Sunday, September 4, 2011

"The Wines of Burgundy" by Clive Coates MW

Some excerpts from the excellent book by Clive Coates MW

  • Great White Burgundy is ripe but dry, austere in the best sense, rich without a suggestion of residual sugar, nutty, honeyed, gently oaky, subtle, profoundly elegant and persistent on the finish. It can age almost as well as a red wine.
  • Winemakers can destroy, you will be told, through incompetence or ignorance, but they cannot make any better wine than the potential quality of the fruit, the "matiere premiere", will allow in the first place. The more you manipulate the wine, the more you risk reducing what is good and individual about it. The greater the quality of the fruit at time of the harvest, the better the possibility of the wine.
  • In the Cote d'Or there are some 5,550 hectares producing some 250,000 hectoliters (2.75 million cases) of wine a year, of which 75 percent is red wine from the Pinot Noir grape  and 25 percent is white wine from the Chardonnay grape.
  • There are a total of 539 premiers crus and 32 grands crus. It is the land in Burgundy, not the winemaker or his estate, which is classified.
  • The code Napoleon abolished primogeniture, however, and thus began the fragmentation of ownership which has led inexorably to the morcellation of Burgundy today.
  • The Cote d'Or consists of a 40-kilometer southeast-facing slope where, in the middle of the incline, lie all the physical characteristics of the "right place" on a soil and sub-soil of the "right type", and great wine can be produced.
  • The Cote d'Or is largely limestone, but limestone of a number of different types, thicknesses, permeabilities, hardnesses and colors and with a variety of percentages of clay therein.
  • The Golden slope (Cote d'or) is divided in 2 halves. In the north, the Cote de Nuits, the aspect is, in principle, to the east; the slope is generally steeper; and the width of the vineyard is narrower, hardly a couple of hundred meters at Premeaux. Beyond the hill of Corton, the orientation of the Cote de Beaune turns toward the southeast, there are more valleys into the hillsides, the slope is more gentle and the east-west extent of the vineyards is wider - almost 4 kilometers at Savigny and Chorey.
  • Burgundy is both cooler and sunnier than Bordeaux, not so much because it is less hot in summer but because it is colder in winter, and the days are longer.
  • Pinot Noir is sensitive to cold, both during the winter and during the flowering. It buds early, making spring frost a potential hazard, and it ripens early. It produces a small cylindrical-conical cluster of densely-packed, slightly oval berries. As a result of their being close together, and the Pinot Noir skin being thin, grey rot can be a serious problem if the weather turns humid towards harvest time.
  • Wine made from Pinot Noir is much more susceptible than other varieties to overproduction. The concentration and character dissolve rapidly if the yield is excessive. A Cabernet or a Merlot can yield satisfactory wine at 55 or even 60 hectoliters per hectare. The limit for Pinot Noir is 45, and apart from exceptional years such as 1990 and 1999, anything over 35 for grand cru and 40 fro premier cru is an admission that the grower has not set his sights as high as he should.
  • A Pinot Noir wine is rarely a blockbuster. Fragrance, finesse and delicacy are the key-notes, not size, muscle and overwhelming tannins. Because of the thickness of the skins is less than, say, that of Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah, there is less color, Pinot Noir has less tannin and less body. Nevertheless, there should be no lack of intensity, grip, depth and complexity.
  • The flavor of a young Pinot Noir is of slightly sweet, freshly crushed soft summer fruits: a fragrant, silky, multifaceted and delicately elegant combination of raspberries, strawberries, cherries, mulberries and currants of different types.
  • As a Pinot Noir evolves it takes on a totally different character. As with all wines the spice elements of the flavors of maturity begin to emerge. The oak changes into cedar or sandalwood. An animal, gamey, almost vegetal character begins to emerge. The fruit flavors deepen, incorporating hints of damson and blackberry. The whole thing becomes more sensuous. The residual flavors are sweet, but naturally sweet - ethereal, multifaceted and totally magical.
  • Chardonnay yields: 38 hl/ha for grand cru, 43 for premier cru and 48 for village wine
  • Chardonnay grows well on soils with more limestone and less clay. It can make good wines where the red results would be a bit weak and thin: hence the preference for Chardonnay up in the valleys at higher altitudes and on west-facing slopes.
  • The best Cote d'Or white Burgundies are, of course, vinified in wood, a percentage of which will be new. If the vineyard has not been over cropped, then Chardonnay, with its blend of ripe, subtle, opulent, peachy or nutty-buttery fruit and oak, and with its round, rich mouthfeel, can be one of the great wine flavors of the world. And it can age exceptionally well in bottle.
  • Rootstocks in Burgundy for: Pinot Noir: 161/49C, or Fercal - Chardonnay: Riparia, 3309C and 101-14MG (in Chablis you will find 41B, a vinifera-berlandieri hybrid)
  • Densities of up to 12,500 vines per hectare (less than 1m between vines and rows) are commonplace; 10,000 (1 m by 1 m) is the norm.
  • The optimum alcoholic strength for red Burgundy is between 12.5 and 13.5 for Premier and Grand cru. The more concentrated and full-bodied the wine, the more it should approach the upper limit.
You can buy the book here: The Wines of Burgundy: Revised Edition


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