BARREL TASTING THE GRAND CRUS OF BURGUNDY
In Burgundy I tasted magical vineyard appellations with magical names: Mersault, Pommard, Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet, Nuits-Saint-Georges.
Having been here for a grand total of four days I am now an Expert (notice the capital E) on the wines of Burgundy, or Bourgogne, as we Experts like to call it. This much I can tell you – there are red Burgundy wines and there are white Burgundy wines and they are very good. Especially the expensive ones.
But even Experts can learn, and so I met with Christine Botton, the oenologist at Louis Jadot, one of of the major wine producers of the region. After listening to her explain a bit about the astounding complexity of Burgundian wine classification I finally began to understand the supreme importance of terroir to the wines of the region – how slight differences in soil conditions, slope of the land, and other factors can make a profound impact on wine. It's why one vineyard only 50 meters wide can produce wines distinctly different from its neighbouring vineyard, also 50 meters wide.
In Burgundy only two grape varieties are used – Chardonnay for the whites and Pint Noir for the reds. This is totally unlike the regions like the Côtes du Rhône in southern France, where some of the appellations are allowed to use up to 14 different grapes in their cuvées, or blends.
Locally, around here, I have heard it said that there are over 1200 wines produced in the area surounding the city of Beaune, and Christine told me that Louis Jadot alone produces over 130 wines. Christine gave a quick tour of her pristine winemaking facility and then, unexpectedly, took me to the underground cellars where we barrel-tasted a couple dozen of the 130 wines aging there.
In case that's not clear, let me say it again: I spent the afternoon barrel tasting the Grand Crus of Burgundy. Just me, Mr Swinging, and the winemaker of Louis Jadot. And that's, like, pretty cool for a couple of hicks from the backwoods. Even if we now are Wine Experts.
During the tasting tour Christine also opened a 1998 Chablis and a 1999 Nuits Saint-Georges. These were half-bottles stored in the Special Section of the cellar that had never even been labelled. The details were written on the bottles with a wax pencil. ANYWAY, the Chablis was like no Chablis I had ever heard of or even imagined, much less tasted.
Christine, who regularly has to taste dozens of different wines in the space of an afternoon, sampled each wine and then spat it out. I reluctantly followed her example, though a few rivulets of the elixir did course down my throat every now and then.
After we sampled each cuvée, we poured our remaining wine into Christine's glass, which she then poured back into the barrel, not wasting a drop. She then marked the barrel with a special token so it would be topped off tomorrow with additional wine, leaving no air space in the barrel, thereby preventing oxidation. What this means is that some of our DNA is likely to be in the vintage burgundy you are probably drinking right now.
We tasted magical vineyard appellations with magical names – Beaune, of course, Mersault, Pommard, Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Pernand-Vergalesses, and other hyphenated names that a week ago meant nothing to me but now are like fairytale tingling tones. See, I told you I was an Expert (with the capital...).
In actuality, the system is so complex that it takes years of study and tasting even to begin to fathom it. Luckily, I've now decided to dedicate the rest of my life to this worthy end.