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Who is drinking Burgundy?


Craig Camp
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You almost never see anyone drinking Burgundy in restaurants anymore. The Burgundy sections on wines lists keep shrinking and often carry nothing but a few superstars, ignoring the fine wines produced in the less famous communes. There may be a table or two of high rollers keeping their platinum cards warm by ordering Roumier and Lafon, but that's about it. There are also a handful of fine restaurants that keep extensive Burgundy selections, but they are getting rarer and more expensive.

I know that part of the problem is price, but price cannot be the only issue because tables everywhere covered with Reidels full of hyper-expensive Napa cabernet, Australian shiraz and strangely enough Russian River pinot noir. We should include Turley Zinfandel in the list, but they can't put those wines in Riedel anymore because the sheer power of the wine tends to explode the glass.

It is odd at a time when winemaking in Burgundy is at an all time quality high that it seems to be becoming a type of wine only focused on by dedicated collectors. The wines of lesser communes offer tremendous value for the money when compared to new world pinot noir wines. Why are mid-price range Burgundy wines having such a problem gaining the attention of consumers? Is this a fault of the trade, which is obsessed with 'new' wines or because these wines don't fill the desires of consumers?

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I think it is because Burgundy is perhaps the most confusing wine region in the world. While there are a number of well known producers, they tend to be very expensive. While the quality of burgundy, both white and red, may be higher than it has ever been over all, the lack of name rcognition at the mid and lower levels makes it more of a hit or miss proposition. In addition, the very terroir differences that make burgundies so wonderful to the initiated, make it more strange and off-putting to the uninitiated. One last thought is that Burgundy does not have a Robert Parker equivalent in terms of reputation and stature promoting its wines. Parker himself has never been recognized as a Burgundy expert in that his palate tends to reward the big and bold and less so the subtly nuanced. That is probably why he brought Rovani on board, who now does the bulk of the burgundy critique. Rovani is great, but his influence on Burgundy is nowhere near Parker's on Bordeaux, Alsace or the Rhone.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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The is a certain "old guard" mystique to burgundy that can be off putting to younger wine buyers. Also, let's face it- Burgundy is a crap shoot- variance in vintage, winemaker, and place can be really extreme. People sometimes do not even know that it is pinot noir in that there bottle, and many restaurants are doing away with sommeliers these days and most servers like that high glycerol, hyper fruity style. Burgundy is autere and reticent to give- but have a good bottle of Volnay once and you will forever be chasing the dream of flint, velvet, spice and cherry liquor. alas.... :rolleyes:

over it

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It is odd at a time when winemaking in Burgundy is at an all time quality high that it seems to be becoming a type of wine only focused on by dedicated collectors.

Perhaps the common or garden wine drinker doesn't realise this. I certainly didn't. The few Burgundies I've had recently have not impressed me particularly. Does anyone have recommendations of particular wines that are good value for money?

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"Value" AOCs like Santenay, Mercurey, Givry, Fixin, Rully can yield good wine for less money. Stick with 1999s and some 2000s. I like the J Girardin Santenay Clos Rousseau 1er Cru 2000 for around $20.00 american. But just like anything else, Burgundy gets better the more you spend. But I think this particular offering serves as a nice starting point to those unfamiliar with Burgundy and is a nice bottle of wine to boot. If you need I can find out about availability in your area. Cheers.

over it

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Does anyone have recommendations of particular wines that are good value for money?

Stephen,

FWIW, I collect and drink Burgundy and have for some time. And my method is extremely simple; I buy certain producers - only.

Sure, I'd love to buy DRC or Leroy and, if I have a lot of spending cash, I will. But that does not happen often.

So I stick with the guys I know make very good wine, year after year.

First and foremost, is Robert Chevillon. No, it doesn't compete with the expensive grand crus, but it is always good wine, well-made, well-balanced, age-worthy and affordable. I have yet to have a ppor wine from him.

After Chevillon, there is a short list of folks I will buy from time to time (and mostly their village and 1er cru stuff - the grand crus go beyond my means) and they include G. Roumier, Dujac, Lafarge, d'Angerville, Drouhin, Barthod, Jadot and Bizot.

Lastly, I will occasionally buy single bottles of other producers that I find make good wine in good vintages if they become available in my market; F. Mugnier would be an example but there are a few more.

Do I miss some good wines - of course. But I don't drink many bad ones. And some are just magical.

Best, Jim

www.CowanCellars.com

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We do drink burgundies reasonably regularly; our local bottle shop has a good supply of various '97s and '98s, and whenever we eat out for special occasions, we nearly always splurge on a a good premier or grand cru. But with my terrible memory, I can rarely remember the winemaker's name. And I don't have the discipline for tasting notes. So usually we have to depend on the recommendation of the sommelier.

I find that burgundies are a great wine; they are usually our choice when the little lady chooses chicken or a lighter meal and I choose beef or lamb; there are few wines other than pinot that can match both.

I would guess that the main reason Burgundies (and other french stuff) is not drunk much is because people don't have the knowledge to know what is what. There are so many producer names, and few people would know the name Nuits St George et al as well they would Napa Valley, Oregon or even Chateau Neuf du Pape. At first taste, burgundies can seem light and watery, particularily if you are unsure what to expect; I know my first tasting of a lower end Jadot left me wanting more.

Edit: And most people, like me, would not have the memory to remember what they have drunk before.

Edited by Niall (log)

'You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline - it helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.'

- Frank Zappa

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isn't it simple - burgundy for so long had a certain cachet, so they seemed to be able to ignore intelligent marketing. the other reason i would like to know: does burgundy have to b so expensive vis-a-vis cost? if so, so be it; if not, then with a weak economy, $ weakness, general world-wide gluts; hi prices will. for the foreseeable future, may not b as inelastic as the burgindians believe.

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I'm not sure if the problem is with Burgundy only. I almost never order Bordeaux restaurants, because most wine lists only tend to carry top bottles of Bordeaux at astronomical prices. I think the question could be rephrased as how come there's so little mid-priced Burgundy and Bordeaux on wine lists nowadays. Nowadays, I'm more likely to find a good and reasonably priced Rhone wine than a Burgundy or a Bordeaux on most wine lists.

I love Burgundy, not only for how good the wines can taste, but also for how food friendly they tend to be. On the other hand, as people above have posted already, Burgundy can really be hit and miss, and I've had enough bad mid-priced Burgundy in restaurants to make me reluctant at times to order it. However, if I trust a restaurant to pick good wines for their list, and the waiter or sommelier seems to know what he's talking about, then I'm happy to order a mid-priced Burgundy. I've had good luck here in San Francisco at Zuni Cafe and A Cote with some very good burgundies under $50.

I also agree with Carema about seeking out value AOC's, as they can be a great source of good mid-priced Burgundies (I've had a couple of good experiences with red Mercurey 1er Crus for example). When I buy Burgundy in retail stores, I focus more on producers, but it's harder to do that in restaurants as there's not always a wide range of producers to choose from.

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Docsconz hit the nail on the head in suggesting it is the ignorance of most people of the nomenclature or the various layers of knowledge required to know your Burgundy. (The same can be said for Barolo and Barbaresco). It's much easier to remember the name of an edifice than a person's name, village, and vineyard and the reputations and vintages. As for Parker ceding Burgundy reviewing, it is a consequence of his accusing Faiveley of selling "different" wine in the USA than in France and no longer being welcomed in Burgundy, I believe. After that, he began dumping on Burgundy and probably turned his impressionable following off the wines. I also think the big negociant houses have muscled out a lot of the small domaine wines in restaurants. Even in France Jadot, Latour, Ramoissinet,etc. have taken over the pitiful Burgundy sections. You also see it somewhat here in the USA. In general, though, the one area American has France beat is in restaurant wine lists. Nowadays I usually order a Chianti Classico. I find them reliable, relatively inexpensive, and approachable young. Red and white Burgundy is, however, the serious foodie's wine of choice. I just hope the price comes down: a tall order given the strength of the euro.

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Carema and Florida Jim are both on the right track in how to find good quality less expensive burgundies. I try to pick both AOC areas and producers. In Givry try Domaine Joblot. Jean Marc Joblot makes a lovely wine for less than $20. A little more expensive in the Nuits area is J. J. Confuron and if you can find some of their older vintage Chopin-Groffier is another great producer. You can even find some of Robert Jayer-Gilles Hautes Cotes de Beaune's for less than $30. I would also suggest that both Allen Meadows (burghound.com) and Steven Tanzer are more reliable than Robert Parker on burgundies. You might also want to try certain importers and check the level of quality, price and choice that they present. If you find one or two whose style you like I think you will find that you can rely on a certain level of consistency, particularly with some of the smaller ones. All this being IMHO Pinot Noir and Reisling are the 2 most food friendly grapes in the market

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I apologize for writing "Docsconz hit the nail on the head......" It is not that he is necessarily incorrect, but using the device that I did; i.e. allying myself with other people's insights to buttress, or give the impression of my coming across as the bearer of ultimate truth is a device one of the dear departed members used with great frequency and which I always abhored. So again I apologize and promise to be more attentive in the future.

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I love Burgundy, but unless you are prepared to devote yourself exclusively to the region, mastery of its wines is next to impossible. It is ironic that the most democratic of all wine regions (a product of Burgundy's proximity to Paris during the Revolution) now appeals mostly to the elite.

I love pinot noir above all other grapes, and therefore love Burgundy above all other regions. But after several years of floundering through mindless Jadots and like, I was finally put on the correct path by Rosenthal Wine Merchants, NYC.

First, the key is that there is no one "Burgundy" -- the estate is the thing. You can't get a handle on Burgundy, but you can get a handle on Chambolle.

Second, the joy of Burgundy lies in the art of the winemaker's expression of terrior. Unlike California, where winemakers compete solely to see who can produce the most fruit extracted wines, without much thought to terrior, winemakers in Burgundy comepte to see who can create the best Chambolle, for example. It's like gathering the best winemakers in Napa to see who can make the best wine from Shafer's vineyards. Exciting stuff.

Third, the most widely available wines (from the giant negociants) are also the most dull. They might be decent wines to drink, but the invariably lack the local statement of smaller producers.

Fourth, as estates are subdivided among many producers, each producer has very limited yields. As such, the best wine is in short supply and therefore very expensive.

Fifth, modern Burgundy needs more time in the bottle than perhaps any other. This makes it next to impossible to hop down to the local shop to buy a Burgundy for that evening.

So, what to do. I say, focus on a village or even an estate. I've focused alternatively on Chambolle (imho, the perfect Burgundy), Volnay and Pommard. Seek out small producers. Look for aged bottles. Keep good notes. Learn about the unique flavors of each estate and keep up the serarch for that one bottle that says "This is the most perfect expression of this vineyard that has ever been produced."

The problem -- this gets to be very addictive, as the intellectual rewards in Burgundy far outstrip all other regions combined.

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Let's be honest; if burgundy is in decline, outside the dedicated collectors, it's because such a large proportion of the wine-drinking public follows gurus whose taste runs to big oak, big extraction, low acid monsters. And I'm not just talking about Parker - if you look at the UK, that's exactly the taste profile of wine writers such as Malcolm Gluck, who, to make matters worse, makes a reverse snobbery point of dissing most wines from established regions (do a search of Gluck's reccos and see how many Chilean cabs 'knock Latour into a cocked hat' or chardonnays 'are quite the match for Montrachet'). Burgundy, which is about sublety and finesse, doesn't respond well to this treatment - try Tardieu-Laurent if you don't believe me. With luck it will soon be as unfashionable as red Chinon or German riesling. Sorry, burgundy producers.

Adam

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I love Burgundy, but unless you are prepared to devote yourself exclusively to the region, mastery of its wines is next to impossible

So perfectly stated, and who among us really have the time/energy/devotion or wine access to achieve this? My teenage betrothol to Burgundy was doomed the moment I stepped foot into Nothern Italy and now there are so many things that cleave me away from Burgundy's strong, but ultimately snappable tether...

over it

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I don't know, Burgundy seems to do very well out here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I do admit that it is a difficult wine to understand because there are so many variables and subtleties. I would echo Florida Jim above that producer is primary -- if you have a top producer, you will rarely experience the disappointments that so many people claim for Burgundy. If you are ordering blind, better a Bourgogne from a top producer such as Aubert de Villaine than a grand cru from a mediocre producer -- and that's not even considering the difference in price!

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I'm just getting back into Burgundy. It is, I agree, too much work to become an expert yourself -- the solution is to find a really good wine merchant who is a Burgundy specialist, try a few mixed cases to see if your tastes align properly and then just buy what he/she recommends. I think small good producers are the best bet . Big good producers are too expensive because everyone has heard of them.

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I would echo Florida Jim above that producer is primary -- if you have a top producer, you will rarely experience the disappointments that so many people claim for Burgundy.

I couldn't disagree more. Drinking wines from one or even a small number of producers in Burgundy may provide consistency, but you won't really appreciate what Burgundy is. My approach is to drink whatever Chambolles, Volnays or Pommards I can get my hands on, with a degree of price sensititivty. For producers I've heard of, but haven't sampled, I'm willing to pay just about as much as for wines I know. For unknown producers (and, to be fair, there are some real duds out there), I rarely pay more than $30 in a store or $60 on a wine list for those village wines (a bit lower retail in the UK, but a bit higher in a restaurant). I'll also ask a lot of questions before buying (naming other producers I like in the vineyard or village). Of course, if I get a puzzled look in response, I walk out or turn the page -- nothing like a sommelier/retailer who is clueless about Burgundy (the wines are generally poor).

Another strategy is to first sample the village wines of a producer, and then move up (although I've let a few trusted sommeliers/merchants steer me to special bottles).

If you are in NYC and really want to get into Burgundy, go to Rosenthal Wine Merchants, who directly import from some of the best small producers. They will put together a tasting program for you (tailored to your budget and level of interest). By far and away the most satisfying wine buying experience NYC has.

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I would echo Florida Jim above that producer is primary -- if you have a top producer, you will rarely experience the disappointments that so many people claim for Burgundy.

I couldn't disagree more. Drinking wines from one or even a small number of producers in Burgundy may provide consistency, but you won't really appreciate what Burgundy is. My approach is to drink whatever Chambolles, Volnays or Pommards I can get my hands on, with a degree of price sensititivty.

An interesting perspective and, although I can not afford to buy such a broad number of wines, one that stands as reasonable counter-point to my own method of purchasing in the region.

Perhaps, when my wallet is a little fatter, I will consider a venture "into the unknown" once in awhile.

Best, Jim

www.CowanCellars.com

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This topic got me thinking about a New World Burgundy equivalent: Rochioli. Rochioli not only has the most beautiful vineyards in all of the Russian River Valley, but also supplies pinot noir and chardonnay to producers such as Gary Farrell, Williams Selyem, and Davis Bynum in addition to making their own label. If these producers (at least Farrell and Bynum) are to be believed, they get their grapes from designated vines in the Rochioli vineyards and help with the cultivation. An enterprising restauranteur would do well to group the various Rochioli pinots on a list to test the winemaker's skills.

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As a bigger than average wine drinker, I must say that Burgundy doesn't often feature on my table. Having said that, in the past month I have had 3 bottles.

1 was corked, 1 was a 1986 that my dad had and was dead and the other was a white (96 Corton Charl, Bonneau du Martray that was fantastic).

Speaking from a personal perspective, I generally do not drink much white and if I have to i will choose Loire/Alsace/Burgundy. My current favourite is a simple Bourgogne Blanc by Michel Bouzereau.

As for the red stuff, I do like it and get a lot of enjoyment from them as each bottle is a surprise (increased due to my knowledge being a bit lacking) opposed to Bordeaux where what you get is much more obvious.

If I had to choose a Pinot to have everyday, I think that I might well choose something like the Isabelle Estate from NZ

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I would echo Florida Jim above that producer is primary -- if you have a top producer, you will rarely experience the disappointments that so many people claim for Burgundy.

I couldn't disagree more. Drinking wines from one or even a small number of producers in Burgundy may provide consistency, but you won't really appreciate what Burgundy is. My approach is to drink whatever Chambolles, Volnays or Pommards I can get my hands on, with a degree of price sensititivty. For producers I've heard of, but haven't sampled, I'm willing to pay just about as much as for wines I know. For unknown producers (and, to be fair, there are some real duds out there), I rarely pay more than $30 in a store or $60 on a wine list for those village wines (a bit lower retail in the UK, but a bit higher in a restaurant). I'll also ask a lot of questions before buying (naming other producers I like in the vineyard or village). Of course, if I get a puzzled look in response, I walk out or turn the page -- nothing like a sommelier/retailer who is clueless about Burgundy (the wines are generally poor).

Another strategy is to first sample the village wines of a producer, and then move up (although I've let a few trusted sommeliers/merchants steer me to special bottles).

If you are in NYC and really want to get into Burgundy, go to Rosenthal Wine Merchants, who directly import from some of the best small producers. They will put together a tasting program for you (tailored to your budget and level of interest). By far and away the most satisfying wine buying experience NYC has.

Well, from what I consider quality producers, one can go quite a ways without having to dip into the junk producers by just choosing whatever is available. For example, for Chambolle alone, I consider the following producers, taken off the top of my head so a few may be left out, top notch (no particular order): G. Roumier, de Vogue, Mugnier, Barthod, Faiveley, Clavelier, Ponsot, Dujac, JJ Confuron, Drouhin, Jadot, Leroy, Groffier, D. Mortet, Arnoux, Grivot, Mugneret-Gibourg, Drouhin-Laroze, Perrot-Minot.

Edited by Claude Kolm/The Fine Wine Review (log)
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Burgundy is particularly off-putting because it has so many dedicated fanatics who regularly go around saying "There are no drinkable burgundies on the market below the $40 price point." While, all by itself, that sounds like idle snobbish frippery, combine it with the above-expressed sentiments to the effect that there is a whole lot of really bad burgundy produced, and that trying burgundies is a crap shoot, and even when I see a bottle of something Cotes-du-Nuit for $15, I'm not willing to risk having wasted my money on a bottle of plonk, when I could pick up something from Alsace or Germany or even a Bordeau cru bourgeoise that is much more likely to be good for the same dough.

I have no idea what to expect from a "good" burgundy, much less a "sublime" one, and judging from the burgundies that I've experienced (generally paired with courses served at the Beard House), I've not tasted any reason to put down $40 for a barely palatable example of the genre when there are other regions producing wines at much more affordable price points that are less likely to be clunkers.

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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