Burgundy: the wine lover’s puzzle | VailDaily.com

Burgundy: the wine lover’s puzzle

Jessica Slosberg
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Wine is made on every permanently inhabited continent on Earth. More wines emerge onto the market every day, but there are some regions that simply mean wine, for example Bordeaux, France, Champagne France, and, of course, Burgundy, France. Burgundy produces, arguably, one of the most sought after and adored wines.

A small number of Vail Valley residents got a lesson in Burgundy vino last week while sampling the authentic goods at a wine maker’s dinner at Vin 48. The wine maker featured was Xavier Monnot, a native Frenchman and who, at 35, is quickly gaining a foothold in the wine industry. He showed off five of his crafts during a five-course meal.

All the wines are made from grapes grown on Monnot’s land, meaning he doesn’t buy outside or “foreign” grapes, Monnot said. No weed killers are used in the vineyard in order to produce “pure and natural wines,” he said. The grapes are hand picked and sorted in the vineyard before they go into a press. His wines are pressed for three hours, rather than the more prevalent 1 1/2 hour press time, he said.

However, because this is Burgundy, saying Monnot owns the land is a bit of a misnomer. Most of the vineyards in the area are owned by anywhere from two to 100 families, called a collective. Likewise, Monnot isn’t the sole owner of most of his vineyards. What is so special and distinguishing about his Volnay wines is he has a monopole, meaning he owns the vineyard outright without any other partners. But all the wine gets the same personalized attention from the vine to the barrels it spends 12 to 16 months in.

When shopping for a Burgundy, there is more to consider than simply the region ” there are sub-regions and villages, crus and styles. Understanding the wine take a little patience, a lot of tasting and a very good map. In many ways the secrets of Burgundy lies in the geography. After the wine dinner Eric Eide, the southwest regional manager for Robert Kacher Selections, shared some of his knowledge about the complex region.

“The first thing people need to understand is that 99 out of 100 times a white wine is made of chardonnay and reds are almost exclusively pinot noir,” Eide said. While that is easy to remember, you won’t be getting a run of the mill chardonnay or pinot noir, the land where the grapes are grown goes a long way in shaping the wines.

The region with the most cache and name-power is Cote d’Or (which translates to Golden Hill). The region is made up of two sub regions ” Cote de Beaune, which produces white and red wines and Cote de Nuits, which produces primarily red. Both areas have some of most important wine-making villages such as Volnay, Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault and Vougeot. The names of the towns are often included in the name of the wine, helping the buyer to know what they are getting as soon as he or she picks up the bottle. Understanding the geography is important, but understanding the general nuances of Burgundy’s wine still reigns supreme.

Eide shared some insight into what characteristics the different wines exhibit. The Meursault, a white, tends to be richer and “broader on the palate,” while the Puligny-Montrachet is elegant and the “top white Burgundy.” He said to expect more minerality from the Puligny-Montrachet wine.

Moving to the reds, wines from Beaune are “red fruited,” meaning they could have flavors from cherries to plums depending on the winemaker. They also have just a touch of spice.

“(The wines) are a little more precocious and are a little more appealing in their youth,” Eide said “Beaune is a good place for people to get started in Burgundy.”

Wines from Volnay are fuller, he said, and are often compared with silk because of their refined, sophisticated style. The Volnay wine makes for a striking comparison with wines from Meranges, which are often described as velvety.

To really taste these characteristics he suggests pairing the wine with salmon or another oilier fish, because it won’t overwhelm the wines and can cut down on the tannic structure (bitterness).

While knowing the basics and generally knowing what to expect helps the wine adventurer, the only way to really understand all the wine has to offer is to taste, and taste some more.

While many chapters and books have been written about Burgundy, the most important thing to remember is that the wines are popular for a reason. They offer something that some wines can only dream about ” a long history and a glowing reputation. Winemakers like Monnot are doing what they can to keep the mystique that is Burgundy alive.

“We do our best to produce the best wines we can,” Monnot said.

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