Talking Wine – March 2017

I love Burgundy – or at least I thought I loved Burgundy. The problem is that I have been lucky enough to enjoy some stunning Burgundy, both red and white, over the years but never at my own expense. Yet trying to find good affordable Burgundy is becoming a difficult problem as so much seems to be overpriced and does not deliver. So let’s start with white. The ones I enjoy are the simple Maconnais and Chalonnais wines where really good classic whites are made from the Chardonnay grape. I talk of Macon Villages, St Veran, Vire-Clesse, Pouilly Fuisse and the like. These tend to be dry yet with a rounded creamy feel and only a small amount of oak (if any) to balance out the flavours. They are affordable and generally reliable although as with all Burgundy knowing the grower or co-operative is pretty important. Further up into Burgundy the whites become richer and heavier – I talk of Meursault, Chassagne Montrachet and Puligny Montrachet to name some of the more famous village names. These are considerably more expensive and are often heavily oaked when young hopefully evolving to become better balanced wines when the fruit and oak work in harmony – usually 3-6 years later although the best growers will produce stunning wines from good vintages which can have a much longer life.

As for red I am becoming very frustrated with the garbage produced from the Pinot Noir grape under the banner Bourgogne Rouge, or Bourgogne Pinot Noir. These are mostly very raw and lack any real fruit flavours at all. Up the scale Mercurey and Rully are better bets – again from southern Burgundy and again if you know the growers’ reputations. Further north we come across Nuits St Georges, Gevrey Chambertin and Pommard to name a few of the popular wines found in most respected wine stores. Like the whites they come in various guises and probably start at around £30 a bottle but often command much higher prices. Over Christmas and New Year I seemed to have been given or opened a range of supposed better quality reds but time and time again the wines were lacking fruit and flavour with often an unattractive bitter acidity to them.

So are they worth it compared with the alternatives? Much as I love French wine I have to conclude that there is much better value Pinot Noir produced elsewhere in the world – at least at the £20-30 mark! The areas that I would look at are the Martinborough and Otago regions of New Zealand, Mornington Peninsular in Australia, California, Oregon and Southern Germany. In blind tastings these wines tend to overshadow Red Burgundy. For good white Burgundy lookalikes try South Africa, New Zealand and some cooler regions of Australia. For even better value red Pinots look at Chile and Romania . For affordable but decent Chardonnay again try Chile and the Languedoc region of France.

I cannot help feeling that ignorance (or lack of knowledge) persuades people to part with vast sums of money for expensive Burgundy often sold to them by merchants with a vested interest. In a blind tasting I almost guarantee that I could find something outside the region that would impress them more and save them a few bob.