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Winemaking in Burgundy

Winemaking in Burgundy

Recent trip to Burgundy

I was in Burgundy late November with a travelling companion to have a look at the wines of the 2018 vintage and what an interesting trip it turned out to be.

As ever, Tasting Buddy and I ate extremely well. There are new restaurants in Beaune and others that have been taken over and given a new lease of life and one now feels spoiled for choice when planning one’s dining itinerary.

We “raced” up-and-down the Côte in a horrid under-powered Fiat, scribbling notes and discussing the wines we were tasting, the majority of which were barrel samples.

Best wine makers make the best wines

Now, it has always been the case that the most talented wine makers make the best wines. Year-in, year-out, the same roll call of names appears in small writing at the foot of the labels on the vintage’s best bottles, but their required skill set has changed somewhat in recent years.

In doesn’t seem so long ago that unsatisfactory red burgundy lacked appeal due to under-ripeness, or the inclusion of problem fruit: a vector for disease, rot, or hail damage that adds rank – “dirty” - aromas and flavours to the wine. Now the issues are radically different.

Ripening fruit is a doddle. Climate change has brought about growing seasons that are, more often than not, very dry, and torrid in the extreme. The worry has become one of how to prevent over-ripeness in the fruit, or even how to stop grapes becoming sunburnt.

And triage – the process of sorting through the fruit at harvest, both in the vineyard and in the winery, in order to eliminate any fruit that is sub-par – has become ingrained in the MO of all but the most careless of vignerons.

New challenges for the winemaker

Today’s quandary is how to retain freshness in one’s fruit. After all, it is the freshness (read “acidity”) in the wine that carries that wine’s innate character i.e. terroir. Wines that lack acidity lack personality, displaying ripe fruit and little else. (One has to say that this is probably sufficient to appeal to a large group of consumers, but given the high price of burgundy and the availability of burgundy-styled wines from elsewhere around Planet Wine, one feels that there should be an extra something – that stamp of terroir – to make those lofty tickets worth paying.)

Whilst in Burgundy in November, we tasted some utterly spectacular wines: truly beautiful fluids that are wonderfully ripe, have freshness in spades and are notably different, one from the other. With regards the addresses at which we tasted, the majority of wines were of that ilk.

Yet there were others where the wines were wonderfully ripe, yet all tasted the same, had no personality, lacked “soul”. I suspect these producers had simply gone out to harvest a day or two late. They will most likely be enjoyed by those that buy them, but if I get to drink them I will mourn an opportunity lost.

It is clear that wine making has changed, but remains a matter of intelligence, intuition and experience.

A bitter after-taste

We motored back to Lyon airport for the journey home and, on the autoroute, a truck threw up a golf ball-sized stone that impacted with the windscreen with such a loud bang that my ears were still ringing fifteen minutes later. The result? A bill for €934. Despite the deliciousness of the wines we’d been tasting, I was left with a bitter after-taste…

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