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Terroir makes a difference in Burgundies

Dave DeSimone
| Tuesday, April 27, 2010

During the past week, Burgundy wines held center stage locally.

Distinguished British wine writer Clive Coates MW, swung through town making his annual presentations on Burgundy's marvelous wines. Meanwhile, the Steubenville Rotary Club and Stateline Fine Wines shop in Weirton, W.Va., hosted a comparative wine tasting with the Rotary International District's Group Study Exchange consisting of five Burgundy natives.

On a brisk, yet gloriously sunny afternoon, Coates met for an al fresco lunch at Pusadee's Garden, a Thai bistro in Lawrenceville section. Colorful flowers, freshly unfurled greenery and chirping birds in the outdoor garden set the stage for a relaxing, expansive conversation.

Tasty appetizers of steamed pork dumplings and chicken satay matched beautifully with a delicious split bottle of white Burgundy, the 2006 Vincent Girardin, Meursault "Les Narvaux" Blanc (Specialty 20728; $19.99 for 375 millileters).

Two older red Burgundies, the 2000 Domaine Denis Mugneret, Nuits-Saint-Georges " Aux Boudots" Premier Cru and the 1999 Domaine Alain Hudelot-Noellat, Vosne-Romanée "Les Malconsorts" Premier Cru , paired well with Pad Thai noodles and thinly sliced duck breast with micro noodles.

Coates, now a Burgundy resident, disclosed information sure to delight fans of his seminal works, "Côte-d'Or: A Celebration of the Great Wines of Burgundy" (University of California Press, 1997) and "The Wines of Burgundy" (University of California Press, 2008). He will release a new edition -- tentatively titled "More Burgundy" -- documenting exhaustive tastings of older vintages, 10 and 20 years on.

The work should prove entertaining and invaluable to Burgundy collectors and casual fans. Information on the evolution of older wines makes fun reading, especially when the reader may have had or may in future have the chance to taste similar bottles.

More importantly, such tastings demonstrate the need for patience with Burgundy. All too frequently, impetuous consumers, egged on by retailers toting numerical ratings, rush to "pigeonhole" each new vintage.

This approach misses the point completely.

In Burgundy, the concept of terroir -- encompassing the complex influences of vineyard, vintage and vigneron -- makes the pivotal difference. Gaining a full appreciation and enjoyment of the wines requires studying these influences over time to make judgments based on experience and fresh information, rather than simplistic generalizations.

For example, many international wine publications quickly panned Burgundy's 1998 vintage for reds. Conventional wisdom said the generally tannic wines never would develop the balanced, supple fruit prized in well-aged Burgundies.

Coates, however, bucked conventional wisdom with a more nuanced approach. He advised buying and cellaring wines from producers with older vines who exercised conscientious sorting of grapes to yield sturdy, yet well-balanced and potentially delicious bottles.

Over time, many 1998s evolved beautifully, as borne out by Coates' extensive notes. My experiences with well-aged 1998s from the likes of Domaine Denis Bachelet in Gevrey-Chambertin and Domaine Robert Arnoux in Vosne-Romanée confirm the conclusion.

All of which illustrates the critical points. Every vintage has a personality, but good Burgundy producers tending old vines make intriguing wines even in difficult years.

To this end, Coates continues writing articles for Decanter about noteworthy producers, such as Ghislaine Barhod, an accomplished female winemaker in Chambolle-Musigny. Another forthcoming article considers the current state of Clos de Vougeot, the famous grand cru whose fragmented ownership yields a decidedly mixed bag of quality.

At State Line Fine Wines' gathering, hotelier Jean-Alain Vintousky of Meursault, a village famous for producing white Burgundies, led the following group of affable and attentive Burgundy wine professionals seeking to understand American markets while sharing their own rich culture:

• Marianne Cacheux, a young winemaker with experience in Oregon and Australia. She eventually plans to help manage the family's Vosne-Romanee domaine.

• Béatrice Dubois, a winemaker with experience in Australia, Chile, South Africa and New Zealand who, with her brother Raphaël, have forged improvements at Domaine Dubois near Nuits-Saint-Georges.

• Stéphanie Futaully, a former engineer and mother of two now managing her family's Chablis domaine.

• Nicolas Buatois, a young sommelier from Dijon currently working at a Courchevel resort restaurant.

Try the following wines in the visitors' honor:

2007 Domaine Jean-Pierre & Michel Auvigue, Pouilly-Fuisse Solutre (Specialty 22388; $23.99): A vibrant, cost-effective introduction to Burgundy's terrific 2007 whites. Highly recommended .

2007 Louis Jadot, Marsannay (Specialty 19719; $28.49): This marvelous, easy-drinking red highlights pinot noir's beautiful delicacy in a purportedly "off" red vintage. Highly recommended .

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