viernes, 27 de septiembre de 2013

Burgundy Wine


Winemaking was spread through Gaul by the Romans, starting in 125 BC. Vineyards were first planted in Provence and near Narbonne, before making their way to the North. The history of wine in Burgundy can be summarised by five key dates:

- 312 saw the first written evidence of the presence of vineyards near Beaune. This was in the form of a petition, sent to the Emperor Constantine by the inhabitants of Autun, in which they complained about the poor condition of the vineyards and asked for lower taxes;

- In 630, the Duke of Burgundy granted the Abbey of Beze a large estate in Gevrey-Chambertin, which was to become the Clos de Beze (and has not changed its name since). This laid the foundations for the winegrowing monks who would later clear the land and mark out the limits of the future Cote de Beaune grands crus;

- In 1395, an edict from Philip Le Hardi, Duke of Burgundy, ordered that gamay vines, described by him as "disloyal", should be pulled out, and pinot noir, producing a more refined grape, be planted in its place. This is how the notion of Burgundies as quality wines came into being;

- In 1790, the abbey vineyards were sold as national property. The Clos de Vougeot, the Clos de Tart, and the Romanee Saint-Vivant - which were the jewels in Burgundy's crown - were bought by the local and Parisian bourgeoisie;

- Between 1880 and 1890, phylloxera arrived in Burgundy. All the vines had to be pulled up and replanted on American rootstock. The last diseased vineyard to be pulled up was the Romanee-Conti, in 1944.


Geologists agree that the great vintages (grand crus) of the Cote d'Or, share a number of features:

- They are all planted on slopes, at altitudes of between 250 and 300m. For example, Corton grand crus are planted on 20% slopes in some places! The vines of less prestigious appellations are grown lower down;

- Stony soil. The best land has a stone content of between 5 and 20%. This is often shown in the names (Les Cras, les Caillerets, from the French caillou, meaning stone). The stones help to bounce back heat and to drain away the water when it rains;

- Not too much clay, and quite a lot of chalk. The best vineyard sites have a clay content of between 30 and 45%, and a chalk content of between 10 and 50%: these soils are sufficiently poor and dry to be tough on the vine and get the best from it.

• Romanée-Conti, the most expensive wine in the world: The price per bottle is between 457 and 915€, which is a huge price for a tiny appellation: 1 hectare, 80 ares and 50 centiares. It is not the smallest appellation (romanee, the grand cru next door to it, covers less than one hectare), but it produces only 6,000 bottles a year in total.

This red wine is a condensate of the pinot noir palette; it is supple, rich, powerful, and elegant. The production methods are of course extremely strict: the vines only produce an average of 20 hectolitres per hectare (3 grapes per plant).

• The Clos de Vougeot: 50 hectares, 81 producers The Clos de Vougeot was cleared by the Cistercian monks as early as the 12th century. They marked out three areas: the upper part of the Clos, which was the best, the middle part which was very good, and the bottom part, which was less sought after.

When the French Revolution arrived, it was all sold and has been divided up bit by bit through family inheritances.


81 owners currently share the 50.6 hectares originally set out by the monks. Each looks after his own property in his own way. This means that there may be 243 different types of wine all bearing the same name.

Eight varieties of vine are currently authorised for growing in Burgundy: aligoté, gamay, pinot beurot, melon, sauvignon blanc and césar (the last three can only be grown in the Northern part of the region), pinot noir and chardonnay. However, it is the last two that are the most prestigious and the most widespread.

• Chardonnay: This is a white vine variety, which gives a white juice, and that has been successfully grown in every country where this has been attempted: Australia, the United States, Austria, Argentina, South Africa, etc. It is of course very easy to grow. However, it prefers soils that are marly and quite clayey.

Its plus points are:
- It is vigorous and productive.
- It ages very well in oak casks.
- It gives pure, refined and intense aromas with limy soil.

Its minus points are:
- It is sensitive to spring frost.
- Its thin skin makes it prone to grey rot.

• Pinot noir: This is a black variety giving a white juice. Its extremely complex aromas make it difficult to grow outside Burgundy, where it likes well drained chalky slopes.

plus points:
- complex aromas: fruity (blackcurrant, morello cherry) when very young, earthy (tobacco, hay, mushrooms) with some soils, and refined (wild strawberry and kirsch) with other types of soil.
- Early maturing: suited to cool climates.

minus points:
- It is genetically unstable and tends to mutate and degenerate.
- It is only suited to low yields.
- It is prone to grey rot.
- It tends to naturally produce wines that are weak in colour.

• Other varieties:

- Aligoté: a white grape, only authorised in the bourgogne aligoté appellation, in Bouzeron and Crémant de Bourgogne. Its selling points are its acidity, its vivacity, and its robustness, which allows it to withstand all types of soils and diseases.

- Gamay: a red variety, authorised for reasons of historical survival in the bourgogne, bourgogne passetoutgrains (maximum 2/3) and bourgogne grand ordinaire (BGO) appellations. However, it is happier on the Beaujolais' granite slopes than on the limy slopes of the Côte.

- Pinot beurot: a white grape, also known as «pinot gris» in Alsace. The pinot beurot is an historical oddity, and an extremely small minority variety (2% of the vine growing area), which is authorised in red wines, where it adds an element of softness and fullness.

- Sauvignon: this white variety, well known in the Bordeaux area for its grapefruit aroma, has found the right soil in Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, south of Auxerre.

- César: a red variety established in the Yonne area, mostly around Irancy and Epineuil. Strong in colour, rich in tannins, and highly productive, it creates robust wines and combines well with pinot noir.

- Melon: the Burgundians brought it to the Loire under the name of muscadet. It produces fruity white wine that should be drunk when young.


• Yonne: around 5,400 hectares of vineyards.
- Chablis: 40,000 hectares before the phylloxera epidemic, 4,075 today. The only 'terroirs' to have survived were the best ones or the easiest to cultivate, divided into petit chablis, chablis, chablis premier cru and chablis grand cru.
- Auxerre: Irancy (an "appellation communale" since 1999), Chitry, Saint-Bris-le-Vineux and Coulanges-la-Vineuse produce good red and white burgundies that are fruity and well balanced.
- Tonnerre: Epineuil, Tonnerre, Vézelay and Joigny: these small vineyards (320 hectares in total) are the last refuge for two ancient burgundy varieties: pinot gris and melon.

• Côte de Nuits: about 1,700 hectares of vineyards. This appellation starts south of Dijon and north of Fixin and ends south of Corgoloin: it is 20 km long and faces due east. It produces mostly red wines, including the famous romanée-conti.

• Côte de Beaune: about 3,600 hectares of vineyards. This appellation starts north of Ladoix-Serrigny and ends in the Saône-et-Loire department. It faces east-southeast and produces reds and 'great whites', especially around Meursault and Puligny- Montrachet.

• The Hautes Côtes de Nuits et de Beaune: About 1,330 hectares of vineyards. These used to be called the 'arrière-côte', or back slope, as a reminder that they are parallel to the Côte, but located behind and further to the west. Their new name is also a reflection of reality: the Hautes Côtes reach a height of 425m, compared with the Côte's 250-300m. Whites and reds are produced in this appellation.

• Côte chalonnaise: about 4,000 hectares of vineyards. This appellation starts at Chagny and extends over some 25km in the Saône-et-Loire department west of Chalon-sur-Saône. It produces reds, whites and 'crémant', which is a slightly sparkling white.

• Mâconnais: about 7,000 hectares of vineyards. The south starts here! From here on everything is mellower: the climate, the roof slopes, and the hills. The reds from this area are made mostly from the gamay grape, and it is the whites that stand out, particularly the Pouilly-Fuissé and the Saint-Véran.

• Beaujolais: about 22,000 hectares of vineyards. There is a geological continuity between Maçonnais and Beaujolais that makes it possible to include Beaujolais as a part of winegrowing Burgundy, even though it is controlled by professional bodies that are separate from the rest of Burgundy.


- A bit of history: Where does the name of its main town - Nuits-Saint-Georges come from? For a long time, historians thought that it was named this way because it is an area planted with walnut groves (nucaria means walnut in latin). This was before they looked into the area's Celtic past. Nowadays, it is thought that Nuits comes from 'noue', which means water or a damp area. This indicates that before being a great wine area, the Cote was also home to marshes that the monks patiently drained.

- Why red wines?: The Cote de Nuits' vineyard sites date back to the middle Jurassic period. They are older than those of the Beaune area, have a limestone base, and are fissured with numerous narrow faults that let water circulate: this is ideal for pinot noir and "grands vins".

- The brotherhood of the Knights of Tastevin: Created in 1934, right in middle of the crisis period, its aim was to make Burgundy wine better known. To this end, it organised 16 'chapters' a year in the Clos-de-Vougeot Chateau. These are gala events in which knights become knighted ambassadors for good wine. Two Chapters are particularly important: the Trois Glorieuses, in November, and the Rolling Saint-Vincent.

The latter is so named because this festival, held in honour of the patron Saint of winegrowers, is organised in turns by the Burgundy villages.

The brotherhood also manages the 'tastevinage', whereby a label is awarded to the best wines after tasting.


- A bit of history: "Beaune wine, a wine that is not too yellow", wrote the poet Henri d'Andeli circa 1220.12th century vineyard maps also mention Beaune (but forget to mention Nuits!). The appellation became better known with the arrival of roads, and later the railway, which was the only way of getting the wine to Paris quickly.

- A bit of geology: The Beaune soil is chalky, making it similar to that of Nuits, but is less harsh. This means that the slopes of the "Cote de Beaune" are less steep. At the same time, the ground is more fractured and therefore less homogenous. There is fossil limestone (Meursault), as well as red ferruginous soils (Pommard), so that red and white varieties thrive equally well. However, in Beaune as in Nuits, the vineyards face due east, getting the full early morning sun, which is an important factor at this latitude.

- The Hospices de Beaune: In 1443, Nicolas Rollin, the Duke of Burgundy's Chancellor, touched by the poverty caused by the Hundred Years War, decided to found a 'hotel-dieu' (hospital) in Beaune. It remained in use until 1983! As the years went by, benefactors bequeathed vineyards to the Hospices. The auctioning of the wines produced began in 1859, taking place on the third Sunday in November. This is the high point of the 'Trois Glorieuses', Burgundy's three-day festival, with the Chapter at the Clos de Vougeot on Saturday, the auction at the Hospices on Sunday and Paulee de Meursault on Monday.


The pyramid of Burgundian vintages (Beaujolais included):
- Grand Cru: 0.8% of production
32 Côte-d'Or grand crus, 1 Chablis grand cru (with 5 "noms de climat"). E.g. corton, chablis grand cru la mountonne.
- Premier Cru: 5.2% of production
562 'appelation communale' wines followed by a nom de climat classed as a premier cru (beaune premier cru les grevès).
- AOC Communales: 30% of production.
52 'appellation communale' wines. E.g. irancy, beaune.
- AOC Régionales: 64% of production
26 AOC régionales
. Generic: bourgogne, bourgogne aligoté, bourgogne passetoutgrains, crémant.
. Par of region: mâcon-villages, hautes-côtes de beaune, bourgogne épineuil.

If Beaujolais is not included, the percetages stand as (Figures from Vins de Bourgogne by Pitot & Servant):
- AOC Grand Crus: 1.7 %
- AOC Comunales premier cru: 11.2 %
- AOC Comunales: 34 %
- AOC Régionales: 54 %

Burgundy and Bordeaux: comparative figures
The Burgundy and Bordeaux regions are often presented as great rivals. In fact, they have little in common:
- The Bordeaux vineyard is 2.5 times larger than Burgundy, Beaujolais included.
- There are nearly twice as many appellations in Burgundy (98 appellations in Burgundy - Beaujolais excluded - and 57 in Bordeaux).

Who makes wine in Burgundy?:
- 4,900 estates, 115 trading houses, 19 co-operative cellars.
- 61 % of the wines are whites, 39% are reds.

Wine traders/maturers (négociant-éleveurs):
'négociant-éleveur' can be seen on nearly three quarters of all bottles of Burgundy. What does it mean? In Burgundy, winemakers have always bought grapes or wine from vine growers straight from the press to then mature the wine in casks. This is why they are called 'éleveurs' (literally maturers): they don't buy a finished wine that they can just stick their label onto.

Who owns the Grands Crus?
The Grands Crus represent 2% of wine production. 3/4 of these belong to vine growing families. However, 23% belong to wine merchants.


- Appellation Beaune contrôlée: you could equally see "appellation Beaune premier cru contrôlée" or "appellation contrôlée". One of the three wordings must appear on all bottles of Burgundy (where no vin de pays or table wine is produced).

- Clos des Mouches: the name of the particular 'climate'. Here we can only tell that it is a premier cru by guessing, as it is not compulsory to state this on the label. Note the difference in size between "Beaune" and "Clos des Mouches". This is because Clos is a well known climate.

- Récolte du domaine (estate picked): indicates that Joseph Drouhin is the owner of the Clos des Mouches and that he has not bought in grapes from other vine growers. The use of the word 'domaine' (estate) (as in "mis en bouteille au domaine" -estate bottled) is exclusively reserved for vineyard owners.

- Mis en bouteille par (bottled by):
. « Joseph Drouhin »: indicates a wine trader or a vine grower. To find must out whether the wine was bottled by one or the other, you that the wine has been bottled by the vine grower. However, bear in mind that a number of caps are customised and no longer show this standard information.

. "Joseph Drouhin, propriétaire-récoltant" (owner/harvester) or "viticulteur" (grower) or "mis en bouteille au château" (château bottled) indicate that the bottler is the owner of the vineyards and that it is a private cellar.

. "Joseph Drouhin, négociant éleveur": indicates a wine merchant.

. "Cave des Vignerons de Beaune": indicates a cooperative.


Monopolies: a local speciality Such jewels as the Clos de Tart and the Romanée-Conti are surrounded by walls ("murgers", made from piled-up dry stones) and are often fronted by a gate and a capital bearing the name of the owner. To this day they are still owned by a single family or trader and represent monopolies.

The story of Kir:  Kir, which is a blackcurrant liqueur from Burgundy, is 2/3 aligoté, and 1/3 Cassis de Bourgogne. The recipe for blanc'cass, known as 'kir' in Burgundy, was invented by the mayor of Dijon early in the 20th century. At the time, blackcurrant liqueur and 'petits vins blancs' were selling badly and the Mayor thought ofsenring this cocktail to his guests. The concoction was then taken up by Canon Kir, who was mayor between 1945 and 1968, and because the name sounded good he remained associated with it.


• Selecting the right glass:
- A rounded glass for reds, to hold in the particularly delicate aromas of pinot noir.
- A narrower glass for whites, to bring out the acidity.  
• Decanting: a word of caution
Pinot noir is a variety with a fragile colour and aromas: an old burgundy is more susceptible to oxidation than a bordeaux. If you decant it, you may end up with a reddish-brown, flat wine. However, oxygen may add life to vintages that age well and often have a closed nose: 1993,1995 and 1996.

• Choosing the right temperature.
-14° to 16° for reds (no more, otherwise the alcohol will overpower the fruit).
-12° for whites (no less or the aromas will be masked by the soft fullness).

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