There is an expression among us wine nerds that goes “all roads lead to Burgundy.” So why do we say it, even those of us who worship at the altar of Italian wines? The short answer is that some of the most complex, silky, seductive and thought-provoking wines come from this region, and though they’re mainly crafted of just two grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, these wines appear in many variations and styles due to the range of soil types, vineyards and producers. Quantities are generally very small; some producers just own a couple of rows of vines yielding only several barrels from any given vintage. The allure of Burgundy, for me, is in its profile and its mosaic network of vineyards. It is the proverbial “iron first in a velvet glove”; these wines carry extraordinary amounts of flavor, finesse, elegance, complexity all on a very lean frame, rarely exceeding 13% alcohol. Burgundies are serious wines that deserve attention.
Burgundy is a fascinating wine producing region for several reasons. First, and perhaps most importantly, is geography. Burgundy is long, narrow region in eastern France, just southeast of Paris. The best wines come from a sub-region called Cote d’Or, which is only about 25 miles long and less than 1.5 miles wide at some points. The region experiences a continental climate with short, warm summers and long, cold winters, which make grape-growing slightly more difficult. The region is prone to spring frosts, fall rains and cool weather, all weather extremes that delay the ripening process, hurt yields and affect fruit quality. Of course adding to all these challenges, the Pinot Noir grape is a fickle one, being very prone to disease and infection.
Due to these extreme conditions, vintage variation is profoundly apparent and manifests itself in the wine. There are always good and bad aspects of a vintage, but the best producers will always turn out a winning hand, regardless of the climactic hand they’re dealt. This is why one of the most important things when selecting a Burgundy is to not only seek out reputable retailers but to also buy wine from well established producers that have a proven pedigree.
There is no other wine region in the world that has as diverse a terrior as Burgundy. Within this small region there are hundreds of specific vineyards that all contain unique soil compositions. Some with more limestone, some with more clay, some a balance of the two. Generally where there is more limestone Chardonnay grows, and where there is more clay/marl, Pinot grows. Even vineyards that lie right next to each other will turn out wines with different profiles. For example, wines that are made from fruit at the top of a hill will taste different than wine made from fruit sourced at the bottom.
So now you are probably thinking, “Why is Italian Wine Merchants selling French wine?” It was really quite easy to make this transition because all we had to do was apply the same criteria that we use to choose our Italian wines. We stick to wines that are evocative of their land, producer and tradition. Burgundy has a rich winemaking history filled with passionate producers that have been crafting fine, artisanal wine for generations. Essentially, these producers are farmers at their hearts, and you can find them working the vineyard and cellar. Their dedication, work and passion show in their wines. In turn, these wines, although from a different country, represent IWM in its fullest capacity. Simply put, we choose wines that inspire us, and we hope that they inspire you as well!