In Layman's terms Red Burgundy = Pinot Noir grown in the Burgundy region of France. The French City of Beaune is to Pinot Noir what the Vatican is to Catholicism. I will confess that even with what I consider to be a broad wine knowledge my understanding of the Burgundy region of France is sketchy at best. For more than 10 centuries the Burgundy region was under the powerful control of Benedictine and Cistercian monks. Through painstaking labor they cleared and planted much of the exceptional vineyard sites that today produce some of the most primal and haunting wines in the world. The monks kept meticulous records and made notes regarding soil type, sun exposure, what grapes produced well under what conditions. My own theory is that since these guys were literate (not that common in the middle ages) and they weren't getting laid, they had a lot of energy to channel. Ultimately, their pain has been our gain.
After the French Revolution, much of the church holdings were sold to private parties
The bitch of these wines is that Pinot Noir is a harsh mistress. While she can deliver a wine you will never forget, she is notorious for being inconsistent from vintage to vintage and even from bottle to bottle. Many wine experts (lets use the lay term "geeks") will tell you that much time and money has been wasted on chasing this wine "Holy Grail". Producers are generally the best indicator or quality as is the vintage. Do however keep in mind that a spectacular, mind blowing wine one night may turn into something weak and insipid if you opened it the next night.
Pinot Noir is a fast ripening grape that need cooler weather to ripen slowly. When Pinot Noir has a long growing season this grape when vinified will express the place it comes from almost better than any other grape (German Riesling is in the same small ballpark).
Okay, enough of the cork-dork talk, lets get to some wine tasting (ahem,drinking) notes and a brief explanation about quality levels of Burgundy wine.
At the bottom of the pyramid is Bourgogne Rouge (Pinot Noir) and Blanc (Chardonnay). Bourgogne Rouge & Blanc account for approximately 52% of the wine produced in Burgundy. Next are the Village Wines which are a step up in quality and account for 35% of the wine produced in Burgundy. The grapes for these Village wines come from a smaller, more well-defined place. The names of the village-Beaune, Pommard, Meursault, Chambolle-Musigny, etc. will appear on the label.
The next designation is Premier Cru, these wines make up about 11 % of the total production in Burgundy. These wines are all what is called single vineyard wines. The specific vineyard name will appear on the label after the village name. An example would be Beaune (the village) Clos de la Mousse (the vineyard).
At the top of the pyramid is the Grand Cru designation. These wines are also single vineyard wines and the vineyard sites are so famous that some villages have actually hyphenated their name to include the vineyard. Chambolle-Musigny used to be called just Chambolle until the name was appended to add the name of its most famous vineyard. These wines are made in tiny quantities (think $$$) and the total production of Grand Cru wines make up about 2% of the wines produced in Burgundy. There are only 33 Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy and the wines that come from these sites can fetch thousands of dollars per bottle.
We tasted 9 wines and the line up included:
2003 Mercurery, Domaine del la Croix Jacquelet, Faively (Village Wine)
Tart Cherry fruit with tart acidity. The mid-palate was balanced and this had a nice finish.
Even though this was a village wine this was the most expensive bottle we tasted.
2003 Savigny Les Beaune narbantons, Mongeard Mugneret (Premier Cru)
Toasty, almost burnt sugar (think creme brulee') nose, concentrated fruit that was very well balanced. This bottle was also slightly corked-f***.
2003 Nuit St. Georges Clos du Marechale Faiveley (Premier Cru)
Floral nose with mouth coating beefy tannins. This wine would go well with a rare steak.
1990 Beaune Clos du Roi, tollot-Beaut (Premier Cru)
Toasty floral nose with smokey sweet fruit and a tart almost citrus marmalade quality. This was my favorite wine of the night.
1986 Vosne Ronamee Les Chaumes, Daniel Rion (Premier Cru)
Barnyard nose with some toasty character. The acidity was at the tipping point and the wine was showing almost all mineral and no fruit. Another note I had was that this wine had almost a whiff of Durian (since I had an opportunity to actually eat one the previous evening)...sweetish, barnyardish essence.
Yeah, this is a crappy picture, but we were literally tasting in a basement with candles for lighting.The second flight were consisted of four Grand Cru wines. Quick note, the name of the producer is shown after the name of the wine (village/vineyard/producer). As noted above the Grand Cru wines are difficult to come by and you probably don't want to crack these out if you friends are going to add 7-up to make a wine spritzer.
2001 Charmes Chambertin, Mommessin
Feminine nose with a very rich cherry fruit component. Silky finish.
1998 Pommard les Vignots, Leroy
Perfume nose, sweet fruit, good balance and a nice finish.
1997 Latricieres Chambertin, Faiveley
Sweet fruit and perfume on the nose, nice balance and a nice finish.
1997 Mazis Chambertin, Pilippe Naddef
Earth and game on the nose. Tart fruit and good mouthcoating tannins. Long finish. This one needs to see some bottle time in a cool, dark place.