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Discovering Burgundy Wine

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Quick! When you think of Burgundy wine, what is the first thing that comes to mind? “Expensive” is one possible word. Everyone around the world has heard about the famous tiny vineyards where wines can sell for hundreds of dollars a bottle – and beyond!

Sure, Burgundy wine can be expensive, yet you can find many delicious affordable wines at the village level. Another word that may have come to mind is “varied.” Each of the tiny vineyards boasts such individual terroir wine made from a vine a meter away from another vine can taste completely different. And believe it or not, you will find experts who can correctly blind taste and identify wines from each region.

Recently, the Burgundy Wine Board (BIVB) hosted a “Terroirs & Signatures de Bourgogne” event in New York City, featuring many Burgundy producers as well as a very well-attended and informative lecture by Lisa Airey, Certified Wine Educator and Director of the French Wine Society. A vivacious speaker, Lisa gave her presentation an extra jolt of excitement by distributing wireless polling devices to the attendees, and asking them to guess at the correct answer to questions posted on the screen. In addition to testing the audience’s knowledge of the location of Burgundy and key historical events in its history, another question concerned which Burgundy to choose for a specific food pairing.

The audience learned about Burgundy’s rich history, starting with the birth of the first vineyards under the Gallo-Roman influence, then to the Monks of the11th century who developed the methods to work the vines, to the present. You probably already know the main red grape is Pinot Noir, and the white grape is Chardonnay. Yet you have probably wondered why is it that a single varietal, Pinot Noir, in a single region, Burgundy, with similar climate conditions, can taste so different, vineyard to vineyard. The answer depends on the clone, the soil and subsoil, the weather conditions (microclimate of the vineyard), if the grapes are grown on flat ground, on the hillside, and if so, what aspect of the hillside.

Though Burgundy wine has earned its high-end reputation based on Grand Crus and Premier Crus, they account for only two percent and ten percent, respectively, of the total production. Village Appellations account for 35 percent of the total production, and Regional Appellations account for just over half of the total production.

Included in the presentation was a wine tasting of some white, some red, some First Cru, and some Village level, thus encompassing many styles and price points. Audience members found Lisa’s keen observations about the wines quite helpful. Even though the assembled group consisted of seasoned tasters in the trade and media, it is always a valuable experience to taste with an expert and hone one’s palate.

When the seminar ended, the group headed upstairs to the main tasting, where seasoned winemakers poured and explained the methodology behind their wines. All in all, a great event and a reminder that even in these hard economic times, you can find a Burgundy in your price range.

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