A Quest For Heavenly Burgundy

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - June 02, 2006
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The search for great Burgundy is heralded by many as the ultimate quest. Some even say it’s akin to the quest for the Holy Grail.

But it’s often the reason wine lovers say they don’t like to spend so much money on Burgundy when they can buy other wines which are more consistent, or that Burgundy is over-rated. Many wine writers even admit that most of the wine that comes out of Burgundy does not meet the quality standard that it should.

As an avid Burgundy lover, I think there is much more to this story than meets the palate.

First of all, I think most wine drinkers still do not “understand” Pinot Noir as a grape variety. The Sideways phenomenon has helped tremendously in people’s exposure to this most fickle and elegant of reds. But the number of Pinot Noir drinkers is still dwarfed by the number of those who drink Cabernet Sauvignon. Pinot Noir as a wine is “quieter” in a sense than most other varietals. It does not have such impactful or easily noticeable aromas as Cabernet or Shiraz. And as a thin-skin grape, it does not have the same thickness or texture that other reds enjoy. What it does have is elegance and finesse, the sexy, sultry and seductive essence that no other grape can come close to. It also expresses its origins almost better than any other grape. It is the wine that whispers in your ear and caresses your palate rather than grabs you by the neck and smothers you. On the white side, most Americans are raised on big, buttery, oaky, lower-acid Chardonnay from California, not the generally lighter, more acidic Chardonnay of Burgundy.

Add to all this the earthiness found in great Burgundy, to which most people are not accustomed, or don’t like, and you have all the makings for disapproval and misunderstanding.

Consistency is something plenty of wine drinkers say is lacking in Burgundy. Is it so consistent everywhere else? Did you find a favorite Cabernet right away? It’s easy to say that the wines of another area are more consistent, but do you buy all the different producers from, let’s just say, Bordeaux? Probably not. You drink your favorite Chateaux from your favorite commune because those are the ones you like.

Well, what if you only drank Premier Cru and Grand Cru (the top two ranking vineyards in Burgundy) and only from your favorite producers in Burgundy? It’s just a natural translation to what you already do for California, Australia and everywhere else. The consistency would be at an all-time high.

At a dinner with other Burgundy fanatics, a fellow master sommelier remarked that after having so many of the so-called “greatest” producers of Burgundy, he thought that none of the wines “rang his bell.” It exhibited a common disappointment in many drinkers looking to have an angel singing to them from a glass every time they open a bottle of Burgundy. Yes, surely that is what every wine drinker wants in every glass of wine, but shouldn’t Burgundy also have the same margin for error that all other wines enjoy? Does every bottle of Barolo, Merlot or Riesling “ring the bell”? The mentality of the Burgundy lover is that they would still rather be drinking Burgundy than anything else. It’s like a surfer wanting the best breaks and the least people out there, but as long as they are catching waves, “it’s all good.”

In the end, there is nothing that can compare to a heavenly Burgundy, one that buckles your knees and is more than indescribable. I’ve had them before, and for my part, I will continue my relentless search for that Holy Grail of all wines.

Burgs for the Burgundy lover in you:

* 2002 Domaine ColinDeleger Chassagne Montrachet $40.

Beautiful nose of white fruits and flowers laden with a light chalkiness that adds complexity. Elegant and seemless, a delectable white that is worth the search.

* 2004 A&P de Villaine Mercurey ‘Montots’ $25.

Sweet cherry and raspberry fruit with a whiff of wet stone. Super sultry and velvety, it makes you want to drink more. A superb value!

* 2002 Meo-Camuzet Clos de Vougeot, Grand Cru $165.

A reference standard for this vineyard. It gushes with fruit and stone, luscious texture and tremendous intensity. This is not your everyday wine.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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