Burgundy. This is where my heart lies. This is what it’s all about. There is one problem with Burgundy, and that is simple: there just isn’t enough of it.
The vineyards of Burgundy are so small, and the ownership of each vineyard so fragmented that (a) supply of the best is very severely limited and (b) working out just what is the best is very, very tricky. Throw in the fact that, whilst your Mugniers, your Meo-Camuzets and your Rousseaus might be the established top players, your personal taste might mean you prefer your Gros, your Bernstein, your Ponsot. A minefield, but one well worth a little stroll through. Compare Burgundy to Bordeaux? Bordeaux is lager, Burgundy ale. Simples.
Question one on the Burgundy front is the vineyard. The geology is such that you can throw a ball from one vineyard to another yet they will taste very different. Clos des Chenes and Caillerets in Volnay are separated by the D 973, and I stress that this is by no means a big road: Sydenham High Street is wider, yet they have their own particular characteristics, even in the hands of the same winemaker (Caillerets more lifted, Clos des Chenes chunkier; Lafarge the master of both).
Question two is who makes it. Do you buy your Volnay from Mister Lafarge, de Montille, Leroux, Potel, d’Angerville, Lafon, Leroy . . . I could go on. And the question isn’t just: who is best? It’s: whose do I like most? And: who got it right this year? Tricky, not simples.
When you buy, or drink, your wine from the smaller producers, there’s a little bit of them in the wine. It’s like a top chef: God makes the ingredients, the chef puts them together (after the farmer has done his bit, though the winemakers generally do this bit too: the gardening before the flower arrangement). I am hugely lucky to have met many of these men (and a few women), so when I drink Gagnard’s Chassagne-Montrachet I think of Caroline Lestime (acute on the second “e”), when I drink Barthod’s Chambolle I think of Ghislaine Barthod. And mostly what I think of is the love and care that has gone into creating what is in my glass. The effort, the dedication. And you can taste some of the character in the wines. Nicolas Potel, the Willy Wonka of the Cote, has an energy about him that makes it into his wines. Occasionally animated, and the best speaker of Franglais you will ever meet, he makes pure wines that speak of their terroir yet their energy also speaks of him.
The 2009 Burgundy vintage is now on the market, if that’s what you call it. And the merchants are holding their tastings this week. It’s a blinder. It’s not 2005, and anyone who says it is should stop and have a think, but it is, well, a really nice vintage, a really pretty one. And one where the differences between both styles and terroir are very, very, clear. This is what reminds me of 1999: a real “millesime de terroir” and also a vintage where the character of the maker (the winemaker, not The Maker – he did the terroir bit and the sunshine) comes through. If you can get to a tasting (it’s not just the wines that are scarce) this week then go to it.
Spread my ashes in Le Musigny. Mugnier’s bit of it.