Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Burgundy Reds Decoded

Red Burgundy, how much I love you so! Yes, Pinot Noir is my favorite red grape and though I do drink wine made in California, Oregon, Chile and New Zealand, the best samples of Pinot Noir in the world speak French and come from Burgundy. Though these wines are pricier than samples from the new world, they are so unique and worthwhile!  Yet, a lot of people get confused about the different categories, so let’s make things easier for all the Burgundy wine lovers out there.

Check the triangle below that features the total production of Burgundy wines in any given year. On the base, we have Bourgogne Rouge, (which is the entry level category, this can be made from Pinot Noir grown in all of Burgundy). About 50% of all Burgundy wine produced fall in this first layer.  


Then, we have a step up in quality and origin, the Villages category, wine made from grapes from 1 of the 42 villages in Burgundy, some examples are: Gevrey Chambertin, Nuits Saint Georges, Volnay, Pommard, etc (see list at the end of this post). This category makes 36% of all wine produced in Burgundy. 

Then comes what I consider the creme of the crop, Premier Cru and Grand Cru. This will include all the top vineyards that were first classified in 1861. The 1er Cru vineyards are specially selected parcels within the Villages. This category makes 12% of all wine made in Burgundy.  On the labels you will recognize them because the name of vineyards will come after the name of the villages: for example: Pommard “Les Epenots”, Morey St Denis “Clos des Ormes”, Nuits St Georges “Les Cailles”. There are a total of  629 1er Crus. And finally, the best wines: the Grand Crus (single vineyards) which are 33. And how can we identify them? We identify them by their name preceded by Le/La: Le Chambertin, Le Musigny, La Tache, Le Corton, etc, also because we will only see the name of the vineyard on the label without the village , plus the words Grand Cru. Grand Crus produce only 2% of all wine produced in Burgundy. 

As we can see, the smaller the place the place where grapes grow/ appellation, the better the wine will be and the more expensive (this is due to high demand and a boutique/ tiny production).  Prices vary, Bourgogne costs $20-34,Villages costs from $35-80, Premier Cru costs $65 and up and Grand Cru $200 and above.


On your left, see the labels showing the different categories: 

a)The basic:Bourgogne Rouge, then b)Villages: Gevrey- Chambertin, c)then 1er Cru: Morey-Saint- Denis "Les Sorbets" then d)the best and most expensive wines in this group: The Grand Cru: Echezeaux. 

 Labels courtesy of Domaines Albert Bichot, map courtesy of Vins de Bourgogne.


Now, the best reds come from the north Côtes de Nuits (see map), and some from the south in the Côtes de Beaune. Both the Côtes de Nuits and the Côtes de Beaune form which is known as the Côte d’Or, the abbreviation of Côtes D’ Orient, because all vines face east to catch every single ray of sun. 

Further south, we find good but less expensive Pinot Noir in the Côte de Chalonnaise at appellations such as Rully, Mercurey and Givry. Some of these wines will cost about $35-50. 

Remember that in Burgundy, two grapes dominate: all whites are made from 100% Chardonnay, (I will explore the whites in another post) and reds from 100% Pinot Noir, no blends are allowed.

Burgundy producers put special emphasis in the terroir where grapes grow. And this started with the monks that once lived and worked these vineyards. History tell us that the monks, besides praying all day, identified the different plots and divided them, in 3 categories: 1) vineyards that were used to make wine for the Pope (top Grand Cru), 2) vineyards to make wines for the Cardinals (Premier Cru) and 3) vineyards used to make wines for the monks, (Villages and Bourgogne rouge). In 1789, after the French revolution the estate confiscated all the land from the church and auctioned it off to farmers. Later on with the rise of Napoleon, he changed the inheritance law, allowing all children to inherit equally (before this, only the eldest son inherited in a family), these two facts caused the fragmentation of the land and vineyards. This is why, it's easier to find small tiny plots owned by several owners in Burgundy. A solution to this problem came with the figure of the negociant, who usually buys grapes from different owners and makes 1 wine from them. Nowadays, negociants have come a long way, and many of them own their own vineyards. 

One of the factors that make great Pinot Noir possible in Burgundy, is the cool climate, Burgundy is located in the north of France, only Champagne is farther north. This has proven ideal for growing both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in which has been defined as a continental climate. Soils too are very important, they are rich in limestone from the Jurassic period, clay and marl. Because Pinot Noir is just a delicate variety, wines are usually aged in second hand oak (used), to impart a touch of tannin without masking their ethereal essence.


Important Villages in Burgundy: (reds)

Côte de Nuits: 

Marsannay,Fixin,Gevrey Chambertin,Morey St Denis,Chambolle Musigny,Vougeot,Flagey Echezeaux,Vosne Romanee,Nuits St Georges

Cote de Beaune:

Ladoix Serrigny,Aloxe Corton,Chorey Lès Beaune,Savigny Lès Beaune,Beaune,Pommard

Volnay,Monthélie,Auxey Duresses,Chassagne Montrachet,Santenay

Cote de Chalonnaise (farther south and cheaper)

Rully,Mercurey and Givry.

Some of these will have 1er Cru vineyards in them, in which case the name of the vineyard will appear after the village.


Grand Crus: the Grand Crus are the top vineyards and home to some of the best and most expensive Burgundy reds. Always the word Grand Cru will be added to the end.

Chambertin Clos de Beze, Chapelle Chambertin, Charmes Chambertin, Latricieres Chambertin, Le Chambertin, Mazis Chambertin, Mazoyères Chambertin, Ruchottes Chambertin, Bonnes Mares, Clos de La Roche, Clos de Lambrays, Clos de Tart, Clos St Denis, Le Musigny, Clos de Vougeot, Echézeaux, Grands Echézeaux, La Romanée,La Tâche, La Grand Rue, Richebourg, Romanée Conti, Romanée St Vivant. 


Here are 3 of my favorite Grand Cru reds that I had the pleasure to taste:

Jacques Prieur Grand Cru Echezeaux 2014, $475

Louis Jadot Clos Vougeot Domaine 2016, $215

Domaine Faiveley Corton Clos des Cortons Faiveley 2016, $215

My wine recommendations that happen to be very affordable! Thanks to Domaines Albert Bichot and Vineyard Brands for sending these!

Albert Bichot Bourgogne VV 2018, $22.99

Smooth Pinot Noir, made from grapes grown in the Cote de Beaune. It offers redcurrant and red cherry flavors, balanced by a smoky and spicy finish.

Albert Bichot Savigny Les Beaune 2017, $48.99

Vibrant and floral, this medium red features ripe strawberry and raspberry notes and a complex, focused finish. 

Vincent Girardin Bourgogne Rouge 2018, 25.99

Elegant and juicy light red shows black cherry and raspberry jam notes. Soft dusty tannins round up the finish.   

Domaine Matrot Bourgogne Rouge 2018, $33.99

Expressive Pinot Noir from grapes grown in Puligny Montrachet and Meursault, displays notes of baked cherry, earth and spice that run through the polished finish. Cheers! Silvina


















#thoughtsoflawina #burgundyred #bourgognerouge #frenchwine #WineWednesday #burgundy #bourgogne.


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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Factors that make a Great Wine

What Factors Make a Wine Great? What a question, no? 

Let's face it, most of us, if given the choice, will drink only the best wines out there. Which in some cases may be the most expensive. Of course some of us, me included, could only drink what we can afford, yet as you may see, there are great wines that don't cost you an arm and a leg. Now, price not always equals greatness, price depends not so much on the actual cost of producing a wine but on marketing, since a winemaker may decide to sell his/her wine at a specific price point, usually matching what competitors are offering. 


Oftentimes, we find two wines in the same appellation and of good quality that cost so differently.  Sometimes, it’s an issue of huge demand that drives the prices up, like in the case of some of the greatest wines from Burgundy, these are produced in very limited quantities and such a huge demand pushes the prices up. The cost of barrels will also push prices up, barrels are very expensive, so producers only age their best wines in them, (hint if the wine is aged in oak, it may mean it is good). A Winemaker’s or brand’s reputation can also push the prices up, a great review from the Wine Press will push prices up and cause the sell out of a particular brand or the other way around; a bad review can make selling a brand very hard. 


I have seen way too many producers “parkerized” their wines, meaning they make wines to the appeal of very famous wine critics (like Robert Parker) and add to that an expensive ticket price. It will usually be a wine described as a “Powerbomb”, a wine where all the elements are very noticeable: good acidity, strong tannins that provide structure and ability to age, concentrated fruit, medium plus or more alcohol since alcohol will give a big body.  I was told once, that these types of wines get better reviews because wine critics taste 100s of flights and flights of wines at a time and they decide the best ones are the ones that stand up from the crowd. But, what about other styles of wines? wines with lighter bodies?, or less structure?, should they be condemned forever? At least for me the answer is no. As I tell my students, always compare apples with apples, and not apples with lemons.

Now, diving into the topic at hand, what makes a wine great? Indeed I agree with the French here, a great wine usually comes from 1) a great terroir. Yes, I confess that I’m terroirist, I believe great wines are born in the vineyard, it is not possible to make great wine without having great fruit to begin with. Good maturation in grapes is key to make any good wine. And though grapes can grow anywhere, not every single appellation was blessed the same way, meaning with ideal conditions for viticulture. Some received better soils with good drainage, special vineyard microclimates that yield the perfect acid/sweetness combination, the perfect sun exposition and elevation, and of course very low yields. The French have defended this position always, and with reason, over the years they have produced some of the best quality wines in the world. So, is there any hope for the New World? I believe there is, since everyday we see more and more samples that can compete with the French coming from new world countries. Under terroir many things are included, like the age of the vines for example, since the older the vine the more concentrated its fruit, this is why when we see labels saying “made from grapes from 100 year old vineyards”. Old vines usually have low yields, and low yields produce more concentrated wines. Of course, the vine grower can manipulate yields with young vines too.  Yes, a great wine usually comes from a great terroir, which is the perfect match of grape variety, with a soil and a climate that will make the fruit grown in plot A, better than the fruit grown in plot B. 

Now, besides a great terroir, we also need 2) A great winemaker vision. Winemaking/ fermentation is a complex chemical process, where many things can be done to attain greatness and many can go wrong. Take for example, if the wine doesn’t have enough alcohol, let’s chaptalize it! (chaptalization is the addition of sugar, usually from beets, to get higher alcohol in wines). If the wine doesn’t have enough acidity, let’s add some, if I want specific aromas and flavors, let’s use yeasts A, instead or B, that are designed to improve the natural flavors/ aromas of certain varieties. If I want nice caramel notes, maybe use French barrels, instead of American barrels that will yield coconut flavors. If my wine is diluted, let’s do a reverse osmosis, a process that takes some of water out, to create a more concentrated wine. Should we filter or fine our wine? some critics prefer fining to filtering, since filtering remove particles from wine and with it, some of its flavors.  So many decisions to take, and like in life, it’s always good to know from the beginning where we want to go and to have control over the whole process. This includes using the most updated technology out there to make wine. Many wine appellations improved the quality of their wines in the late 1980s when they updated the tech by buying temperature controlled tanks for example. 

3)Typicity, in wine is something that many regulatory councils will look after, this is true especially in the Old World appellations (Europe) where in order to obtain a seal of quality and origin, the wines need to follow certain rules and show typicity. Typicity is the” je ne se quoi” element that connects all the wines for that category and geography together and in some cases, this also relates to vintages. It's connected to the geography and therefore terroir. This is why some critics disapprove of wines made from flying winemakers that go through different appellations in the world, creating cookie cutter styles, also known as "International Styles".  Take for an example a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and a Pouilly Fume, they are made from the same grape variety but are completely different styles and anybody that tastes them can see this.

4) Ability to age is another thing to consider when talking about quality. Most wine professionals will agree that a great wine must have some ability to age. What does it mean? that all long lived wine must be of quality? Probably. Yet not only it is important to stand the test of time, but it’s important what happens inside the bottle during aging, i.e. the ability of any wine to develop complex flavors that are not seen/present in a young wine; the ability to improve with time. I think that here one has to compare among the same items, certain wines have a shorter ability to age, like maybe 2-3 years and we can’t compare these with wines that have an ability to age of 30 or plus years. However, good quality can be found in the first group as long as it is compared to similar wines/ styles.  

5) Balance of the elements, I left this to the end, because this for me is the most important thing that a wine of quality should have: Balance! And this is not easy to get, many times I tasted wines with way too much alcohol, way too much tannins (though this can be solved by aging the wine for a while). High acidity is another problem, too much sweetness another problem. The only too much that I can tolerate is too much fruit, I prefer my wines fruit forward, so here at least for me, the more the better. However, too much overripeness is not welcome either, if I wanted to drink wines made of raisins, I would drink PX Sherry or sweet Amarone, (wines that were actually created as such). So a note to all producers out there in warm appellations, be very careful, and make an effort to preserve freshness, by not extending extra hang time. 

Of course, we can’t get all this info described above from a label, so when in doubt, you can also use 2 more important tools, a) stick to good producers and b) stick to good importers. a) it is self explanatory, there are plenty of good producers out there, and also great/ star winemakers, so follow those, for example: Nicolas Catena, Piero Antinori, Angelo Gaja, Alvaro Palacios, etc. It may require some research but it's so worthwhile. b) Also follow a good importer, the name of the importer will always appear on the bottle, and I know what you are thinking, importers only care about making money. Yet most of them, also have wonderful tasting palates, so it is no surprise that you often like wines from the same importer. Some I like and know are: Europvin, Jorge Ordonez for Spanish wines, Thierry Thiese for German wines, Kermit Lynch, Vineyard Brands, etc.

Finally, remember as the wise Emile Peynaud said: “We drink the wine we deserve”, meaning that as long as (us) customers continue to drink mass produced wines without personality, these producers will keep their business. So let’s give our money to those who care and aim higher, after all, we are worth it!  Cheers! Silvina.


So looking forward to visiting some vineyards soon! #greatwine #thoughtsoflawina #WineWednesday

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