Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a Burgundy wine dinner.
“What is a wine dinner?”, I hear you ask. Good question.
“Surely every dinner should be accompanied by wine”, I hear you call. Excellent point – but this is slightly different.
“I put ‘liquid diet’ escapades behind me when I finished university”, I hear you moan. I am pleased to inform you that a wine dinner is not the same as having dinner comprised of just wine. Time and place, people.
Wine dinners are similar to wine tastings, but oh so much better. A wine dinner is essentially a multi-course meal served alongside a variety of different wines, usually with a focus on a particular region. These events tend to be hosted by someone that works in the trade, often a specialist in that particular wine region. Every course is presented with a different wine and the host spends a few minutes talking about each pairing. The concept hits the jackpot – wine, food and (hopefully) good company.
When I say “French wine”, which wine region do you think of first? A quick and informal straw poll a couple of days ago revealed that Bordeaux is the most well-known French wine region amongst my friends – hardly unsurprising given that it is one of France’s largest wine-producing regions. An average year sees Bordeaux produce approximately 800-900 million bottles of wine, and the region has approximately 300,000 acres under vine – both a fairly significant portion of the country’s total. Zut alors!
You can probably infer from the title of this post, however, that the wine dinner I went to last night did not focus on the powerhouse Bordeaux, but rather Burgundy – a region that is geographically much smaller than Bordeaux and accounts for less than a quarter of Bordeaux’s total production of wine.
So what’s all the fuss about?
Burgundy (aka Bourgogne), located around 100km south of Paris, produces some of the finest and most expensive wines in the world – particularly those from Grand Cru vineyards in the Côte d’Or (“the golden slope”). White wine accounts for roughly two thirds of production, with red wine making up the rest. The wines are classified in terms of quality: Grand cru vineyards are the crème de la crème and account for a very small portion of the region’s wine production (expect to pay a lot of moulah for a Grand cru wine!); Premier cru vineyards are considered to be inferior to Grand crus but still extremely high quality; village vineyards produce wines that are lower down the chain in terms of quality but nevertheless still good, they can be a blend of wines from different vineyards but all within the same village commune; regional wines can be produced from anywhere in the region.
The region’s principal white grape is chardonnay – a typical white Burgundy is dry with a medium to full body and offers plenty of refreshing acidity. On the palate, these wines are fruity (think pear, green apple, peach) and are enhanced by a noticeable oak character, which adds buttery, vanilla and woody flavours to the wine. These wines are not easily scared by food – they can hold their own and handle dishes with more intense flavours. The wine dinner I attended paired a 2007 1er cru (the shorthand for Premier cru) with a terrine of chicken, ham hock and foie gras. Are you hungry yet?
The principal red grape is pinot noir. These wines are characterised by refined tannins and balanced acidity, with complex flavours of blackcurrant, cherry, mushroom, leather, earth and spice. The higher quality wines do have ageing potential depending on vintage; the village and regional wines are best drunk young. Red Burgundies are absolutely divine with roasted duck, game, venison or lamb (particularly if cooked the French way). Last night it was served with with beef entrecôte and it was tasty although I would have preferred to have it alongside lamb or venison.
By the way, Beaujolais and Chablis are technically also part of Burgundy, but I’ll tell you more about that another time.
Those that know me well know that I hate being asked what my favourite wine is, or even which grape I like the most. I wouldn’t even know where to begin to answer that ostensibly limitless question. If held at gunpoint, however, I’d confess an unwavering love of Burgundian wines.
I’m happy to continue droning on about it, but you’ll have much more fun trying it for yourself – give this a go for white and this one for red. Both are great introductions to Burgundy as you become more familiar with the region and the delights it has to offer.
PS. I don’t mean to rub it in but I’m going on a four-day tasting tour of Burgundy next month. It’s awesome having a dad who is even more in love with Burgundy than I am. But don’t tell him I said that.