Thursday, September 01, 2005

Wine Tasting: the red wines of Burgundy

When our friends came back from their summer vacation, during which they visited Beaune and nearby wineries, we decided to choose the theme Burgundy for our August wine tasting. That evening, we had six different red wines from Burgundy's Côte d'Or that we tasted blind. The tasting ended with one clear winner, two wines in the second place and the remaining three sharing the third place.

The Burgundy wine region

Les Hospices de Beaune.

The Côte d'Or is home to some of the most sought-after wines in the world, and the most expensive too. It is a 50 km long escarpment that lies along an important geological fault. The best vineyards are located in a narrow strip between a wooden plateau to the west, where bushes of blackcurrant grow and where the climate is harsher, and the fertile valley floor to the east, humid and prone to late frosts. The soil is rich in calcium from defunct shellfish. The weather is continental, with a wide annual temperature difference. Spring and fall rains, as well as late frost, can become big problems for the vignerons of this region.

The Côte d'Or is divided into two main subregions: The Côte de Nuits, which starts south of Dijon with the village of Marsannay, and is renowned for its rich and powerful red wines, and the Côte de Beaune, which starts at the village of Ladoix-Serigny, just north of Beaune, and extends south to the Côte Chalonnaise, and is famous for its great white wines as well as its elegant red wines.

Wines from the Côte d'Or are rarely blended. They are made mostly from Pinot Noir for the reds and Chardonnay for the whites. The Pinot Noir grape is quite tolerant to cold but it needs the morning sun in order to ripen before the autumn rains and cold weather. Therefore, east-facing vineyards are generally producing the best wines.

The wines we tasted

Our first wine was a generic Bourgogne, the 2002 Bourgogne Rouge Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret. According to Vincent Mongeard, owner and winemaker, the 2002 vintage produced "very distinguished wines with beautifully nuanced and complex flavors, even at the generic level". The wine had a bright red color. The nose was not big but fruity with notes of strawberry and raspberry. On the palate, it was young and juicy, with a good balance between fruit and acidity. Overall, the wine was not very complex but very food-friendly. It was ranked third place.

The second wine was from Vosne-Romanée, a modest little village of the Côte de Nuits, but home to six Grand Crus. "There are no common wines in Vosne" says an 18th Century adage. The Clos des Réas is the only Premier Cru monopoly in Vosne-Romanée. The vineyard measures 2.13 hectares and has belonged to the Gros family since 1860. The 2002 Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Clos des Réas Domaine Michel Gros showed an attractive bright red color but reactions to its smell were mixed. Most of the people found it unpleasantly musty and some could not go beyond it. Other appreciated the rich flavors of the wine on the palate and its persistent finish. The wine was ranked third place.

With the next wine we moved to Santenay in the Côte de Beaune, an appellation that produces some of the greatest values in Burgundy. The Clos de Tavannes is an east-facing vineyard of 2.09 hectares, surrounded by a stone wall on three side. The 1996 Santenay Premier Cru Clos de Tavannes Domaine de la Pousse d'Or displayed a dark, slightly cloudy color. The nose was classic Pinot Noir with cherry and vanilla aromas. On the palate, it was earthy and smoky with a pleasant well-balanced after-taste. It was my favorite wine of the evening and finished first place.

With the next wine, we were back in the Côte de Nuits, with the Gevrey-Chambertin appellation, which is the largest and the northernmost of the best communes of Côte de Nuits.
The 1998 Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Les Champeaux Vincent Girardin displayed a dark, slightly cloudy color. The nose had sweet raspberry aromas with some notes of chocolate. On the palate, it was earthy with some young tannins and some acidity, followed by a medium finish. For some guests, the wine had some great potential. It was ranked second.

Our next wine was a Côte-de-Nuits-Villages, an appellation that generally produces good value wines. The 2002 Côte-de-Nuits-Villages Maison Bertrand Ambroise had a red color, a fruity nose with some notes of caramel and a fleshy palate with more burnt sugar aromas. I found this wine easy to drink and well balanced. It was ranked third.

The last wine was a Corton, a Grand Cru appellation of the Côte de Beaune. The Domaine Louis Latour acquired the winery of Corton-Grancey in 1891 and produces this wine only in years when the Pinot Noir grapes reach perfect maturity. The 1990 Château Corton Grancey Grand Cru Domaine Louis Latour displayed a light brick/orange color revealing a wine of a certain age. The wine got mixed reviews. One guest thought that it was past its time while others enjoyed its rich and silky texture, aromas of berries and sugar cane and its lingering finish. The wine finished in second position.

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