Beautiful Burgundy: Showing both complexity and finesse, Bourgogne wines are among the world’s most coveted

Burgundy is one of the most prosperous regions of France, rich in culture, history and gastronomical delights. It is home to world-renowned wines that have soared in price and desirability over recent decades and particularly in the past two years. Pinot Noir (for reds) and Chardonnay (for whites) are the main grape varieties, though others are permitted.

The Bourgogne area comprises a patchwork quilt of myriad different terroirs, appellations and styles. According to George Lacey, Director and Head of Wine at Sotheby’s, Asia, this complexity previously put off consumers whose drinking experiences could be so variable from one producer or village to the next – but times have changed. “Collectors turned to Burgundy seeking elegance, finesse, a sense of individuality and precision, and discovered that the region could provide ethereal wines that show the epitome of these characteristics in spades,” he says.

Scarcity value

The vast range of styles and expressions is down to the great number of small, family-owned domaines, producing microscopic quantities of wine from very low-yielding vines.

As Lacey explains, this small supply then drives up the scarcity value of its wines and has caused a rapid ascent in prices of Burgundy wine. He notes: “As with so many luxury commodities, the harder Burgundy has become to find, the more people want to find it!”

Sense of place

Lacey says Burgundy has been at the forefront of winemaking innovation and experimentation and historic producers are located almost side by side with some of today’s most boundary-pushing, next-generation experimental vignerons. He believes Burgundy has the perfect climatic conditions for the ‘capricious’ Pinot Noir grape to flourish. Chardonnay, on the other hand, is much easier to grow. Expressing itself in an enormous range of styles, this varietal is an incredible vector for the romantic notion of ‘terroir’, or a ‘sense of place’.

Fantastic individuality

Picking a favourite wine is almost impossible for Lacey. “To generalise, the reds are often characterised by beautifully bright, fresh red fruit and floral aromas becoming more savoury as they age with softer, dried petal and ‘sousbois’ [undergrowth] flavours coming to the fore. For the whites, Chardonnay expresses a huge variety of styles within the region from rich, unctuous, nutty and buttery Meursault to steely, mineral and linear Chablis, and everything in between,” he says

“If I had to choose a favourite, then for whites it would be majestic examples of mature 20-year-plus Raveneau Les Clos or Coche-Dury’s Meursault – some of the greatest examples of Chardonnay in the world. For reds, it would have to be the great Musigny vineyard from either Domaine Mugnier or Leroy. These encounters are becoming ever rarer, but I have had some of my most magical drinking experiences with them – not just for Burgundy but any wine worldwide.”

Compelling paradox

“For me, what makes the very best Burgundy so magical is their ability to become what we call ‘paradox wines’,” says Lacey. “They have an ability to express both weightlessness and intensity, power and elegance, complexity and finesse.”

After two years of weather woes, has Chablis finally regained its footing?

It’s pretty much an open secret that for the last two years, Burgundy has been on a path of steady growth in the international wine markets. Yet, not all parts of this premium winemaking region have shared the same good fortune, with some sub-regions being brought low by a series of untoward weather events – chiefly frost- and hail-related – that have cut their expected harvests by upwards of 30 percent in both 2016 and 2017.

Now, though, it seems as if the sun has broken through the clouds for at least one of Bourgogne’s sub-regions – Chablis. The northernmost territory within Burgundy’s five winemaking areas and home to the purest Chardonnay grapes, Chablis’ vineyards have an output of 40 million bottles per annum, representing 33 percent of the volume of white wines produced in the wider Burgundy region every year.

Chablis is the northern-most Burgundy region

With 2018 having proved unexpectedly clement, at least in Chablis, local winemakers are already discreetly speaking of the “best vintage in 20 years”. Less circumspect is Louis Moreau, proprietor of Domaine Louis Moreau, a 50- hectare estate in the heart of the region. Happy to put his optimism on the record, he says: “While we were a little uncertain after the drought in early summer, ultimately, the vineyard gave us a real gift after two difficult years…”

Burgundy's Chablis region

And, when the vineyards in this part of the world decide to give, they give very generously. Quite magnificent in its beneficence, when the unique qualities of its terroir properly align, something truly magical takes place.

As it’s notably cooler than other parts of Burgundy, Chablis grapes are seldom overripe. This, in harmony with the signature minerality of the region’s subsoil, has resulted in just about the ideal environment for propagating the perfect chardonnay grape, the element that makes all four Chablis appellations – Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru – so universally admired, and the perfect pairing with many of the world’s favourite foods. Stay tuned for our guide to the perfect food-wine pairings for these delicious vintages…

Text: Suchetana Mukhopadhyay

Burgundy and Beyond: Wine tips from Justerini & Brooks’ Managing Director

It wasn’t so very long ago that Bordeaux, that most pre-eminent of French wine regions, claimed to have something of a monopoly when it came to making the world’s finest vintages. And, to be fair, up until seven years ago, its winemakers – particularly those of the Grand Cru persuasion – were permanent fixtures at the top of any list of top tipple producers.

Burgundy grapes are among the most prized in the world

Back in 2011, though, that all changed. Global demand for Bordeaux tanked, and Mouton Rothschild and Chateau Lafite, to name but two, suddenly found themselves jostling for table space with a bunch of upstart Burgundians. Fast forward seven more years, and the supplicant has become the master, with Burgundy now, arguably, dominating the industry – its reputation impeccable and its per-bottle price becoming ever more premium.

Now, though, some see signs that this prized province is also passing its peak. Where, then, should discerning oenophiles turn to for their next fine wine fix? Few are better qualified to conjure an answer to that particular conundrum than Chadwick Delaney, Managing Director of Justerini & Brooks, the most-lauded of longstanding London wine merchants…

Chadwick Delaney of Justerini & Brooks on Burgundy wines and beyond
Chadwick Delaney, Managing Director of Justerini & Brooks

What do you see as the defining wine trend in Asia right now?

That would have to be the rise of Burgundy, though that applies to the whole world and not just Asia. Most notably, estates such as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti are commanding astronomical prices, but other lesser-known producers are also doing well. This is largely down to Burgundy’s talented new generation of winemakers who, I think it’s safe to say, are going through something of a renaissance right now. After the Big Bordeaux Bust of 2011, collectors in search of alternative high-quality wines immediately fell under Burgundy’s spell.

Burgundy vineyard

Following several years of soaring demand, is there a danger that Burgundy is now on course for its own Big Bust?

That’s very difficult to determine. The Burgundy dynamic right now is very different to that of pre-crash Bordeaux. Back then, it was a change of government policy in China – one of its biggest markets – that saw ostentatious gift-giving suddenly frowned upon, resulting in demand dropping overnight.

Thanks in part to its smaller production capacity, Burgundy has never been reliant on mass demand from China. In fact, if anything was to trigger a collapse in its value proposition, it would more likely be a change in priority on the part of collectors. It’s not inconceivable that they might one day think: “Instead of spending tens of thousands of pounds on a single case of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, I’d rather find something equally satisfying, but rather more wallet-friendly…”

Barbarescu in Italy's Piedmont region may be a Burgundy successor
Barbarescu in Italy’s Piedmont region may be a Burgundy successor

Are there any other regions that you particularly see as on the way up?

There is a notable spike of interest in the wines coming out of Piedmont in northern Italy. It’s perhaps significant that there’s a number of similarities between the Burgundy and Piedmont estates. In both cases, they tend to be small, family-owned, single varietal vineyards producing very aromatic, expressive wines. In particular, Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco are proving to be performers of note, suggesting to some that the region will evolve along very similar lines to Burgundy.

Looking further afield in Europe, Germany has won a number of admirers over recent years. In fact, it is officially our fastest-growing region. The German whites tend to be particularly dry, a characteristic that makes them eminently restaurant-friendly – a fact not lost on the sommeliers of many fine-dining establishments. Then there’s the pinot noirs, which, while having a unique German identity, in taste terms are also far more reminiscent of Bourgogne than any of their New World counterparts.

German wines may succeed Burgundy as the next big thing
German wines may succeed Burgundy as the next Big Thing

Thank you.

Text: Tenzing Thondup


Under-the-radar Burgundy wines are stepping into the spotlight

Amaury Devillard, winemaker and Bourgogne Wine Board member, sheds some light on how a new generation of Burgundy wine producers is making the non-Grand Cru Bourgogne vintages truly unmissable tipples…

How to spot non-Grand Cru Burgundy wines

With Burgundy the drink du jour for many of Asia’s wine enthusiasts, the finest Grand Cru vintages are increasingly difficult to on the open market. Thankfully, there’s a number of other fine – though oft overlooked – vineyards in Bourgogne, France’s central-eastern region.

To give these lesser-known producers a share of the spotlight, the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB) – a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting the region’s wines – recently staged its third Bourgogne Wine Week. A highlight was One Day for Bourgogne Wines, a splendid tasting session that showcased more than 140 under-the-radar vintages from the length and breadth of the region.

Burgundy native Amaury Devillard on why the region 's wines are better than ever
Amaury Devillard on why Burgundy wines are better than ever

How better, then, to get a true appreciation of the wider range of Bourgogne wines than to get the insights of Amaury Devillard, a native Burgundian, a BIVB board member and a winemaker in his own right, courtesy of his family’s Château de Chamirey vineyard?

How would you explain the rising popularity of a wider range of Burgundy’s wines?

I think much of the credit must go to the latest crop of winemakers. In the last 25 years, many young Burgundians have travelled abroad, witnessing winemaking techniques beyond our borders, before returning home, ready to put their new-found skills into practice. Thanks to these pioneers, Bourgogne viticulture has evolved by leaps and bounds. Never before have our wines captured the varying terroirs of Burgundy quite so purely.

Sunset in Burgundy

Why has buying ‘en primeur’ (before release) become quite such a phenomenon?

I think it’s down to two different factors. Firstly, there’s the weather. Since 2010, conditions have been extreme, ranging from extended frosts and harsh summers. And so, our yield has been very low, which brings us to the second issue – supply and demand.

Even at peak capacity, Bourgogne’s production is only a fraction of Bordeaux’s. So, given the increased demand, buying en primeur has become the best way to ensure you secure your supply of Burgundy.

Should buyers be more adventurous and focus less exclusively on the Grand Cru wines?

Once again, it’s a supply and demand issue. Grand Cru wines are sought after primarily because they are so rare. After all, they represent less than two percent of all Bourgogne production. The shortfall in supply, though, does make it difficult to enjoy Grand Cru on a daily basis, which is why we’re looking to educate wine enthusiasts across Asia as to the wider range of Burgundian wines, not just the premier division, which is exactly why we host events like Bourgogne Wine Week.

Chateau de Chamirey in Burgundy

Why choose Hong Kong as the venue for this event?

As the fifth largest market in the world for Bourgogne wines, Hong Kong is extremely important to us. Moreover, it’s the gateway to China, a market that’s also of increasing value. Although Chinese wine enthusiasts have traditionally favoured the reds, there’s a surge in interest for whites right now, which is something we really want to capitalise on.

Do you have any tips for the uninitiated when it comes to choosing the best Burgundy has to offer?

If you’re unsure of just which wines to pick, always opt for the tier-two labels of the Grand Cru producers. While it’s not a fool-proof system, it definitely offers a measure of reassurance as to the wine’s likely quality and taste.

Thank you.

Text: Tenzing Thondup
Images: Château de Chamirey