Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 6

6 12 2017

By Raymond Lamontagne

Some scenarios just have a way of falling into place, as if the cosmos itself simply knows what must occur from a karmic standpoint. Other times life is total cluster- … errr … bomb. This is fortunately one of the former occasions. After drawing my favorite white grape for my first blogging stint of the Bricks Wine Advent extravaganza, I have now landed my favorite red: the enigmatic, protean, finicky, and sometimes sublime Pinot Noir. Oh, Burgundy. Pinot reaches its loftiest heights here and yet detractors are quick to point out how many “horrible” Burgundies are routinely encountered. Yes, quality is massively variable in this (in)famous region. My view is that a word like horrible drastically overstates the case. A cheap Burgundy is often a pleasant sip, rather like how mediocre pizza is still pretty good hangover food. The allure of Pinot for many (myself included) is correlated with this metaphorical roll of the dice. Will the elegant red liquid in your large-bowled glass be superlatively sophisticated, characterized by a solid core of red or perhaps black fruit, yet earthy and herbaceous, redolent with what the French call “sous bois” or “forest floor”?  Or will it be rustic, crude, elemental and untamed, perhaps reeking of “animale”, another evocative French term that refers to aromas and flavors of funky wild game: well-cured meat with a slight seasoning of fur and bile. You will know this characteristic right away if like me you grew up around hunters and hunting. Or, just maybe, you’ll get a wine that splits the difference between refined and bucolic. These latter offerings can be marvelous from a complexity standpoint. If you do your research, and Burgundy requires more research than any other wine region, you should be able to divine what’s in your bottle. To a point. You might still be surprised.


Well … What happened here?

Burgundy is about terroir. Unfortunately, making sense of a Burgundian wine label can be daunting (also looking at you, Italy). The only way to untangle the Gordian knot is to study up on the mess of subregions, domaines, villages, premier crus, grand crus, and climats, so that you have some schematic for how these concepts all fit together. Why? I suppose for academic interest. But perhaps more importantly, this will also enable you to gauge potential quality. Let me walk you through this label right here on Advent wine #6. “Vin de Bourgogne” means “wine of Burgundy”, a helpful starting point. “Vendanges” means “harvest” or vintage, right there above “2014”. The absence of the phrase “Bourgogne Rouge” or something similar means that this wine is not at the lowest quality tier. However, seeing “Bourgogne” in such large print is an important clue that you are not looking at a highly prestigious wine from a specific vineyard (a premier or grand cru). These titles speak for themselves, or so goes the logic. If you have managed to memorize the villages and crus, and a hardcore Burgundy lover WILL attempt to do so, you should notice that no such names appear here. At this point you can calibrate your expectations downward but hopefully still keep an open mind.  “Cote Chalonnaise” and the associated appellation text is the key to cracking this case. This is a regional appellation that covers more territory than a village or vineyard, but sitting one tier above generic Burgundy. Voila. You now have a rough indication of quality. I wish we were done. One can now deduce that “Vignerons de Buxy” is the wine producer, and it turns out that “Bussonnier” refers to a range or line of wines from said winemaker, a trade name I suppose, which one could learn only by researching the specific wine in question. An aside: It is rather uncommon to see Pinot Noir named on a Burgundy bottle. Another indirect quality indicator, perhaps? Or maybe just marketing due to the lingering aftershocks of the Sideways effect and the New World’s unmitigated success in selling varieties?



Hopefully you are still reading after all that. I am truly sorry. Although the Cote Challonaise carries far less prestige than the Cote D’Or to the north, with flatter land and more fertile soil, some of Burgundy’s best value for money can be found here. The reds develop quickly, typically drinkable after a year or 18 months in the bottle, and yet many can be cellared to boot. Almost sounds like the proverbial free lunch. Buxy is a village in which 120 families have pooled resources to farm the vineyards and make the wine as a commune. Wines are aged in an old railway tunnel hacked into the limestone. Although these guys use traditional Burgundian winemaking techniques, an oenologist is brought in every year to provide a re-assessment to aid quality for the following vintage. Vignerons de Buxy have had sufficient success to deem themselves “the ambassador for the wines of southern Burgundy”.


Simplified (right?!) Burgundy Quality Hierarchy:


Let’s finally delve in. A whiff greets the drinker with some classic cranberry and mushroom notes, against a backdrop of clove, rose petal, and thyme. This nose rewards patience and careful attention. Is that a hint of wet fur? A sip reveals some additional raspberry, pomegranate, truffle, peppered beef jerky, and gun smoke elements. I am getting the flat cola descriptor that is sometimes used to derogate lesser appellations (“brown spice” if one wants to be more polite), but I’m also noting some pleasing brambly, floral, and meaty back country Pinot character. This is full of roses and thorny red fruits, with a bit more body than the light color would suggest (yet still quite thin). Some tannic grip as well. I might ratchet down the spicy oak, admittedly a frequent beef of mine, and dial up that “animale” smoky bouquet just a hair … But I’m going to conclude that this is a…gasp …good value. The flavors are not entirely integrated. Better than cheap pizza but not a filet mignon. My biggest recommendation as a Burgundy lover is to appreciate the diversity as a blessing rather than a curse. My second biggest recommendation as a Burgundy lover is to study hard. This will pay off huge in terms of your enjoyment. Wine is captivating because it tastes amazing..and because it makes us think.

88 points


Damascenone: Compound that contributes to rose aromas in Pinot Noir.



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