I’m going to be frank with you at the outset, if you really, really only drink wine that costs less than $10 a bottle and don’t want to learn anything new today turn the page now and I’ll look for you the next time.
Okay if any of you are still with me I’m about to share some information regards the Burgundy (Bourgogne) wine region of France that I also found rather remarkable and very positively surprising, it’s not quite as overblown as we all thought. Yes the wines can cost a lot of money and yes some of them are huge and tannic and will take years to develop and age to the proper drinking level, but I learned some things the other day that in fact are very eye-opening as well as tasty.
“Burgundy’s image is misrepresented as being heavy and tannic and not very approachable by the average wine drinker”, so says my guide through a recent Burgundy tasting, Viktorija Todorovska, who refers to herself as a “wine coach” but we’ll refer to her simply as Vicki.
“There are unfortunately some common misunderstandings about Burgundy wine. The truth is only one percent of the wines at the grand cru level (highest priced and lowest production) are made to age for many years and develop unique tastes and flavors, 55% of our production is actually at the entry level”, she stated.
“The other most common misunderstanding about our wines is that they are not really meant to be drunk on their own but to be matched with some of the simplest as well as the most classic food dishes”, Vicki remarked. “Chablis naturally pairs very well with fresh seafood such as oysters, scallops and muscles as a result of their mineral and citrus flavors yet they also pair well with salami and prosciutto, pate’s, Camembert and Brie cheese and our wines with a bit of oak and buttery flavor are an excellent complement to Parmigiano, think risotto and wild mushrooms.”
On the red side of Burgundy and that would be the Pinot Noir grape, the classic recipes are beef Bourgogne and Coq Au Vin and even steak especially with mushrooms and mustards, remember we’re just north of Dijon and yes, I’ve included some recipes.
Burgundy is at the crossroads of Mediterranean influences to the south, continental influences to the north and oceanic influences to the West, this geographic situation gives Burgundy wines a unique identity and makes it the best choice to grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. It is located about halfway between Paris and Lyon with the Chablis region more to the Northwest towards Paris and the Macon region located to the south just above Lyon. It runs approximately 200 miles from north to south.
About 50% of the wine grapes grown in Burgundy are Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir and three other lesser grapes make up the balance. The subsoil was formed between 150 and 180 million years ago and has a lot of Marine limestone from the Jurassic period. Due to its rolling hills and valleys the exposure and orientation of the grapes to the sun, the rain and the winds highly affects favor and quality.
We all have experienced the oak trend in way too many wines from the U.S. with way too much oak used to create an overpowering flavor in the wine; I refer to them as 2×4 for wines. At the tasting I was truly impressed when Mlle. Lyne Marchive wine grower of Domain Des Malandes, offered me several wines from her property that had initially been stored in a combination of stainless steel and used oak barrels and then aged in stainless steel to finish, a remarkable process that is unique to Chablis. Oh and I must say here if you really want to find out what Chardonnay is supposed to taste like, please buy a bottle of Chablis, just not from the Gallo Brothers.
“We see oak as a helper not a distinguished feature to the wine and we never use all new oak”, said Vicki. “Chablis begins its life in a mixture stainless steel tanks as well as in oak barrels and is then stored in older oak barrels to allow it to breathe and to mature”.
Weather can be troublesome in the Burgundy region and often its effects are misunderstood by both the media and the public. According to Vicki, French wine writers have a tendency to judge a vintage more by what the weather did than what the finished wine will taste like which she says is a huge mistake.
“Vintners in France really watch the weather, they can’t change it but they can make decisions as to when to harvest and how to handle the grapes that have been harvested,” she explained. If it has been a truly difficult harvest winemakers vintners work extra hard to still produce good wines that those are often the vintages that you should look at more closely to find great value.” An axiom that is true in most any wine region. Also, keep in mind that Burgundy wines are meant to age a bit that’s what their wine is all about.
I’ll finish our trip down Burgundy lane with just the slightest of nomenclatures that may help you in your selection. At the very approachable Regional Appellation level are wines you will labeled “Bourgogne” and the best values are from the Macon or Macon-Villages. The Village level includes names you’ve probably seen, Chablis Pouilly-Fuisse, Meursault and Puligny Montrachet all places mind you that grow Chardonnay. The very top is the Grand Cru level and are the most distinctive wines from very small and controlled vineyards and are exceptional wines full of refinement and sophistication and of course the need for a somewhat larger checkbook.
I must say I was impressed with several of the entry-level wines and their price range of under $25, no these wines will not last for your grandchildren to drink but are meant for you and me to drink in the very near future and still enjoy at least the essence and flavors of Burgundy region.
Look for Maison Albert Bichot Chardonnay – good mouthfeel, good acid and good food wine and the Pinot Noir, nice balance, good fruit and very drinkable both at $20.
That’s my whine and I could be wrong.
Woody Mosgers, cooks, caters, drinks and matches wine and food at www.woodythewineguy.com
You’ll find two recipes to try with Chablis and red Burgundy on the web site at Woody’ Recipes.