by VineSleuth Contributing Writer, Steve Gross

Do the wines of France intrigue you, yet puzzle you? Join us as we investigate French wine here on VineSleuth Uncorked every second week through the rest of the year, exploring regional French wine characteristics, as well as a few tasting notes on wines we have tried, region by region.

First up: Red Burgundy

When I first started drinking red wine, I found it hard to take many of the wines. This was just after college, when the budget was lean and I was picking wines indiscriminately off the shelf. They were very dry, and they certainly weren’t sweet. I discovered Pinot Noir at some point, and enjoyed floral and strawberry aromas with tight, cherry tones. These were light wines that did dry out my mouth a little after a few glasses, but not to the point that it got in the way of enjoying the wine.

Red Burgundy Wines are Pinot Noirs

Red Burgundy wines are Pinot Noirs, by rule. They’re often named after the village or commune where they’re grown and made, and that can be confusing. The back label usually says “Red Burgundy Wine,” though.

Distinguishing between the different makers and vintages would take a lifetime, but knowing the various sub-regions of Burgundy can give you some confidence that you’ll get a quality wine. I have found that Gevrey-Chambertin, Volnay, Vosne-Romanee, Chorey Les Beaune, and Morey-Saint-Denis are some of the locations where fine red Burgundies have been made over generations. This is reflected in price and the difficulty in finding many of these wines.

Some of the famous makers are Drouhin, Leflaive, and Dujac. They’re famous because their wines have been loved and collected over a great span of time. They’re expensive and/or hard to find. Fine restaurants serve them, and you won’t find them in most corner wine shops.

Vineyard Quality Designations

Bottles of Burgundy carry the vineyard’s quality designation. The 4 quality designations in Burgundy are:

  • Grand Cru
  • Premier Cru
  • Village (named for the village they’re from)
  • and Regional Appellations often called Bourgogne Rouge (red Burgundy)

Grand Cru wines come from the vineyards (sometimes even specific rows in an individual vineyard) which have proven to produce the highest quality grapes/wine over years and years.

I did not taste a Grand Cru in my sampling, but I did have the opportunity to enjoy two Premier Cru wines, and they were very nice, indeed. Many of the lower priced red Burgundies tended to smell great, but they were somewhat watery in the mouth and they didn’t have much complexity. The hit of the month was the Bouchard Pere et Fils Pommard 1er (Premier) Cru. That was a banquet in itself!

This New York Times article discussed the terroir of Burgundy and the differences from vineyard to vineyard.

Quality and Price

Quality and price do not always go hand in hand, though. From year to year, some village wines may prove more enjoyable and lush than Premier Crus, or others.

In my view, if a wine offers satisfaction all the way through the tasting (nose, full, rich flavor in the mouth, and a lingering, enjoyable finish), that’s a quality wine experience. I know that what I’m saying here isn’t “fancy wine talk,” but there are wines that offer this full-service tasting experience, and when you find one, you soon discover that you’ve poured yourself a second or third glass and you’re looking for someone with whom to share this wonderful elixir! Now that’s a fine wine experience!

Typically, though, what I’ve found is that if you’re willing to spend a little money, you should pick a Grand or Premier Cru red Burgundy. The really good ones have layers of flavor, from roasted meat and leather, to rich fruit – very satisfying, indeed.

A few Red Burgundies I’ve tasted:

Faiveley Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire `09 Muddled nose, not a lot of fruit, drier than most Pinots I’ve had. $14 at Houston Wine Merchants

Vincent Girardin Volnay Vielles Vignes `08 Great. Solid throughout, with dust and rose petal on the nose, good fruit, moderate tannin $80 at Masraff’s Restaurant, Houston

Vincent Girardin Bourgogne Cuvee Saint-Vincent `09 Pretty good, but not great; tannins increased as bottle progressed, rosy nose, somewhat thin $22 at Hubble and Hudson, The Woodlands, TX

Bouchard Pere et Fils Pommard 1er Cru `05 Really nice; roasted meat nose, some oak, but nice, great mouthfeel, great flavor throughout $61 at Spec’s Liquors, Houston

Faiveley Clos de Myglands 1er Cru `06 Decent fruit, dries the mouth over the course of the bottle. Rose petal nose. $28 at Spec’s Liquors, Houston

Leonce Bocquet Bourgogne Rouge 07 Oaky, but nice flavor across palate, decent finish; somewhat better on 2nd day. $14 at Spec’s Liquors, Houston

Have you found a red Burgundy that you’ve really enjoyed? Let us know about it here in the comments.

Next up, the white wines of Burgundy beginning on May 1.

Click over for a full schedule of A Year of Tasting French Wines and taste alongside us!

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