Saturday, November 30, 2013

Unit 2 - Day 4: Côte d’Or Red Wines

This is essentially part 2 of my last review of Burgundy in which I provided notes about the geography, climate, classifications, types of grapes and detailed notes of 8 white wines from this region.

On the fourth day of Unit 2 in The Intensive Sommelier Training at the International Culinary Center we studied the Côte de Nuits in the north end of the Côte d’Or in Burgundy.

To some people this may sound like a lot of fun. While I do enjoy the class, keep in mind that after spending 8 hours at work I then drive an hour to the class. We then listen to 2 hours of lectures and just when I am ready to go home to bed, we spend about 90 minutes to 2 hours going through the wines in a very structured format in which we are required to verbally give our analysis of the wine to the entire class in the form of tasting grid of the Court of Sommeliers. It is a very different and more focused approach to wine than tasting (and spitting) at home or at a winery. The entire time you have to take detailed notes and keep in mind that any one of these wines may appear in a Unit Exam or in the Certified Examination.

One of the most important things to do when tasting many wines of the same varietal or similar blend from the same region is to determine what they have in common that is unique to their type and then learn what makes them distinguishable from the same varietal or blend of grapes grown in other regions. It is only in doing this can that we can understand the terroir that makes them unique and be able to identify them in a blind tasting. But in order to recognize and understand the cause of the differences between Pinot Noir from Burgundy and other regions, we need to understand the culture of Burgundy which includes its history.

The History of Burgundy: From the Roman Empire to the Modern Era

Burgundy has the most fragmented vineyards and is the most terroir focused wine region in the world. From a distance it seems insane, but once you understand the history of Burgundy you begin to see why the home of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is so complicated.

The history of the development of wine in Europe is intrinsically tied to the history of Europe’s politics and economics - the rule of its kings and the expansion of the influence of the Christian Church. If you don’t have at least a rudimentary understand of its history, you won’t be able make any sense of Europe’s wines – especially those of Burgundy.

Wine has been made in Burgundy for 2,000 years and it is too long to go into all the details, so I’ll just mention some of the most significant points in history to remember.

The Celts and Roman Empire

Although we don’t know exactly when viticulture began in Burgundy, the Celts were more than likely growing vines when the Romans conquered Gaul in 51 BC. The Romans then continued viticulture and winemaking in the region at least up until the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD.

The Middle Ages (500- 1500 AD) - The Church and Kings of France

After the fall of Rome winemaking continued in the region. In 591 AD Gregory of Tours (30 November c. 538 – 17 November 594) a Gallo-Roman historian and Bishop of Tours, recognized its quality and compared it to that of the Roman wine Falernian (Aglianico), which was consider to be a “first growth” in its time.

The most important influence on winemaking in Burgundy, which is still seen today, was accomplished by the Monks and monasteries of the Roman Catholic Church. In 587 King Guntram donated the first vineyard to the Church.[1]

Wine’s influence was then expanded with the ascension of Charlemagne (2 April 742– 28 January 814), who is also known as Charles the Great. On Christmas day, 800 A.D., Pope Hadrian I. crowned Charlemagne Emperor by placing a gold crown on his head.[2] This event shifted the seat of power from the south of Europe to the north with the Rhine as the center of his empire. This shift in trade and economic power caused Europe’s fortunes and population increased with wine as a key commodity.

In 910 AD the Catholic Benedictine monks founded Abbey of Cluny which became the first truly big and important vineyard in Burgundy for the following centuries.

In 1098, almost 2 centuries later, the Cistercians order founded Cîteaux, their first monastery in Burgundy.

In 1336 the Cistercians created Burgundy’s largest wall-surrounded vineyard, the Clos de Vougeot. The Cistercians were prolific vineyard owners and were the first to notice the region’s terroir as they make distinctions between different vineyard plots that gave consistently different wines. This was the earliest foundation for the naming of Burgundy crus.

Whereas Bordeaux has easy access to rivers and the ocean, Burgundy is land-locked so very little of its wines left the region in Medieval times. During this time wine was not bottled at a winery but was transported in barrels so waterways provided the only practical means of long-range transportation. The only part of Burgundy which could reach Paris in a practical way was the area around Auxerre by means of the Yonne River. These wines referred to as vin de Bourgogne and those from Côte d'Or would be referred to as (vin de) Beaune.

In the 14th century, during the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy in Avignon, Burgundy’s wines first became famous as they were able to transport them over land to the Saône River and the Rhône River. In the papal court, Beaune was generally seen as the finest wine available in Rome at that time.

In the 14th and 15th centuries the dukes had tremendous economic and political power, more than the kings. The status of Burgundy wines then prospered in the court of the House of Valois, which ruled as Dukes of Burgundy. From this era, the first reliable references to grape varieties in Burgundy were made. Pinot noir was first mentioned in 1370 under the name Noirien but it is believed to have been cultivated in the land during the Middle Ages.

On August 6, 1395, Duke Philip the Bold issued a decree concerned with safeguarding the quality of Burgundy wines. The duke declared that the “vile and disloyal Gamay”— a higher-yielding grape than Pinot Noir – was unfit for human consumption and banned the use of organic fertilizer (manure), which probably increased yields even further to the detriment of quality. High-quality white Burgundy wines of this era were probably made from Fromenteau, a mutation of Pinot Noir that is now called Pinot Gris.

Late 1700’s to Early 1800’s - The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Code

The first négociant houses of Burgundy were established in the 1720s and 1730s. During this time Burgundy and Champagne were economic rivals in the wine market of Paris. The two regions has similar wine styles in this era as Champagne was primarily a producer of pale red still wines rather than of sparkling wines.

In 1728 Claude Arnoux wrote a major work on Burgundy wines in which he discusses famous red wines of Côte de Nuits and the Oeil de Perdrix pink wines of Volnay, but he only briefly mentions white wines.

After Burgundy became incorporated in the Kingdom of France, and the power of the church decreased and many of its vineyards were sold to the bourgeoisie (wealthy middle-class citizens) from the 17th century.

In 1789-1791, after the French revolution, the Church’s remaining vineyards were broken up sold off. Napoleon Bonaparte (August 1769 – 5 May 1821) was a French military and political leader who rose to prominence during the latter stages of the French Revolution and its associated wars in Europe. As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1815. During this time he established the Napoleonic Code (Code civil des français) ‒ the French civil code that forbade privileges based on birth, allowed freedom of religion, and specified that government jobs should go to the most qualified. The principal cause for the complexity of Burgundy’s land divisions and the presence of co-operatives and negociants in is found in the Napoleonic inheritance laws, which give equal inheritance rights to all children of a family. The Napoleonic inheritance laws required that decedents of a land-owner each receive an equal portion of land. So, if a landowner had 6 children, who then each had 6 children this would result in the splintering of the most precious vineyard holdings (a single vineyard in this formula would be divided into 36 parts) with the result that some growers today hold only own a row or two of vines. This led to a profusion of increasingly smaller, family-owned wineries, exemplified by the dozen-plus Gros family domains. But many who only have a small crop of grapes from only a couple rows of vines with little or no property on which to build a winery. This gave rise to a need for a grape buyer (négociant) who could then make wine by purchasing grapes from numerous vine owners within the same vineyard. This is one of the key factors that make understanding Burgundy wines so immeasurably complex.

The Early 1800’s - The Tier System of Burgundy

While awareness of the difference of quality and style of Burgundy wines produced from different vineyards goes back to Medieval times, with certain climats being more highly rated than others, it was not until the 1800’s that official ranking system was developed.[3]

In 1831 Denis Morelot wrote La Vigne et le Vin en Côte d'Or. In which he describes the quality of Burgundy’s wines and would influence later authors and classifications.

In 1855, the same year as the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification, Dr. Jules Lavalle published Histoire et Statistique de la Vigne de Grands Vins de la Côte-d'Or. It was built on Morelot’s book and included an unofficial 5 Tier classification of the Burgundy vineyards. In decreasing order, Lavalle's five classes were hors ligne, tête de cuvée, 1ère cuvée, 2me cuvée and 3me cuvée.

In 1861 the Beaune Committee of Agriculture formalized Lavalle’s classification which then consisted of three classes.

In 1936 the national AOC legislation made most of the “first class” vineyards of the 1861 classification into Grand Cru Appellations d'Origine Controlees.

The Early to Mid 20th Century – World Wars and The Decline of Burgundy

The early 20th Century was a difficult time for the World of Wine. The plague of Phylloxera of the late 1800’s followed by two world wars and the Great Depression devastated France’s wine production. While they did not experience Prohibition, as they did in the United States, the vineyards of Burgundy were war torn as they became battlefields and the German occupation depleted France of their most precious wine cellars.[4]

After the War, the vignerons returned home to their unkempt vineyards. What followed was an attempt to revitalize the vineyards through artificial means which at first had some benefit but it eventually got out of hand and depleted the vineyards of their health.

After WW2 growers began to fertilize, bringing their vineyards back to health. Those who could afford it added potassium, a mineral fertilizer that contributes to vigorous growth. By the mid-1950s, the soils were balanced, yields were reasonably low and the vineyards produced some of the most stunning wines in the 20th century.

However over the next 30 years they kept spraying their vineyards with chemical fertilizers, including potassium. While a certain amount of potassium is natural in the soil and beneficial for healthy growth, if excessive it is harmful because it depletes the soil of its acidity, which dramatically reduces the quality of the wine.

As the concentration of chemicals in the soil increased, so did the yields. With higher yields came wines became diluted of flavor and concentration as the soils had been significantly depleted of their natural nutrients.

The 1970’s and The Decline of the Vineyards of Burgundy

Then in the 1970’s tons of chemical herbicides, pesticides and fungicides for controlling vine pests and vegetation began to become widely used in Burgundy. The relationship of a winegrower with his agricultural products supplier was often akin to that of a junkie with his dealer. The more sprays they used the more they needed. Soils bereft of natural micro-organisms strip the vineyards of their natural defense mechanisms with the result that only more chemicals can keep the larvae and weeds at bay.

The Late 1990’s - The Resurrection of Burgundy’s Vineyards

The period between 1985 and 1995 was a turning point in Burgundy. During this time, many Burgundian domaines renewed efforts in the vineyards and gradually set a new course in winemaking. The lutte raisonnée, “reasoned fight” approach agricultural management calls for minimal treatments if necessary in the vineyard. But this was not a new way of vineyard management, but a very old one practiced by their great-grandfathers. This then gave birth to introduction of organic vineyard management which has revitalized the land bringing it back to being naturally healthy and the renewed focus on the terroir of the wine.

Another step taken by some is the use of “biodynamics”. This approach to viticulture influenced by German philosopher Rudolf Steiner goes beyond organic. The emphasis is placed on soil fertility and cosmic theories of astronomy. In this system vineyard and winery operations are usually determined and arranged by planet positions and phases of the moon. For some this requires a full belief system rather than just a sustainable viticultural program while others may follow the practice even if they don’t fully subscribe to the "voo-doo" semi-religious aspects of its origins.

Whether organic or biodynamic, the revitalization of Burgundy’s vineyards has led to deeper, more complex wines. Today, the Burgundy wine industry is reaping the rewards of those efforts and they are some of the most sought-after wines in the world.

Learning Objectives of Unit 2 - Day 4: Côte d’Or Red Wines

At the beginning of class lectures a list of learning objectives is provided to the students. By the end of the class, the students should have a certain degree of understanding from their own reading and the lectures and be able to provide the answers to list of questions. I don’t intend to repeat these in every review, but just so you get an idea of what is expected here are the Learning Objectives for Unit 2 - Day 4. For the sake of my own study, I’ll provide the answers.

By the end of class, students should be able to:

(1)  Briefly discuss the history of the area: Monks, Napoléonic Law

Answer: See the above outline of the history of Burgundy.

(2)  Name the portion of the Côte d’Or best known for reds

Answer: Côte d’ Nuit.

(3)  Name a red Grand Cru of Côte d’Or other than those given

Answer: Clos de Vougeot – As mentioned above, this was established in 1336 by the Cistercians.

(4)  State what is different about Corton and Musigny compared to the other Grand Cru of 
their respective districts.

Answer: Corton is the only Grand Cru producer of red and white wine in the Côte d’Beaune (South) and Musigny is the only Grand Cru vineyard in Côte de Nuits (north) for white wine as well as red.

(5)  Explain the background behind the hyphenated village names

Answer: Many villages have double barrelled names because they have hyphenated the name of their most famous vineyard: thus Gevrey has added Chambertin and Chambolle has added Musigny.

(6)  Name 3 villages in each sub-region of the Côte d’Or


Côte d’ Nuit: Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St-Denis, Chambolle-Musigny

Côte d’Beaune: Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Santenay

(7)  Discuss marl soil in the context of the growing of Pinot Noir.

Answer: While Burgundy white shows its best on Kimmeridgian soil (a calcareous clay containing this limestone), Pinot Noir is better suited for Marl soil (a mixture of different clays as well as calcium and magnesium with fossilized shells) as it will produce a light, elegant red or a powerful, vigorous wine.  

(8)  State the rules concerning production of Bourgogne Passetoutgrains.

Answer: Passetoutgrains is a red wine although rosé wine may also be produced. Unlike other Burgundy wines, which are primarily produced from a single grape variety, Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains is an essentially a cuvée of Gamay and Pinot Noir. Since Côte d'Or and Yonne have very little Gamay, most Passe-Tout-Grains are produced from grapes grown in Saône et Loire (essentially the Côte Chalonnaise subregion of Burgundy), where Gamay makes up almost half of the red grapes.

(9)  Suggest top vintages for your guests since 1990.

Answer: The top vintages since 1990 include 1996 (95 points) and 2009 (96 points)

(10) Describe the attributes of any wine we tasted today.

Answer: See below

The Wines

On the fourth day of Unit 2 we tasted the following red wines from the Burgundy:

1. 2011 Domaine Regis Bouvier En Montre Cul, Bourgogne

This is a clear day-bright red wine that is ruby at the core to pink at the rim with low-medium concentration, moderate rim variation and moderate viscosity. On the nose it is clean with aromas of fresh cranberries, pomegranates, fresh roses, cinnamon stick, with subtle earth and mushroom notes. On the palate is has fresh tart cherries, raspberries and under ripe strawberries, roses and a hint of spice and an underlying note of chalk. It is dry, with medium+ acidity, medium body, moderate alcohol and tannin and a medium length finish. This wine sells for about $21 to $24. This is a very nice Pinot Noir for less than $25.

2. 2011 Domaine Pierre Guillemot, Bourgogne

This wine is a clear, day bright red wine that is ruby at the core with a tinge of garnet at the rim with medium rim variation, concentration and viscosity. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of fresh strawberries, ripe cherries, dried roses, cinnamon stick and a hint of dried herbs and stems with just a hint of mushrooms. On the palate it is clean with flavors of under ripe strawberries, cranberries, a hint of pepper and an earthiness of decomposing leaves with an under layer of chalk. It is dry with medium to medium+ acidity, medium- tannin, medium finish and moderate complexity. This wine sells for about $21.

3. 2011 Domaine Jean-Marc Morey, Beaune Grèves, 1er Cru

This is a clear day-bright red wine that is ruby at the core to garnet at the rim with medium concentration, medium rim variation and moderate viscosity. On the nose it is clean but with a mild hint of barn yard (Brettanomyces). It has moderate aromas of ripe strawberries, cranberries and plums followed by dried roses, potpourri, and dried cinnamon stick with a distinctive note of chalk and damp earth and mushrooms. On the palate it has flavors of tart cherries and ripe strawberries, definitive spice and dried herbs, earth and mushrooms. It is dry with medium+ acidity, moderate alcohol, medium body, medium-chalky tannins and a medium to medium+ length finish. The wine retails for about $40.

4. 2010 La Pousse d’Or, Santenay 1er Cru, Clos Tavannes

This is a clear day-bright red wine, ruby at the core to garnet at the rim of medium concentration, low rim variation and medium viscosity.  On the nose it is clean with aromas of dark cherries, roses, violets and dried earth and mushrooms. On the palate it is clean with aromas of fresh, tart cherries, plum skins, and raspberries, dried roses, cinnamon, cloves, dried herbs and chalk. On the palate it is dry with medium+ acidity, medium alcohol, low chalky-tannins, moderate complexity and a medium length finish. The wine retails for about $49.

5. 2009 Ballot Millot, Pommard Pèzerolles

This is a clear day-bright red wine that is ruby at the core to garnet at the rim, with medium concentration, medium rim variation and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with ripe fresh plums, cherries and strawberries with notes of spice and herbs and chalk. On the palate it is has flavors of ripe strawberries, roses and hints of spice and chalk with subtle notes of green stems. It is dry with medium to medium+ acidity, and moderate alcohol, tannins, complexity and finish. The wine retails for about $65.

6. 2007 Hudelot-Noellat, Chambolle-Musigny

This is a clear day-bright red wine that is ruby at the core to garnet at the rim, with medium concentration, medium rim variation and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with ripe cherries and tart strawberries with notes of spice, cinnamon, dried leaves, chalk and rusty nails. On the palate it is has flavors of cherries, strawberries, roses and hints of spice and chalk. It is dry with medium to medium+ acidity, and moderate alcohol, tannins, complexity and finish. The wine retails for about $47.

7. 2011 Domaine De L’Arlot, Nuit St. George, Les Petits Plets 1er Cru

This is a clear day-bright red wine that is ruby at the core to pink at the rim, with medium concentration, medium rim variation and medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean with intense ripe cherries, pomegranates, beef-jerky, with subtle notes of tart strawberries with notes of spice, cinnamon, hints of cedar, mint, and chalk. On the palate it is has flavors of cherries, strawberries, roses and hints of spice and chalk. It is dry with medium to medium+ acidity, and moderate alcohol, tannins, complexity and finish. The wine retails for about $49.

8. 2009 Domaine Droughin-Laroze, Laticieres-Chambertin, Grand Cru

This is a clear day-bright red wine that is ruby at the core to garnet at the rim, with medium concentration, medium rim variation and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate aromas of strawberries, cherry-liqueur, dried roses, cloves, dried meat, dried roses, potpourri, cinnamon, damp earth, autumn leaves, damp earth and chalk. On the palate it is has flavors of cherries, strawberries with hints of cloves, pepper, dried herbs, chalk and a hint of cigar box. It is dry with medium+ acidity, and moderate alcohol, tannins, complexity and finish. The wine retails for about $105-$110.


This style of note taking is very different than what you will read in most wine blogs and reviews in wine magazines. It is a bit technical and can seem like dry and boring reading. But this is how you would describe these wines in a tasting grid. My goal is to analyze the wine’s aromas and structure and then determine what is common to all of them and is distinctive of the grape varietal and the region.

All of these wines have red fruit aromas and flavors, are light to medium in color and intensity, are high in acidity, medium to low in tannin with earthy aromas. Many of them also have a distinctive garnet-orange tint at the rim that is indicative of the grape varietal and whole-cluster fermenting that is common with Pinot Noir in Burgundy. If you are accustomed to fruity California Pinots the minerality and dryness of these wine may be a pit of a shock. The chalkiness of these wines may make the tannins seem tighter or more intense. In fact, some may confuse the chalky minerality with tannin. The key difference is, fruit tannins are felt in the front of the mouth between the teeth and gums. Wood tannins are felt in the back between the side of the cheeks and tongue. The drying sensation of the chalky minerality is primarily experienced on the roof of the mouth. This, when tasted blind, is what makes them distinguishable as an old world French Pinot Noir from Burgundy.

[1] For more reading on the influence of Christian monk on wine I highly recommend reading: Desmond Seward, Monks and Wine (Crown Publishers; October 1979).

[2] He was the King of the Franks from 768 AD, the King of Italy from 774 AD, and from 800 AD the first emperor in western Europe since the collapse of the Western Roman Empire three centuries earlier.

[3] A climat is a Burgundy-specific synonym for “vineyard site”, which refers not just to the site itself, but to its terroir.

[4] For more information, I highly recommend reading: Donald Kladstrup, Petie Kladstrup, Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure (Broadway Books, 2002)

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