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Big Thoughts About Burgundy

It's sunny, so it must have been the Monday of my trip to Burgundy (all other days wreathed in fog). Sitting at the table of a pavement café enjoying a punchy coffee and admiring the Beaune sunshine


I've been back from Burgundy for a few days now and thoughts about the vintage - indeed wine in general - continue to coalesce.

Our last morning, we rose early and checked out of the hotel. Out last pair of appointments was in Gevrey-Chambertin, after which we were to head off up the péage towards Calais post haste.

Something was grumbling at the back of my cranium: a comment made by a member of staff of one of the more venerable UK merchants. A bevy of salespeople were staying in the same hotel as us and the comment was made whilst grazing at the buffet table one breakfast time. "Good vintage," I had proffered, spinning sensations of gorgeous fruit and intense minerality still washing around my senses from the previous day.

The reponse was confounding. "Yes, but of course it's not as good as 2010 or 2009".

The exact meaning of of his comment was still troubling me as a charming young French girl printed out my bill at reception, still played on my mind as we drove north for that first appointment.

Did he mean it wasn't as good as 2010 because it is not as intense and focussed as that vintage? Did he mark it down for not being as ripe as 2009?

For me, the reality is that the vintage is another part of terroir; yet another facet that makes each vineyard's new harvest a unique one. 2011 wines are what they are. They offer luminous fruit of the utmost beauty, along with an intense minerality that drives one to the vineyard from where that wine comes and sticks one's face in the dirt.

And I wonder how we arrived at this place: this moment in time when we equate sun-drenched fruit with fine-ness, concentration with quality. All those so-called "must have" vintages followed by collectors and consumers who are going to end up having nothing to drink but muscular, super-concentrated liquids: giant simulacra of the subtle and elegant wines our forebears used to enjoy.

I pity those poor wine lovers who like the wines that I prefer myself: the subtle, elegant, restrained bottles that are probably marked down for not being sufficiently demonstrative. Personally, I don't care if I enjoy drinking Parker 85 point wines. But the layman doing so will probably feel the need to keep very quite about it; not tell anyone in case he or she becomes an object of ridicule.

Overall, I firmly believe that we must start to evaluate wines from the point of view of the pleasure they will ultimately give, not by some pseudo-scientific tasting in a sterile environment where we do our best to be bombastically critical about something a) largely beyond the ability of our senses to clearly make out, and b) that is, in any event, almost entirely unknowable.

The truth about the 2011 Burgundy vintage is that it will give immense pleasure in the years to come to the lover of these wines. It is different to every other year in history and I like the wines very much.

Getting back to our time in the region, I parked outside the cellars at Drouhin-Laroze and soon we were descending to the lowest cellar of a tier of three - each as clean and tidy as the one before - where the wines of 2011 and 2012 are lying in barrel. So we began to taste. And thereafter the tasting continued at the Domaine Rossignol-Trapet down the road. This is what Burgundy and, indeed, burgundy is all about: two domaines translating soil, sub-soil, drainage and all that other terroir stuff, including vintage, into the most delicious liquids, liquids that intimately reflect their origins and the wine maker's understanding of that terroir. I am still feeling privileged to have experienced the nascent 2011s as we make our way northwards in the car.

And I still feel that privilege now. The 2011 burgundy vintage is coming, and once it's been it will not come again.
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