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Burgundy – A Dangerous Luxury

Burgundy can be a great wine, but there are too many disappointing bottles, even if you pay top prices.

I’m not going to talk much about wines from the minor areas – the Hautes Cotes, and the south. I don’t like the wines much, and I would rather have a New World Pinot or Chardonnay. This is about the wines of the named villages of the Cote d’Or. The southern part, the Cote de Beaune, is the source of most white wines, and (slightly) cheaper and stronger tasting reds. The Cote de Nuits is almost entirely devoted to lighter, aromatic reds.

Quality of course varies. Traditionally there are three factors: the vintage, the vineyard, and the maker. The vintage used to be the main cause of variation. A cool year will tend to give more acidic wine – better for Chardonnay than for Pinot Noir. A very hot year can give wines that might have come from anywhere in the New World. Nowadays, improved techniques and technology have given the grower and the maker much more control over the finished product, so the style is more a matter of choice than chance. Vineyards are classified as ‘village’, premier cru or grand cru. Unlike other regions, Burgundy vineyards are often split between several growers, with some only having a row or two. This means that wines even the same named plot and vintage, can vary considerably.

All this means that the style and quality of the wine that you get is dependent largely on the maker. A minor wine from a great producer can be considerably cheaper and better than a theoretically higher grade wine from someone with poorer equipment or techniques. The wine is likely to be better going into the bottle, and there is less chance of faulty when you come to drink it.

I’m not going to give you an absolute list. I don’t taste enough Burgundy to make informed decisions. Start with some decent reference books – Wine Behind the Label, some of the French critics, perhaps still Remington Norman. Go to (or run) some tastings. Talk to merchants who specialise: but not until you have a good background knowledge, or you will be sold what no-one else will buy. And good luck!

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