Thursday, October 20, 2011

Vin: The Reason You Go To Bourgogne

While in Beaune, we took a wine class so that we would could conquer the complicated Bourgogne wine system once and for all.  We sampled 9 different wines and went through all the intricate details of Bourgogne wine production. 

A few things we learned.
Aka the variety.   Very simple:  red wine = pinot noir, white wine= chardonnay.  So, if you order a red Burgundy it is going to be 100% Pinot Noir. There is no blending with any other grapes.  Likewise, if you order a white Burgundy (or buy a bottle at Whole Foods, etc...) it is going to be 100% Chardonnay.  (Although there are a few exceptions where they blend in Gamay, another lower quality red grape). The same goes for Chablis (a region that produces mostly white chardonnay in Bourgogne).
All wines are classified by a government agency type of entity (along with most wines in France).  There are 4 levels of Bourgogne classified wines, starting with the best of the best working down to the most generic:  Grand Cru, Premiere Cru, Village, and Bourgogne region.

What does it mean to be a Grand Cru? It simply means that the classification board deems that specific plot of land to be of the most superior quality.  It doesn't necessarily mean that the wine is going to be the best because a lot of other factors effect the final product.  For example, the type of barrels used, length of maturation, weather, and the general skill of the wine maker.  There are only 33 Grand Crus classified vineyards in Bourgogne.

What does it mean to be a Premiere Cru? The same thing as above, except the quality of the vineyard designated Premiere Crus is one step below Grand Crus. 

Note:  There are not just 33 companies that own all 33 Grand Crus designated vineyards.  Sometimes the vineyards are owned by 30 different companies and sometimes they are owned by just 2 companies. 

What does it mean to be a Village wine?  Village one is one level below Premiere Crus and different villages in the region have different reputations.  If a wine is designated a village wine, all of the grapes must come from the village.  For example, on our bike trip we stopped in Pommard, a village in Bourgogne.  Some wines are classified as "Pommard" village wines. 

What does it mean to be a Bourgogne regional wine? It is the last rung on the ladder and simply means that the grapes in the wine come from the region of Bourgogne.  Most of the time, it just means the grapes are mixed from several villages.  For example, one of the wines at our wine club this month was a Bourgogne regional classified wine. The vitner explained to us he gave up Village status because he thought the wine would be better if he blended in some grapes from across the road.  And of course, giving up the higher status means that they will not make quite as much money of the wine.  The higher the classification usually means the higher the price of the bottle (but not always).  

How to read the favorite part of the class.  The label contains the area where the wine comes from, some labels being more specific than others. The domaine name is also printed on the label.  It will appear in various places, but this is the company that makes the wine.

Let's start with Grand Cru and work the way down the scale:

Grand Cru - these wines are labeled by "Grand Cru" and the specific plot of land where to wine comes from.  Example:

Pic from the internet... I can't afford Grand Cru.

So on the label above, Clos de la Roche is the name of the specific plot where the wine comes from.  There is not reference to the village.  Joseph Drouhin is the domaine. 

Premiere Cru - these wines are labeled by "Premiere Cru" or "1er Cru" and then the village where the wine comes from, with the specific plot of land usually on the second line.  Example:

Village - these wines are also labeled by the village where the wine comes from, no reference to the plot of land.  Example:

So the village here is Pommard.  No indication of the specific plot of land.  Louis Jadot is the domaine.

Bourgogne - these wines are just labeled by the region.  Example: 

Here are some charts they gave us to help break down tasting wines...

A great wine strikes the perfect balance between the tannin, acidity and mellowness.   But then again, it's all about personal preference.  If you like really dry wine, you may prefer a more tannic wine with less acidity and mellowness.  For me, I'm usually looking for that perfect balance. 
The nose of a wine just helps you with the whole wine tasting experience.  I'm not very good at this game.  Whenever the group said the wine smelled like jam I thought it smelled like leather.  I'm don't really know what that means...

Nevertheless, now you have some material for your next wine tasting party.  After all, the only way to really learn about wine is to test it out for yourself.  Salut!

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