Sunday, February 8, 2009

Burgundy 101 with Martin Sinkoff

The Chablis of Domaine Christian Moreau Pere & Fils were among the Chardonnays featured at Frederick Wildman & Sons recent Chicago tasting (father Christian and son Fabien are pictured here).

Last week, I received an invitation to a special wine tasting here in Chicago. On February 5, New York City based importer Frederick Wildman and Sons, conducted a private tasting of 2007 Burgundy. This was my favorite kind of tasting because it focused on just a couple of varietals (in Burgundy that means Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), and it wasn't too crowded. Often, when an importer or distributor hosts a tasting, you get an opportunity to talk with the actual winemakers. This kind of event really brings out the wine brainiacs; I overheard many conversations about climate and oak and harvest challenges.

While taking in all of the delicious wine and food, I knew I needed a basic primer about this particular region, whose wines are usually priced outside my budget. Martin Sinkoff, Director of Marketing for Frederick Wildman and Sons, emailed me answers to several questions I had about Burgundy and the 2007 vintage.

1.) For those drinkers familiar (maybe overly familiar) with American Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, what style and taste differences will they notice when they first taste Burgundy?

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as grown and made in Burgundy are to California versions as ready-to-wear clothes are to haute couture. You can wear both but they don't feel the same. The first is serviceable; the second, ethereal. Burgundy in its white and red expressions is at once refined, elegant, powerful, deep in flavor and utterly memorable. It is an experience not just a drink. As young wine lovers grow in their taste, the will come to discover Burgundy just the way young music lovers who grow up on rock music come to appreciate jazz, classical music or opera.

2.) Do you have some suggestions on how to assemble a mixed case of Burgundy that will reflect all the different nuances of the region?

I suggest

1 bottle each of:

Jean Jacques Vincent Pouilly Fuisse "Marie Antoinette" 2007

Potel-Aviron Fleurie 2006 or 2007

Chateau de Chamirey White 2006 or 2007 (Mercurey)

Olivier Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc "Les Setilles" 2007

Olivier Leflaive Puligny Montrachet 2006

Domaine Darviot-Perrin Chassagne Montrachet RED 2006

Domaine Jacques Prieur Meursault "Mazery" 2006

Nicolas Potel Savigny-les-Beaune 2006

Nicolas Potel Volnay "Vieilles Vignes" 2006

Domaine Humbert Bourgogne Rouge 2006

Domaine Damoy Gevrey Chambertin 2006

Domaine Christian Moreau Chablis "Vaillons" 2007

This mixed case will take the wine lover from south to north, from red to white, from Beaujolais to the Cotes de Nuits and on to Chablis and will allow the first experience of Burgundy in its depth and breadth.

3.) At today's tasting, two phrases I heard a great deal were "single vineyard" and "old vines". Can you explain why these terms are important and what they contribute to great Burgundy?

"Single Vineyard" is important because it means that the wine is expressing itself very specifically from one vineyard. Burgundy is all about the expression of place and time and the more specific that is, the more valuable. It is like listening to a single violin rather than the orchestra.

"Old Vines" is important because the older the vines, the greater the expression. Old vines draw their "voice" from a deep root system that can express the full minerality of its vineyard.

4.) What were some of the climate (and other) challenges to growing and harvesting in Burgundy in 2007?

2007 was a "backward" vintage: hot spring and cool summer. Finding optimum ripeness for maximum expression was the challenge in this and in all vintages. Ultimately the wines of 2007 are very precise, very fine, small boned, elegant and delicious. It is a lovely vintage in white and in red.

5.) The winemakers present also discussed which oak (and how long) they used for aging their wines. Some winemakers didn't use oak at all. What are the flavors different types of oak can impart?

Oak is used to age wines and is like adding salt or pepper to a sauce. When done well you can't taste those ingredients but you know the dish is delicious. Different wines take to oak differently. Very unruly tannic wines need oak ageing more than delicate reds or whites. Some wines cannot tolerate oak or new oak at all (such as Chablis). Excessive oak makes wines taste simple; like vanilla ice cream.

6.) When will we start receiving these wines in the Chicago market, and what are some of the stores and restaurants you have supplied in the past?

The 2007 wines will start arriving now and continue to arrive through the year. The Moreau Chablis are already here. All good stores and restaurants in Chicago-land can find these through our distributor, Signature Wine Merchants (Southern Wine and Spirits).

7.) Would you say there is any kind of "sibling rivalry" between Burgundy and the other major wine regions of France?

No. Burgundy shares with the other great wine producing regions of France a secure sense of deep identity and pride in its extraordinary qualities. If there is a rivalry it would be between Burgundy growers and growers of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the new world who pretend to equal Burgundy in quality or style.


askawinemaker said...

Hey Chicago Pinot -

I was at that tasting here in Chicago and shot some video with Christian Moreau talking about Chablis. Here is one video - the others are all close by on askawinemaker, my youtube channel:



Chicago Pinot said...

Thanks for the contribution Damien! I'll put a link on my front page if you like!