Well, I couldn’t very well write a New Year’s manifesto geared around a promise to drink more Burgundy and then not follow it up with a bottle of Burgundy, so here we are. However, this might paradoxically be my last bottle from my 2012 classic wine region of choice for a little while. With some (much-needed) professional help, I am currently formulating a buying and drinking plan for Burgundy that will hopefully maximize my drinking and learning experience within the budget and time window that I have, but since I need to source (and pay for) the wines before this francophilic journey gets underway, you may not hear more about it for a couple weeks. Even so, rest assured that I have not abandoned my resolution that quickly, and take tonight’s bottle as a symbol of my new Burgundian spirit of adventure. Or something.
One issue that I and other Burgundy neophytes have to deal with when we’re in that section of the wine shop are the bottle labels: they’re almost all uniformly boring, and unless you’ve read a few dozen wine books, they almost all contain words that on their surface don’t appear to offer any assistance in telling you what the wine inside is all about. The key thing to remember when trying to decipher a Burgundian label is that they are first and foremost all about the land: exactly where the grapes come from and (possibly) how that location has been historically ranked for quality. The sub-regions of Burgundy are set up as a series of concentric circles, with the smallest ones (top quality single vineyards given the esteemed Premier Cru [very good] or Grand Cru [best] classifications) falling within larger ones (village appellations that include all of the vineyards located by one of the towns in Burgundy like Nuits-St-Georges, Gevrey-Chambertin or Meursault) falling within the general regional appellation of Bourgogne. Any wines simply labelled “Bourgogne” are made with grapes that can come from anywhere in Burgundy. Think of it like a dartboard, with Grand Cru/Premier Cru in the middle, village wines the next ring out and Bourgogne the outer border. Even though the smaller appellations are nested within the larger ones, a wine will always take the narrowest regional name possible (and its prestige and selling price will increase the smaller the sub-region is). A wine made from grapes from the Grand Cru vineyard of La Tache near the village of Vosne-Romanee in north-central Burgundy will be labelled “La Tache Grand Cru” (and will likely also contain the phrase “Appellation La Tache Controlée” somewhere on the label, confirming that “La Tache” is the name of the appellation in question) instead of “Vosne-Romanee” or “Bourgogne”, even though the grapes are technically from both that village area and that general region. Make sense? I almost lost myself in that paragraph, so fingers crossed.
Tonight’s wine is not from the Grand Cru vineyard of La Tache (which costs thousands of dollars a bottle); it is a base-level Bourgogne rouge made from grapes sourced from three different Burgundy villages (Volnay, Pommard and Savigny-Les-Beaune). Interestingly, the label contains a piece of info that almost no other bottle of Burgundy does: the name of the grape used, Pinot Noir. In almost all cases, you just have to know that red Burgundy comes from Pinot Noir and white Burgundy comes from Chardonnay, but, possibly because the producer Alex Gambal is American, he has followed the New World practice of listing the grape on the bottle. While Bourgogne rouge will obviously not highlight the particular intricacies and characteristics of specific villages or vineyards, it can be a good non-bank-breaking way to get a sense of what this region is all about.
The colour of the wine immediately caught my attention as I poured my first glass: it was much less thin and transparent as I expected, still featuring characteristic Pinot Noir paleness but with a rich maroon/violet core that I couldn’t see all the way through. There was a bit of a farm-y/funky odour on the top of the nose (not enough to make me think there was a problem with the bottle), followed by notes of raspberry, earth (and I don’t mean this in any abstract way…I mean dirt), violets, metal and oak-induced sawdust. It was classic Pinot on the palate, light in body with sharp acidity, fairly mild levels of dusty tannin, well-integrated alcohol and a moderate but clean finish, and its flavour profile was quite restrained, with a little cherry and other red fruit peeking through past more austere pomegranate/citrus notes before giving way to topsoil and pencil lead (which is a common wine descriptor but something that I rarely pick up in my glass…maybe I should have chowed down on more No. 2 pencils in elementary school). All in all, not overly complex and not something that motivates immediate conversion to the cult of Burgundy, but a thoroughly solid example of grape and region, which is always a good way to start any exploratory wine mission.
$30 to $40 CDN