France, Burgundy

The legendary wine-producing area known as Burgundy includes five regions. The best known and most prestigious wines come from Chablis or Côte d’Or, which encompasses the famous Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune. The southern part of Côte d’Or continues into the fragmented and less explored Côte Chalonaise and Mâconnais area. Beaujolais represents the most southern region.

Due to variations in the continental climate and differences in terroir each of Burgundy’s five major wine-producing regions represent a unique character and identity. Of all the world’s great wine regions, Burgundy is widely seen as one of the most difficult to understand. As an example the Côte is subdivided into some 28 different villages with their own appellation. Those comprising the northerly sector, from Marsannay to Corgoloin, are collectively known as the Côte de Nuits – based on the town of Nuits-St.-George, while those adjoining them to the south, from Ladoix-Serrigny to Santenay, as the Côte de Beaune- based on the rather larger town of Beaune.

Add to this four separate quality levels, innumerable individual vineyard sites, and several thousand growers. With very few exceptions, ownership of each vineyard is divided among several different growers, each the proprietor of designated vines, from which he makes his own wine. For example no fewer than 82 individual owners exist for the Grand Cru vineyard, Clos de Vougeot, which in theory makes it possible to line up 82 bottles in any given vintage, each bearing the name of a different producer. In addition, domains differ considerably: some consistently produce magnificent wine, some manage excellence occasionally, and for others, one keeps the proverbial barge-pole permanently to hand.

Finally, the region has also suffered needless, selfinflicted harm from giving its name to too much mediocre wine. Poor quality blurs differences between appellations, making wine form one village taste much like that from another, and when expensive Grand Cru turns out dilute and meagre compared with Village wine at one-fifth of the price, the credibility of the grading system and the image of the region crumbles.

Fortunately all these challenges can be boiled down to the fact that the name of the producer is the single most reliable indicator of quality, transcending even the grading of the vineyard or the vintage. The grower/Domaine is therefore the key to unlocking Burgundy. Unfortunately, most of these Domaines have been closed for new clients for years! However, new stars show up all the time making it possible to come across a good bargain leaving you with the taste of strawberry, cherry, raspberry, and plum and if you keep it, the cherry becomes more scented, the plums turn to prunes, and wood and chocolate might finally mingle with truffles and over-hung game.

Since covering Burgundy thoroughly would take several books, the aim of this short presentation is limited to sharing some of our experiences and to salute the owners of selected Domaines whom we have followed and known for several years and allow ourselves to consider as friends.