Samui Wining & Dining
Burgundy Wine

You know the name, but what’s so special about the wines from this region?


22“The first duty of a wine is to be red, the second is to be a Burgundy.” That’s a quote from the late, great Harry Waugh, cousin of Auberon and grand old man of wine. An author of several wine books, and well respected for his directorship at wine merchants Harvey’s of Bristol.

      Similar to Bordeaux, the very name Burgundy has a resonance in the wine world. Burgundy is the land of long meals, served with fine wines, and well supplied with the best food ingredients (Charolias beef to the west, Bresse chickens to the east, fish in the rivers and snails on the vines). It was the richest of the ancient duchies of France. And even before France became Christian, the Burgundy area was famous for its wines. The fine wines of Burgundy and Bordeaux could not be further apart in terms of what ‘makes them tick’. Whilst Bordeaux is dominated by large estates, each producing a classic red wine, Burgundy is composed of thousands of small-scale growers, often with only tiny parcels of land, who may make a range of a dozen or more different wines, both red and white. In Bordeaux, almost all wine is labelled ‘Mis en Bouteille au Château’, which means the whole process, from growing the grapes to bottling the wine, is carried out by the Château. Whilst in Burgundy, a very significant part of the prod uction comes from négociants, merchants who may own no vineyards, but who buy grapes and finished wines for blending and bottling under their own label.

      Burgundy is a province that’s blessed with an abundance of fine wine, and contains at least three of France’s best wine regions. Arguably the most important, and richest, is the central Cote d’Or, composed of the Cote de Beaune and Cote de Nuits. But Chablis and Beaujolais also have old trusty reputations, which owe nothing to their illustrious brother’s. The great Burgundies, both red and white, are un-blended wines made from a single grape variety. This again is a major difference from Bordeaux. The varieties used are Pinot Noir for red wines and Chardonnay for whites. Various others are permitted within Burgundy, though these are never used in the great wines. They will appear in mid-level bottles, and are increasingly common the further south you travel into the Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais and Beaujolais. Grapes include Gamay in red wines and Pinot Blanc in whites.

      Being French, the Burgundians are, needless to say, great believers in terroir. Terroir is a French word, applied to specific vineyard sites, without a direct English

translation. But roughly translated, it means the combination of soil, climate, aspect to the sun and geography, which believers maintain is a fundamental, defining influence on a finished wine. It would be easy to dismiss the adherence to terroir as little more than self-interest, but there are growing numbers of believers amongst New World wine-makers too. It’s certainly the case that there can be marked differences between two wines made from grapes grown in adjoining fields. And it’s also true that the Pinot Noir grape seems happiest on the cool limestone slopes of Burgundy (it has had only limited success when planted elsewhere in the world).

       Many wine lovers consider the highly esteemed Côte de Nuits as the home of the great red Burgundies. Here you’ll find some of Burgundy's most famous villages, such as Gevrey-Chambertin and Vosne-Romanée. Any wine from this region will be expensive, but all should be of excellent quality. The wines from each village area have their own character: sturdy, tannic and long-lived from around Nuits-St-Georges, and aristocratic, rich and complex from Vosne-Romanée. Further south, the Côte de Beaune is most famous for its white wines, but there are very good, reliable and fruity Pinot Noirs. They might lack the finesse of the best Côte de Nuits, but they are also a little cheaper. Corton is the only red Grand Cru of the Côte de Beaune, whilst Pommard is probably the most widely known red wine of the region.

         Burgundy is also home to one of the world's best-known Chardonnay wines, Chablis. This gorgeously golden wine is steely and dry, with subtle flavours of lemon and minerals. Chardonnay has of course been grown very successfully all over the world. As a variety, it’s relatively easy to grow and tolerant of a wide range of soil and climatic conditions. And Chablis, grown in the most northerly area of Burgundy, is traditionally un-oaked, setting it apart from most other top Chardonnays from Burgundy and elsewhere. Interestingly, the Cote de Beaune Chardonnay is quite different from Chablis. It is generally aged in oak barrels, and the fruit is usually riper, giving much fuller rounder wines. The best-known villages of the area include Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet.

         The Côte Chalonnaise has many fine mid-range red wines, which will cellar well. Top villages include Mercurey, Givry and Rully. And the Mâconnais is best known for its Chardonnays, which are fresh and sappy with honeysuckle aromas. The top wines come from Pouilly-Fuissé and St-Véran.

         Wines labelled Mâcon-Villages or Mâcon-Lugny, are reliable and relatively cheaper. Beaujolais can range from the light, hopefully fresh and fruity wines of Beaujolais Nouveau (although in reality, they often disappoint), to the more serious wines of the Beaujolais-Villages. The best 10 Villages have their own Appellation Controlee, and often the name ‘Beaujolais’ doesn't appear on the label. These wines are known as the ‘Crus’, and are old-school classics. Although not exactly cheap, any of these beautifully food-friendly, complex Burgundy red wine gems have the pedigree to grace any dinner table: Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Morgon, St-Amour, Côte de Brouilly, Moulin-à-Vent, Réginié and Juliénas.


Peter James


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