Burgundy. For wine freaks, the name alone conjures thoughts of stony-crisp Chablis, berry-embued Pinot Noir, and some of the finest wooded Chardonnays in the world — all impeccably balanced, suggestively restrained, and bearing the potential of a slow mind-body seduction. I’m almost certainly in love with the region.
But Burgundy is a bit crazy. And getting involved with it, taking it to dinner for instance, is a high-risk proposition. Generally, you have to know and accept that going in.
First, Burgundy is a land of hundreds of small grower-producers, most of which make tiny quantities of wine. And quality varies wildly maker-to-maker, year-to-year.
Secondly, the region is more fragmented geographically than any other wine areas in France. About 150 appellations, called AOCs, and more than 500 vineyard-specific regions may appear on labels. And place seriously matters in Burgundy because where the fruit is grown dictates the style, flavor and structure of the wine.
And forget about looking for a grape variety on the label. Minor exceptions aside, Burgundian law forbids this practice. Although most whites are Chardonnay and most reds are Pinot Noir, but the French would argue varietal labeling would oversimplify things.
Thirdly, worldwide demand for Burgundy outstrips supply every year. Obviously then, even medicore bottles can fetch high prices if the right appellations appear on the labels. So huge opportunity exists for overpricing, which occurs. Often.
It all boils down to this: You need to really know what you’re doing when setting your sights on Burgundy. And if you don’t have time to play the game properly, either buy from a merchant who specializes in the region or choose wines from a reliable negociant.
Negociant is a French term. It means a wine merchant who buys fruit and juice from smaller growers and winemakers to sell under its own name. Negociants buy in fruit and blend for stylistic consistency to create reliability for wine drinkers, which is a value proposition many smaller makers can’t always offer.
To point in the right direction, here’s a list of Burgundy negotiants to trust:
Maison Louis Jadot
Bouchard Pere et Fils
Maison Louis Latour
Maison Joseph Drouhin
Look for these names on labels; they seldom disappoint.
Carolyn is the wine columnist for The Toronto Star newspaper and Star Touch. Her work is syndicated through a number of other daily newspapers; she also critiques wine every Wednesday on her video blog, The Wine Find at GoingGlobalTV.com; and she contributes seasonally to Taste Magazine in British Columbia.
Carolyn received her formal sommelier qualifications from the Wine and Spirit Trust in London, has written two best-selling wine books, and is a longstanding member of the Circle of Wine Writers. She is a seasoned wine educator, judge, and media personality with 20 years of journalism experience. She has appeared on Canada AM, CITY-TV, BON TV and GoingGlobalTV.com, and her reviews and articles have appeared in such eminent publications as Decanter, Wine Spectator, Wine & Spirit International, The Times (London), Maclean’s, Taste magazine and others. In short, she has earned her street cred. Now she spends her time tasting wine (on your behalf, of course) and telling it like it is.
Finding you your next great wine is her calling. Along the way, she has shown living well doesn’t have to be pricey or pretentious. Just takes a little know-how, and maybe a corkscrew.
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