Tasting Burgundy: Unity in Diversity

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Wine is always in some way polysemic – in that it can mean many different things to many different people – but there is probably no other region that unites and divides drinkers so dramatically as Burgundy. It unites in that everyone and anyone who is drawn to its ancient soils agrees that its magic lies in its multivalent personalities. It divides in that this multivalence carries over to any attempt to agree on the meaning of it all. It was in this spirit of divisive unity that I attended a recent dinner hosted by the generous Rasoul Salehi focused on the red Premier and Grand Cru wines of France’s most enigmatic wine region.

Burgundian Idolatry

Burgundy is as rife with eidolons as it is with idols. The greatest bottles can often come from unexpected places while the greatest names can often disappoint. Tasting these wines blind assists in unmasking the pretences with which we approach the storied names and reputations in wine. It was one of Sid Cross’ wines that fully expressed this principle of Burgundy at the tasting. The last wine of the tasting – a Domaine Thomas-Moillard Clos Vougeot 1990 – was also my favourite and a high point for many of the other tasters. The blind? Well, it was that Clos Vougeot is often an unexciting Grand Cru but that here, from a producer with no recognition within our group, it offered perhaps the most complete Burgundy experience of the entire tasting.

Burgundy’s Modernity

One of the most discussed preconceptions in the wine world as a whole is what constitutes traditional wine versus what constitutes modern wine. This can extend from wine growing practices to techniques in the cellar and the prevalence of particular flavours. Such it was that the wine I brought – the Dominique Laurent Clos des Mouches Premier Cru 2006 – stimulated comments and questions about the wine’s sweetness and use of oak while at the same time recognition of its quality, and by some tasters, recognition of its Burgundian backbone. This is just the sort of wine that divides palates while at the same time offering undeniable quality. Dominique Laurent uses considerable oak (often 200%) in his wines, but he also adds almost no sulphur, does not fine and hand bottles. He seeks out old vines and old clones (though he owns no vineyards of his own), making him one of the most unique Negociants in Burgundy.

Diverse but Delicious

While many will warn that it is easier to find a bad bottle of Burgundy than a good one, Burgundy’s diversity is also one of its strengths. At the tasting we experienced a range of wines from the forward and fruity Domaine Fourrier Morey St-Denis Clos Solon Vielle Vigne 2006 that Jake contributed, or the darkly fruited Bruno Clair Vosne-Romanee “Les Champs Perdrix” 1er Cru.

Bachelet’s Gevrey-Chambertin “les Corbeaux” 1er Cru Vieilles Vignes 2007 was a lean but stylish wine with amazing aromatics – both pretty and compelling. There was a beautiful spicyness that coupled with a mineral (chalky) density much appreciated by most of the tasters.

Surprises also came from the compellingly delicious Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru 2002 (a wine blended from several vineyards), that showed exceptional harmony and finesse unexpected for a blended vineyard wine from a Negociant.

Wine and Metaphor

Sometimes though reputation and history is based on reality and sometimes Grand Cru is, well, Grand Cru. The flight of two Clos de La Roche Grand Cru’s (a 1999 from Louis Remy and a 2001 from the renowned Armand Rousseau) were a huge step up from the previous wines in elegance, complexity, balance, depth, and most of all, that enigmatic joy that only the best Burgundies can produce. My notes for the Remy read: “has that amazing ‘something’ that you look for in a great Burgundy … There is something here that compels you to attend it”. For the Rousseau I noted “you look into the abyss of time when you drink this … serious authenticity of fruit.” With wines such as these Burgundy compels us to reach beyond the staid objective descriptors so many wine professionals are trained to use and into what seems far more appropriate for the task: metaphor. Of course, in the end, all wine tasting notes are metaphors for the experiences we cannot describe in language. It is the special uniquness of Burgundy that compels us to recognize this unbridgeable gap.

Several of these wines are available at Marquis. Otherwise much of the tasting consisted of bottles brought back from the United States.


  1. edward
    April 20, 2011


    I love your comment about eidolons and idols. I wonder if part of Burgundys pleasure is its ability to make you feel both awe and confusion.

    I still feel like an uncomfortable tourist when I drink Burgundy. There is so much more to know and taste, but so little time and money.

  2. Shea
    April 20, 2011


    Thanks, it seemed an appropriate contrast. I think that the only way not to feel like a tourist in Burgundy is to dedicate one’s wine drinking life to it. Even then, this physically tiny region seems more immense than any one person.

  3. rasoul
    April 26, 2011

    nicely written as always. your entry captures what we collectively experienced that evening. Not that i am the most experienced red burgundy taster but this was the first time i experienced such diversity amongst the wines we tasted. in all fairness we had as diverse of a sample as we could: from ultra moden producers to totally old school ones. from village to grand cru. from north of cote de nuit all the way down to cote de beaune and vintages spanning 88-07….

    i am keen to focus on particular villages next time around: gevrey? chambolle? vosne? let co-organize the next one…

  4. Shea
    April 26, 2011

    Thanks Rasoul. That single village tasting sounds like a great idea

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