The Grape Sense newspaper column has often focused on introducing new wines, new price points, and an education focus about wine.
There is no bigger educational high point in wine understanding than Burgundy, France. Burgundy is home to a confusing geography, hard to find wines, and most of the world’s most expensive single bottles.
Normally the focus is on value wine. But on occasion a look at other prominent wine regions helps with perspective. Additionally, I just returned from leading a wine tour group in Burgundy – my first-ever visit as well.
Burgundy lies southeast of Paris where the whites of Chablis and silky red and whites of Burgundy have a history going back hundreds of years. Many of the vineyards and wine making facilities date back to the time of Romans. Many of the vineyards and ancient winemaking efforts were started by monks in the early 12th or 13th century.
Burgundy is a place for history. Perhaps the first educational point to get out of the way is a reminder that most all of France doesn’t tell you what grapes are in the wine on their bottles. You have to have a very basic understanding. In Burgundy reds are Pinot Noir and whites are Chardonnay.
After that, it gets complicated. There are approximately 100 specifically designated wine growing regions or AOCs. The wines are named for the region and its growing characteristics or terroir.
An example would be Gevrey-Chambertin which is a small village and surrounding vineyards south of Lyon but north of Beaune, the heart of Burgundy. My group tasted four Gevrey Chambertin wines at Domaine Rene Leclerc. The four wines came from four different vineyards – with a difference in soil, slope, and micro-climate – even though all lie in the same region.
And, the wines had slight differences. The area is known for wines of more structure and slightly more pronounced tannins. We tasted different in the earthiness you get in Pinot Noir and a slightly different level in the spiciness on the wine’s’ finish in your mouth.
Okay, it’s pretty geeky for a wine novice.
A fact that surprised some of us was the production breakdown. In the U.S. if someone says the word Burgundy people think of red wine. Actually Burgundy is planted with 60 percent white wine grapes. The whites were consistently silky and elegant. The better white wines were rich with a full mouth feel while maintaining that silky texture.
Good Burgundy seems to start around $50 or asmore in the U.S. So indeed, not the normal focus of Grape Sense. But they represent some of the best wines in the world and certainly worth a try.
Burgundy is also one of the ultimate trips for wine fans. The walled-village of Beaune is a delightful home base with legendary wine caves beneath the city streets, the famed Hospice de Beaune, and wine tasting shops, Michelin-starred restaurants, and charming hotels throughout the city.
European wine travel requires advance planning. A trip to Burgundy is really the ultimate for real wine fans.