tasted today were chardonnays and pinot noirs, every bottle was distinct; that’s just how Burgundy is.
The tasting itself was pretty enjoyable. One of the best things about them is that you get the opportunity to sip, at least, some wines you’ll likely never get a full glass of. While proper tasting behavior is to spit every sip you take, I couldn’t help but swallow more than a few times–I’ve long held it’s really the only way to get a full experience of the wine. And when you’re tasting ten Grand Crus … well, gosh, it’s almost disrespectful of the wine itself.
The event was hosted in the Park Avenue Winter restaurant, which after reviewing their menu (looks delicious!), I realize is also out of my price range for the foreseeable future. However, they also had a quote on their sidebar: “Copious amounts of wine with dinner is always in season”, and damn, if that doesn’t sound like a restaurant that I’d love to go to. As hosting places go for wine tastings, this seems pretty standard; though I would note that it seemed a touch snug at times simply due to the floor plan.
Now, I don’t necessarily consider myself an expert on wine if I’m surrounded by people who have been doing wine for longer than I’ve been alive, but I know … more than average. I also reviewed The Wine Bible chapter on Burgundy, so I wouldn’t be totally out of my depth. There was a lot to review; it honestly felt a bit like a test. However, that’s not to say that people were actually asking me questions about my qualifications–that’s a lovely thing about many wine tastings; once you get through the door, everyone is assumed to be roughly as qualified as the next until proven otherwise. “Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt” jumps to mind.
Moreover, given that I am not the oldest-looking fella around, and that most of the wine-tasting demographic seems to be in the 30+ range, I do stick out just a little. I can often tell that the people pouring (who can be anyone from workers with the importer, to employees of the producer, to les vignerons themselves) seem a little bit dubious about my presence there, and will fail to explain things as much as they do to older-looking folk.
C’est la vie, I guess.~~~I wish I could give a more authoritative run-down of the wines I tried; I mostly was walking through various producers and trying their entire table–which is an excellent method of understanding that producer’s style.
Among the producers I tried:
Domaine Christian Moreau Père et Fils–Chablis, so all chardonnay. Exceptional wines–my favorite was the Chablis Grand Cru “Clos des Hospices Dans Les Clos” Monopole. monopole here means a single vineyard that is owned by the same producer, namely, Christian Moreau Père et Fils. Simply due to the fractured ownership of Burgundy (something that, hah, stems back to the original cultivation of vines in the regions by what I can only assume were quite tipsy monks), this is relatively uncommon. Grand cru, as you’ll remember, is the highest tier in Burgundy. For a case of six, this is likely going to run you $600-$700.
Domaine Jean-Luc & Eric Burguet–Couldn’t find a link to a site of theirs; but, regardless, they make wine in the Côte-de-Nuits, the most well-regarded section of Burgundy. Incidentally, my favorite was also theirs–Gevrey Chambertin “Mes Favorites” Vielles Vignes. I’m still unclear about what qualifies vines as ‘old’ but certainly this was a delicious example.
Stéphane Aviron–I am already familiar with their Beaujolais-Villages (minor note, ‘Beaujolais-Villages’ is the second tier of Beaujolais, the most basic being simply ‘Beaujolais’ right beneath it). That Beaujolais was and remains lovely, and his entire range showed an impressive depth. I was particularly struck by his Chénas Vielles Vignes, which was particularly spicy. I was informed that the red granite in Chénas tends to lend the grapes a characteristic spiciness, even in pinot.
I tried several others, though their names escape me now (even with the list in front of me). I was struck in particular by some of the producers’ tendency to stand behind the table and speak to each other in French while paying minimal attention to those in front of them. Like I said, likely a function of my age; nevertheless, it did not serve as a recommendation for the wine to me.
Overall, the tasting was a really fun experience. I wish I had more time; even though one’s palette can get exhausted after a while, it’s always nice to be able to touch on as many producers as one can.I really appreciated this tasting for hammering home just how specific and important terroir can be. As I was saying above, Burgundy may be among the most meticulous about their designations of AOCs, but I think it really shows in the sheer variety of wines I tasted today. If you step back and say, ‘okay, it was one region, two grapes–how different could these wines be?’–well, the answer is shockingly different. While some are certainly comparable, none was as similar to the next as to be called indistinguishable. Such an excellent real-world demonstration of the concept of terroir.
A superb outing for the day, I’d say. Many thanks to Frederick Wildman and Sons for hosting.
Macneil, Karen. The Wine Bible. 2nd edition. Workman Publishing Company, October 13, 2015.
Wikipedia contributors. “Burgundy wine.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 15 Dec. 2017. Web. 8 Feb. 2018.