International Designation Is Sweet Victory for Burgundy

Dream assignment: Go to Burgundy and write about Aubert de Villaine’s decade-long effort to get his region designated as a World Heritage site by the cultural arm of the United Nations. Oh, and while you’re at it, sip from the barrel that’s storing Romanée-Conti from the 2014 harvest. It would be rude not to accept a taste, right?!

To say I’m swooning may be an understatement, as I’m now very jealous of the reporter. But beyond that, it’s a fun read and a greater understanding of why the designation is important to the to winemakers of Burgundy.

For anyone with even a basic knowledge of wine, it may seem unthinkable that the revered wine sites of Burgundy need more recognition than they already have. But the Unesco designation gives a global imprimatur to the French view that great wine can be produced only through a magical combination of climate, geology and history — that ineffable quality often called “terroir.”

And it is sweet vindication for Mr. de Villaine’s long effort to rouse his fellow Burgundy producers to the threat posed by a global wine industry and, in his view, their failure to keep up with rising standards.

“The climats define the unique character of Burgundy’s wine region,” Mr. de Villaine said. “They are an exceptional representation of human ingenuity that must be preserved. What is most important for me is that the people of Burgundy, especially the vignerons, be inspired by the ancient, precious, unique treasure they hold in their hands.”

Read more here: International Designation Is Sweet Victory for Burgundy

2012 Burgundy Tasting Notes From an Amateur (Read at Your Own Risk)

Just like any good wine lover, when I hear the word Burgundy, my ears perk up, my eyes widen and my tongue may even start to salivate. Its reputation, its history, the delicate winemaking and strict rules it must adhere to – it has all the romance and passion that’s wrapped into the story of wine.

So when I received an invitation to try a line-up of 2012 Burgundies from MacArthur Beverages, it didn’t take long for me to agree – especially since I’ve had limited exposure to it. Not just this vintage, but Burgundy in general. (And yes, I warned them I was an extreme amateur before accepting the invitation!)

The tasting – which took place in the back corner of the store with the bottles resting on a shelf held up by wine barrels – was on a Monday night and very casual. Phil poured from six wines, ranging in price from $22 to $220. But it wasn’t the tasting of different price points which excited me. It was the opportunity to comparatively taste all the traditional classifications of the AOC against each other: From regional, to village, to Premier Cru, and up to a bottle of Grand Cru. (And yes, I realize the wines will most likely go up in price depending on its classification – but that’s not the point of my excitement here.)

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The lineup of wines poured at MacArthur Beverages on April 20, 2015 | Photo by itswinebyme.

Here’s my takeaway: All six wines were beautiful in their own right. There was nothing offensive about them and I’d be happy sharing any of these bottles with anyone. (But then again, I’m sure they were chosen because they were fine examples of the vintage and terroir.) I’m not well versed in vintage variations, so I can’t say how these compares to other years. It was interesting (to me) that I didn’t get that typical “Burgundy funk” on the nose until I reached the last two wines (we tasted in order of classification, but for fun – I then tasted in reverse order as a way to revisit some of the pours). This won’t be a traditional review – I’ll leave that to the other more experienced palates who were there.

These are the wines we tasted (the photo above is this order from left to right):

* 2012 Joseph Faiveley, Bourgogne ($22): A beautiful, bright floral, fruit-forward nose. As a California girl, it reminded me a bit of Sonoma Coast’s Littorai (and while I realize that Littorai emulates Burgundy – not the other way around, it’s where my wine journey started, so inhaling this wine took me to that experience). At $22, it’s a wine that’s easy to share with anyone – whether they understand wine or not.

* 2012 Joseph Drouhin, Cote de Nuits – Villages ($25): My very limited note taking during the tasting has the words “meaty” and “pepper” written down, next to this wine. Unlike the first wine, there was a bit more structure. Of all the wines, this was the least memorable to me. I didn’t taste this a second time like I did the others. Is that saying something about this wine? Maybe.

* 2012 Domaine Joblot, Clos du Cellier aux Moines, Givry Premier Cru ($45): This appeared to be a crowd pleaser, or maybe just everyone was curious enough to keep going back to it. For my inexperienced Burgundy palate, this was the first wine that seemed more like traditional Burgundies I’ve tasted before. The wine appealed to my love for earthy qualities, and it was significantly deeper than the first two.

* 2012 Louis Jadot, Domaine Gagey, Beaune Les Greves Premier Cru ($50): Compared to the Joblot, I didn’t taste much of a difference. When Phil asked my impressions, the first thing I blurted out was “chewy tannins,” which overtook much of the fruit. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. And it’s one of those wines, I’d love to put in  a decanter and sip over the course of the evening to watch it evolve. (Remember, if you’re itching for more traditional reviews from the same tasting, go here and here.)

* 2012 Domaine Heresztyn-Mazzini, Gevrey-Chambertin Les Champonnets Premier Cru ($100): Finesse. At this point in the tasting, I had pretty much resigned myself to only jotting down one word per wine to help me remember it. As I put my nose in my swirled glass, that Burgundy funk reared itself for the first time. But when I took a sip, despite lots of bursting complexity, I took a deep breathe and realized the difference with this wine was it had a very elegant melding of its flavors. About 10 minutes later, I overheard Phil also describe the wine with the word finesse while talking to someone else – so don’t just take my word* on it. (*Note: I’m 95 percent sure he was referencing this same wine. Either way, I’ll stand by my impression.)

* 2012 Domaine Faiveley, Corton Clos de Cortons Faiveley Grand Cru ($220): Phil was quick to point out that this is the only Premier Cru that includes its Domaine’s name on the wine. Is it a sign of confidence? Is this wine that special or different? Is it a marketing ploy? I failed to ask those questions. As the only Grand Cru in this lineup, it’s rich complexity was to be expected. What I didn’t expect was the wine tasted backwards on my palate. On first sip, it seemed slightly flat, but then the backend literally bursted in my mouth and the finish went on and on and on. I knew I was tasting something special, I only wish I had the experience to know how this wine would evolve with age.

Wine School – Week 2!

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(Photo: A 1996 bottle of Chateau Sociando-Mallet bottle from Haut Medoc, in Bordeaux. It was opened at a gathering I went to last week. Little did I realize, later that week I would be learning about the region. )

Last night’s class was all about varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. But it’s impossible to talk about those grapes without lessons in winemaking, climate and geography. It served as a wonderful reminder of how well-rounded studying wine can be. 

As I mentioned last week, I don’t want to rehash my classes, but I do think it’s fun to leave behind some random facts (not necessarily part of the lesson plan). Here are a few from last night:

  • There’s less sulfer in a bottle of wine, than in trail mix. The sulfer dioxide that many people are afraid of helps keeps grapes oxidized, it fights mildew in the vineyards and fights against yeast and bacteria in the wine.
  • Even though Burgundy is usually associated with Pinot Norir, more than 60 percent of the region is planted with Chardonnay.
  • The hotter the season, the more rapidly acid falls. Wines from cooler climates have higher acidity levels than those from warm and hot climates.
  • A lot of Chardonnay now grows in China and North India, too.
  • Irrigation is not (or very rarely) allowed in Burgundy, unless you obtain special permission, which is hard to do.
  • A fair guestimate that about 95 percent of all wines don’t get better with bottle age.
  • New Zealand now makes more Sauvignon Blanc than France.  
  • Our instructor highly recommends trying a White Bordeaux from the Pessac Leognan winegrowing area of Graves.
  • 2012 was a fabulous year for Oregon Pinot Noir.

Probably the most important take away from this class – not related to the formal lesson plan – is that it confirmed my general dislike of many Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux (red) wines (we tasted both a Bordeaux and a California in class). Even when blended with other grapes. Sadly for now, those green bell pepper flavors don’t agree with my palate.  I’m not going to give up on them, and with food pairings and age, maybe I’ll eventually grow to like them.

As for that empty Bordeaux bottle I posted at the top of this page, I did enjoy the wine, but I didn’t ask for a second glass. Instead, I reached for some Burgundy.

Cheers! 

Understanding France

I’m sure I don’t have to sing the praises too loudly for Wine Folly. Madeline’s brand of easy explanations combined with beautiful designs create stunning results. So I was delighted to quickly find this map she calls “French Wine Simplified” when searching for a quick way to reorient myself with the country’s geography.

As a California girl (both having grown up there and a preference in its wine), France has always baffled me. I studied Spanish in school, so trying to pronounce a French name while ordering has always turned into the dreaded pointing a finger at the menu. But despite my frustration, I have yet to be disappointed when sipping a French wine.

Very recently, I had the pleasure of tasting two new (to me) wines: Last night, a Pommard premier cru (pinot noir), and about a week ago a Brouilly Beaujolais (gamay). I’m glad that I already have an understanding that the prominent name on the label is the region and not the grape, while each region specializes in particular grapes. Understanding how different wine regions around the world create their labels is half the battle.

But the subregions are still tripping me up. Last night after tasting the Pommard, the sommelier asked for my thoughts. I didn’t know what Pommard was when I ordered it. The bartender explained it was another region in France and was a bit on the heavy/meatier side (I can’t remember the exact wording she used, but that’s how it translated in my head). So later in my discussion with the sommelier I felt very confident to let him know that I was picking up a lot of Burgundy in this wine. To which he replied, “It is Burgundy. Pommard is in Burgundy.” Le sigh.

(Wine Folly also has this excellent map of Burgundy, which I’ll be studying closely today.)

Santé!