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BURGUNDY

Prepared for Taste Magazine's Autumn 2011 Issue, by Carolyn Evans Hammond

Burgundy.  The name alone conjures thoughts of stony-crisp Chablis, berry-embued Pinot Noir and wooded Chardonnays that resonate with flavours of nuts, lemon, buttered toast and cream.  Some of the finest wines in the world hail from this region, including the very rare, $10,000 per bottle La Romanée-Conti, which is why Burgundy is the darling of experts and enthusiasts alike.  But buying Burgundy wine is complicated—even for the most die-hard wine geeks. 

First, Burgundy is a land of thousands of small grower-producers, most of which make tiny quantities of wine.  And quality varies maker-to-maker, site-to-site, year-to-year.

Secondly, Burgundy is a more fragmented than any other wine region in France—and possibly the world.  It’s divided into hundreds of plots of land—or appellations—based on how each area’s soil, aspect, and sun exposure affect a grapevine.  In the celebrated Côte d’Or region of Burgundy, more than 500 appellations exist for a mere 50km of vineyards.  And an official hierarchy, developed over 1300 years of back-straining viticulture, ranks the vineyards. 

In short, place matters big time in Burgundy because where the fruit is grown dictates the style, flavour and structure of a wine.  The French called it “terroir”.  So understanding the regional differences and appellation system is key to knowing what each wine should taste like—and if it will appeal to you. 

Beginning to sound like a whole lot of work just for a glass of wine?  It is.  But the results can make your toes curl with excitement.

Chablis with its cool scent of wet stones, piercing steeliness, and taut acidity held together by restrained fruit is the quintessential unwooded Chardonnay.  A wine from the Grands Cru Les Clos vineyard in Chablis offers the firmest, raciest pour of all, deeply mineral, rich in extract, and capable of long term aging.  It makes connoisseurs swoon.

Swing south into the Meursault region and find the most opulent oaked Chardonnays.  The Les Genevrières vineyard there yields supremely spicy, citric, butterscotch-scented wines—exciting stuff if that’s your style.

Between these two extremes, Burgundy offers every shade of Chardonnay imaginable.  And while the best producers in celebrated sites reveal the heights to which fine wine can reach, well-made regional wines simply named Chardonnay Bourgogne also offer a tidy glass of mid-week pleasure. 

A similar range exists for reds—from the bright cherry-fruited Beaujolais to the more serious wines of the Côte de Nuits.  

Hard to match a well made Pinot Noir from the Vosne-Romanée village, divided into six revered areas—including the revered Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and La Tâche. Vosne-Romanée fruit in the right hands produces legendary wine that combines power and finesse, depth and elegance, silky delicacy and haunting perfume to magical effect. 

The fact great Burgundy wine is legendary, and there’s relatively little to feed the growing international market, leads us to the third reason buying Burgundy is complicated.  

Worldwide demand for Burgundy outstrips demand every year.  Obviously then, even mediocre bottles can fetch high prices if the right appellations appear on the labels.  And so we circle back to the fact it’s vital to buy from a trusted producer. 

But which names can you trust?

Some of the most reliable producers in Burgundy are négociants.  A négociant is a merchant who buys fruit, juice and/or wine from growers and winemakers, blends for consistency and quality, and bottles the wines under its own label.  And the top names are bent on making seriously delicious wine that’s true to specific appellations. 

Knowing the names of better négociants is hugely valuable from a wine drinkers’ perspective because they offer touchstones for regional typicity, cut the risk of disappointment, and yield consistent value at the $20 to $200+ price points.

Below is a clutch of names to stuff in your pocket for reference sake.

Negociants to Trust

 

Bouchard Père et Fils

Bouchard Père et Fils is one of the largest landowners in the fêted Côte d’Or region with 30 hectares of Grands Crus and 74 hectares of Premier Crus.  The wines range from top-tier offerings with resonant depth of character to more casual quaffs that consistently overdeliver.  The estate was taken over by Joseph Henriot in the mid 1990s and has made huge quality strides since then.

 

Maison Louis Latour

Maison Louis Latour is a family-owned and run négociant that has been passed from father to son for more than 10 generations. Tending vines in the region since the 17th century, the Latour family owns 50 hectares of vineyards.  Although the house makes red and white wines, it is perhaps most-loved by those in the know for its whites.

 

Domaine Patriarche Pere et Fils

Since Jean-Baptiste Patriarche established the organisation in 1780, it has grown from a small Burgundy house to one of the largest negociants in Burgundy.  As well as producing great juice for thirsty Burgundy lovers, it owns one of the largest cellars in the region that winds for several kilometers beneath the town of Beaune.  Thousands of bottles there mark the company’s history. 

 

Faiveley

With a vast 117.5 hectares of vineyards, this is one of the largest négociants in Burgundy with a strong portfolio of honest-value reds and whites at all price points.  The whites are characterful and nuanced while the reds consistently brim with fruit and finesse.  Faiveley is a name to trust.

 

Jaffelin Pere et Fils

Owned by the French wine conglomerate, Boisset, Jaffelin offers delicious, true-to-terroir wines from the throughout the Burgundy region—Cote d’Or to Beaujolais.  Tidy, consistent, good value wines with articulate site expression—that is Jaffelin.

 

Chartron et Trébuchet

Respected for its stylistic flair and accurate refection of terroir, Charton et Trébuchet makes a broad selection of wines to count on.

 

Recommended Wines

 

Jaffelin Bourgogne Aligote

France $16.99 53868

Shining silvery in the glass, this classic French refresher starts with an immediate attack of lemon and apple before revealing a whisper of damp herb, lime zest, and a pretty finish of white flowers.  If you like Pinot Grigio, you’ll love this light, crisp Aligoté. 

 

Louis Latour Chardonnay Bourgogne

France $20.99 555333

Wafting aromas of yellow plum lead to silky flavours of fresh cantaloupe and lemon layered with vanilla, cream and nuts.  This classic regional wine is beautifully balanced, judiciously oaked, and charming. 

 

Chartron et Trébuchet Cuvée de la Chapelle Pouilly-Fuissé

France $32.98 264945

Pouilly-Fuissé in the Maconnais is known for making richer, fuller-bodied Chardonnays—and this wine is no exception.  The saturated, enticing flavours of citrus and tropical fruit underpinned by warm roasted hazelnut will have you at hello.  The style is generous yet elegant with an enticing purity of fruit.

Pisse Dru Beaujolais (Domaine Patriarche)

France $16.99 2881

This captivating mouthful of mixed summer berries is refreshing, juicy and supremely drinkable.  Beneath the fruit, notes of white flowers and warm earth recall the vineyards’ place in southern Burgundy.  Slightly chilled, it’s the perfect lighter-bodied wine for any occasion.

 

Bouchard Père et Fils Pinot Noir Bourgogne

France $24.99 493544

Fetching flavours of strawberry, raspberry, and violet offer a classic taste of well-made red Burgundy at a reasonable price.  Solid value.

 

Faiveley Paulee Pinot Noir Bourgogne

France $21.99 142448

Vibrant summer berry flavours and aromas hint at that certain earthiness for which Burgundy is known.  Great purity of fruit, impeccable balance, a seamless structure makes this wine a go-to red Burgundy.   Berets off to Faiveley.

 

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Carolyn’s latest book, Good Better Best Wines, is the first book to rank best-selling wines by price and grape variety, with tasting notes and bottle images (April, 2010, $12.95, Alpha Books). Within weeks of release, it soared to #1 wine book at Amazon.ca and the #2 one at Amazon.com, and received rave reviews in such eminent dailies as Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune.  Available at bookstores everywhere. Watch the trailer at www.goodbetterbestwines.com

Carolyn’s critical articles and reviews have appeared in Decanter and Wine & Spirit International in the United Kingdom, at thewinecellarinsider.com, and in Maclean’s, Taste, and Tidings in Canada.  Her first book, 1000 Best Wine Secrets, earned critical acclaim and international distribution with the distinction of being a best-seller by Canadian standards.  Qualified sommelier and seasoned journalist, Carolyn holds the Diploma from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and a BA from York University, and is a member of the Circle of Wine Writers in the UK.  Carolyn has lived in many cities in North America and Europe, and now resides in Toronto, where she was born.

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