A Quick Sip on Burgundy
Ahhh Burgundy, a land where wine is not just a great alcoholic beverage, but also an expression of earth and people by which a culture identifies itself. This is where the word terroir is most in effect. Terroir is the concept that a wine is not just the expression of a grape and a wine maker, but instead an expression of the soil, the climate, the aspect, and earth as a whole. In Burgundy, there are three kinds of wine made — white, red, and Beaujolais. We need to first get a few common misconceptions out of the way. Burgundy is not the stuff that comes out of those Carlo Rossi jugs. Real Burgundy is one of the most expensive and finest wines in the world. All of the reds made north of Beaujolais are made from 100 percent Pinot Noir grapes and still hold the belt as the finest producer of this holiest of grapes in the world. All of the whites are made from 100 percent Chardonnay grapes and make the cleanest and most expressive versions of this grape in the world. The Beaujolais wines are made from the Gamay grape and make a great light and fruity wine.
The red wines of Burgundy stand as the pinnacle of Pinot Noir wines and are the scale by which all others are compared. The cool climate and slow, sloping hills of Burgundy are the perfect climate for this grape. The reds are created in three basic regions. Starting in the north is the Cote D’Or. This is the premier region of Burgundy where the wines are rich, elegant and complex. The majority of the Grand Cru regions are located here and as a result are usually very expensive. This region is home to the famed Domaine de la Romanée-Conti or DRC for short, which is one of the most sought-after and most expensive wines in the world. A case of 1921 Romanée-Conti was recently sold at auction for over $120,000. Move south into the Cote Chalonnaise and you will find wines that are near the quality of the Cote D’Or but at a fraction of the price. These wines are a bit lighter in style but can still contain the elegance and finesse of great Cote D’Or reds. Unfortunately, Utah does not carry any of these great Pinots. The Mâconnais is the next step south and while it produces mostly white wines there are many Pinot and Gamay wines made here that can truly be a great value. Once again, Utah has no representation in this region.
In terms of the white wines of Burgundy I suggest that you throw out everything you know about Chardonnay. These are not the oaky and buttery Chards that we have grown accustom to as a result of Napa style. These wines are crisp, clear, bright, and fresh and show the potential complexity of the Chardonnay grape. Like in the case of the Pinots, the Chardonnays are best in the Cote D’Or, where their richness and balance is unchallenged throughout the rest of Burgundy. Northwest however you will find the region of Chablis where the Chardonnays are at their driest and crispest. Once again the wines of the Cote Chalonnaise are grossly underrated and can be just as rich and expressive as those from the Cote D’Or but if you are shopping in Utah for them you might have a really tough time finding any at all. The Mâconnais is one of my favorite regions for value Chardonnay and the wines are here are fresh and clean.
South of it all you will find the wines of Beaujolais. These Gamay-based wines are light, fruity and fun and the source of a really great party. The Beaujolais Nouveau party happens on the third Thursday of every November and celebrates the harvest. All Beaujolais is not, however, quaffing wines. The more specific appellations such as Juliénas can be quite fine.
Burgundy’s dedication to the land and a few specific grapes makes it one of the most fascinating and wonderful regions in the world of wine. The sheer variety and variation that this relatively small region creates from just a few grapes is astounding. I don’t like to gripe about Utah, but this is a category that the state selection lacks in horribly. There is good representation on the high end but who can afford to spend $40 plus on every bottle of wine that they drink. There is so much great Burgundy produced at every price range that it really a shame that we don’t get to experience it by purchasing it in this state. It is, of course, illegal to purchase wine elsewhere and bring it in state. I hope that in upcoming tastings Brett Clifford finds some more Burgundy wines that he feels are worthy of the Utah palate.
Zev Rovine is the sommelier and resident cheese monger at the Spotted Frog Bookstore Cafe and Wine Bar where he teaches weekly wine classes. His wine education comes from the American Sommelier Association in N.Y.C. and he tries his very best not to spill the Pinot on the bestseller section. If you have any wine queries or comments he is easily contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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