Burgundy vs California: Two styles of Pinot Noir

As you probably know, Burgundy or Bourgogne is famous for two wines – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, known as “Red Burgundy” and “White Burgundy” respectively. Some of the most treasured examples from from Burgundy’s hallowed clos, and with miniscule production levels, they’re always in high demand. But over the years other regions have shown their fortitude at producing world class Pinot Noir, among them, California, where growers from the Central Coast up to Sonoma produces a wide range of styles.

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Let’s explore the main differences between new world California Pinot and the old world Red Burgundy.

California Pinot Noir

In general, California wines tend to be more fruit driven, ripe, and suitable for immediate enjoyment. The climate there is warmer which helps grapes ripen quicker and to higher sugar levels. Winemakers tend to favor modern techniques, using lots of new oak, extended maceration times, and cold soaks to extract more flavor.

This Pinot, crafted by the Tensleys, shows abundant ripe fruit, polished tannins.
This Pinot, crafted by the Tensleys, shows abundant ripe fruit, polished tannins.

Burgundy’s Pinot Noir

Pinot has been a mainstay here for centuries, grown by monks in the old days. The lands were split into an impossibly large number of plots thanks to Napoleonic era land laws, and today ownership varies greatly across the region. Styles of Pinot differ quite a lot too. In the Cote d’Or which includes the Cote de Nuits and the Cote de Beaune, the vineyards hosting the world’s most prestigious and expensive grapes. Vineyards here have been rigorously divided by their slope, height, soil types and position so that the premier crus tend to be mostly located on hills and the “villages” on the flat ground. Compared to California, Pinot from here tends to have lower alcohol levels, a more earthy funk, and less pronounced red fruit.

Resources:

Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burgundy_wine

Finding affordable Burgundy wine

The Burgundy wine market is a bit of a minefield. You have small allocations of very high priced wines from the precious Grand Crus, and beneath that you have a derth of lower priced and often uninspired quality wines from the villages. Where is the balance you ask?

Well, with the holiday season here, we found ourselves paying a lot of money for all sorts of things – a new 4k flat screen tv (highly recommended – the HDR resolution on Netflix is UNREAL!)from Vizio, a replacement hot tub cover for $300, increased heating bills, and so on. This is a common thread during the holiday season. Naturally you want to supplement special dinners from Thanksgiving to Christmas with great wines. So where do you find a killer bottle of Burg?

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Finding a great quality to price ratio isn’t easy in the most prestigious French wine regions Photo credit

Avoid the Grand Crus

This probably goes without saying, but Burgundy and “affordable” are rarely seen in the same context, but if you know where to look you can find some great values. While Bordeaux and exclusive Napa Cabs seem to be stuck in a holding pattern of prices, Burgundy continues to soar upward every year. To start, you probably want to avoid any wines labeled with the generic, all-encompassing “Bourgogne” designation, which is meant for the lowest rung. Instead, try to find something with a specific region – Cote d’Or or Challonais on the bottle. This great article in the Wall St. Journal explores the subject in more depth. Then you should look for any bottle with a specific village designation – i.e.

Five picks:

  • 2013 Domain Dureuil-Janthial Vauvry Rully Premier Cru ($36)
  • 2014 Patrick Piuze Terroir de Chablis ($22)
  • Domaine Claudie Jobard, Montagne La Folie, Rully 2014
  • Domaine Jean-Philippe Fichet, Vieilles Vignes, Bourgogne 2014
  • Domaine Lebreuil, Aux Grands Liards, Savigny-lès-Beaune 2014

This week in Burgundy wine news

For a small region, much has been happening lately in Burgundy. Harvest has ended, and winemakers are busying themselves preparing this year’s harvest.

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Harvest thefts are on the rise in Burgundy – according to thelocal.fr an increase in thieves have been pilfering grapes left on the vines.

Overall harvest levels are down 20+ percent thanks to early frosts that prevented strong growth in the early season, and the usual bouts of bad weather that growers fear.

Burgundy producers continue to make for attractive investments and we just saw Maison Chamby sold to France’s AdVini.

The “holy grail” of wine, a 1978 Romanee-Conti, sold for a record busting $18,000 per bottle at a recent auction in NYC.

The supermarket chain Raley’s was awarded “wine enthusiasts retailer of the year” thanks in part to their ability to source some elusive and rare vintages of Burgundy wine.

Last Bottle Wines takes a closer look at the Chardonnay grape, one of the premier varietals grown in Burgundy.

About the “clos” in Burgundy

Some of the most expensive, most renowned, and treasured wines in the entire world originate in the sacred land of Burgundy, France. When it comes to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, few other regions bring the prestige that places like Clos St. Denis, Echezeaux, and Gevrey-Chambertin do.

Burgundy is a complicated place though, thanks to age old land inheritance laws that split the region into hundreds of “clos” – tiny vineyards outlined by rock walls. It’s not uncommon to find one family owning a single row of vines, sharing a small clos with a dozen other families.

The word “clos” comes from the French word for “closure”. Some famous clos in Burgundy include

  • Clos de Tart – famous for Pinot Noir. Located in the Cote de Nuits region.
  • Clos de la Roche
  • Clos St. Denis
  • La Romanee
  • Clos du Val

Although many of the vineyards in these clos are owned by small families, who have maintained them for decades, we’ve seen some big players enter the area recently. For example, LVMH just bought Clos des Lambrays, a famous Grand Cru vineyard. This behavior has been driven by the strong consumer demand for Burgundy wine. With such limited space, it’s no wonder the demand remains high, even as countless other regions around the world expand their wine production.