Spotlight on Red Burgundy: Daniel Rion Vosne Romanée Premier Cru Les Beaux-Monts 2009
Experiencing Terroir in Burgundy
Let’s face it, almost none of us have the opportunities or dollars to become experts in Burgundy. To get to a point where one can identify individual vineyards blind takes decades of tasting. So what are the qualities of a vineyard, or even a village, that are accessible to mere mortal wine geeks and professionals?
In a scientific sense, separating the unique qualities of site from our palate preferences, physical state, genetics, atmosphere, social context and food pairings (or residues) is extremely difficult. Nonetheless, many wine writers and professionals will acclaim a wine for its ‘sense of terroir’. If we remove those who are merely posturing, we are still left with a large number of individuals who not only believe in the distinctions, but also seem to physically experience something they can readily detect, even if they cannot pin-point a precise locale in every blind tasting. Terroir manifests as conviction.
Terroir as Conviction
I’ve written before about the fetish of terroir in Burgundy. But besides the fetish aspect of terroir, the derivation of personal conviction from what we conveniently call a ‘terroir’ wine is equally important, equally true.
Not all wines give rise to conviction. The most common connotation of ‘conviction’ is a strongly held belief. But I’m far more interested in its less commonly used meanings: not belief, but the state of being convinced or the act of convincing. A traditional dichotomy exists between ‘belief’ and ‘reason’. Conviction is not opposed to reason, however. Conviction is transforming or transformative. The experience of conviction is transitive.
Drinker <–> Wine <–> Terroir. Conviction is the experience of being convinced of the truth of terroir through the tasting and consumption of wine. Terroir requires conviction because, at least in our current state of knowledge, we cannot isolate its objective qualities. It requires that we, as drinkers, be convinced of its existence. Some wines possess this ability. Most do not.
Daniel Rion’s Les Beaux-Monts reminded me, in the warm 2009 vintage, of an excellent Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara County. It possessed that higher toned fruit common in the area as well as the distinct sous bois note you get from the best Pinots from California’s central coast. It was delicious. But I felt less convinced by it than the last two Vosne’s I drank for this spotlight. Inasmuch as that lack of conviction arose because of the vintage, the winemaking, my physical state when drinking, the moment I opened this wine in the course of its development or any of the other mediating experiences, I felt that it was a true wine, a valid wine, but not a convincing one.
And that’s the challenge with Burgundy. Its reputation nearly demands adulation of terroir. But, no matter how hard we try, how rare the wine, how important the producer, how storied the vineyard, sometimes we are persuaded, and othertimes not.
$85 at BCLDB