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Vinformation – Burgundy In a Nutshell

As the 2019 Burgundy En Primeur campaign gathers pace, Songbird in chief, Jonny Wren, bravely attempts to demystify the hallowed region in the space of a paragraph or two.

The 2019 Burgundy ‘en Primeur’ campaign is about to begin where wines (usually barrel samples) from this vintage are shown.  This gives both merchant and consumer the opportunity to stake their claim on wines from the finest producers. En primeur is when wine is offered whilst still in barrel and it can take up to two years for it to be shipped and find its way to the consumers cellar. What is the benefit of this? Well it’s usually the time that the wines are offered at their cheapest for a start but it can also guarantee receiving an allocation of wines made by the finest producers from a region where quantities are very small are demand is huge. So what makes Burgundy so special? It is a region that’s notoriously difficult to grasp but I will try and explain the essence of it as succinctly as possible.

The grapes for Burgundy are mainly Chardonnay for white and Pinot Noir for red. Aligote and Gamay are also used but it’s the famous pair that produce the serious stuff. That’s the easy bit. When it comes to quality and how this is described on the label then try to think of it in the shape of a triangle. Starting at the bottom and what’s most readily available are the generic wines – Bourgogne Blanc and Bourgogne Rouge along with Hautes Côte de Nuits and Hautes Côte de Beaune. The first two are made from grapes not grown in specific ‘Appellation Contrôlée’ (AC) villages, but a mixture from different villages or that have been declassified. The last two are designated regions outside the AC villages. Wines from all four made by the best producers can offer exceptional value. Next up are the villages wines that have their own AC. Think Meursault or Puligny-Montrachet for white along with Gevrey-Chambertin or Beaune for red, to name some of the more famous ones. Following this (and with production getting smaller as we go) are the Premier Crus and these are labelled with the villages name plus the premier cru vineyard, for example Meursault 1er Cru Les Perrieres or Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Cazetiers. Finally we have the Grand Crus which are the crème de la crème. For these beauties only the name of the vineyard is needed. However, as most of the AC villages take part of their name from their most famous vineyards, it isn’t hard to work out where some Grand Crus are from. Le Chambertin and Le Montrachet are both Grand Cru vineyards that sit in Gevrey-Chambertin and Puligny-Montrachet respectively.

So is that it? Well not quite. Just to make it even more complicated all the vineyards are owned by different growers which means buying a wine with a prestigious name doesn’t guarantee top quality. One grower’s Gevrey-Chambertin might be vastly superior to their neighbour’s due to the talent and dedication of the former or the indifference of the latter. This makes purchasing Burgundy a bit of a minefield to say the least. However, when you get it right, there are few regions that can offer such pleasure for both red and white. If you think you’d like to explore the delights of Burgundy some more then drop me a line and I’d be delighted to guide you.

One thing’s for sure. All Burgundy tastes better when sampled from a Zalto Burgundy glass!

Happy tasting.

Jonny Wren

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