Saturday, 26 November 2011

Burgundy Visit, 2011 - Day Three

After the delights of the Côte de Beaune on on Day Two, our third and final day in Burgundy began in quite possibly the most picturesque little town known to mankind: Meursault. As the sun rose on the town hall, this sleepy village yawned into action, the light streaming across the vineyards in on the horizon.

The almost criminally attractive town hall in Meursault

A short, brisk walk through the village took us to the door of Domaine Latour-Giraud, where we were met by Jean-Pierre Latour. He tentatively told us that he speaks a little English. This was the first sign of his tendency to understate: he had a grasp of the language which continues to elude many native speakers. He was similarly humble about his wines, despite being widely considered one of the best wine-makers in the region, and the winery itself was all business.

Barrels in Domaine Latour-Giraud

Now perhaps it was a function of the time of day (a 9am tasting is enough to challenge even us hardened professionals), but the balance of citrus and vanilla oak on Jean-Pierre's wines was quite extraordinary. The first wine I tasted (2009 Meursault Cuvee Charles Maxime) was so reminiscent of honey on toast, I felt like I could've eaten it for breakfast (please note, this is a metaphor, no need for an intervention). Jean-Pierre uses only free run juice, and ferments using only natural, wild yeasts - another great example of the regions tendency to embrace a more natural approach to wine making once again.
Our next and final stop was to Pouilly-Fuisse, in the Mâconnais sub-region of Burgundy, where we paid a visit to Nicholas Robert of the Robert-Denogent winery.

Panoramic view of Pouilly-Fuisse

It was apparent from the moment we arrived in Pouilly-Fuisse (which is actually made up of two villages, Pouilly and Fuisse), that the area has far steeper hills then the rest of Burgundy. Closer inspection reveals a different pruning system is in place to allow airflow through these hill-top vines. In the winery, however, all of the previous revelations pale into insignificance.
Having been in the wine and spirits trade for some time now, I'm well aware of the effects of using oak to age a liquid. I'm also aware that different types of oak will work in noticeably different ways, and that even when the same species of oak is used there will be subtle variations in the way the flavour manifests itself. What I was not ready for, however, was quite how marked these variations could be. Two identical wines, made from the same grapes, from the same vineyard, which had been stored in barrels in the same cellar, side by side, made from the same type of oak should, to all intents and purposes, taste very similar. Well, we tasted two such wines, straight from the barrel, and they were completely different! I would happily believe that one had spent two years in American oak, and the other six months in French oak, but it wasn't the case. 

The small and perfectly formed cellar of Robert-Denogent

Of course, oak is a natural product, and as such will be prone to natural variations, but quite the extent to which two barrels can vary took me completely by surprise.
And so it was that our whistle-stop tour of Burgundy came to an end. From Chablis, through the Côte d'Or to Maconnais, we had visited five different wine-makers, each making very different wines. The lessons we learnt? Well, there was an enormous amount of technical knowledge which simply cannot be gleaned from textbooks, but the most important (in my humble opinion) were as follows:
  • Terroir is important, and makes a huge difference to the style of wine produced
  • Oak can vary tremendously in the effect is has on wine
  • Burgundian wine makers are amongst the best (and, in some cases, maddest) in the world
  • "I don't like Chardonnay" is an invalid sentence

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