Friday, March 12, 2010

Red Burgundy 2007, Vintage Variation, and The Truth of the Juice

Eric Asimov’s column in this past week’s New York Times Food Section deals directly with the 2007 red Burgundies but, really, is about far more than that. Indeed, reading between his lines, it seems as if there’s an important lesson in there for all of us regarding vintage, reputation, and the truth of the juice in the glass.

His column, ostensibly about the nature of that underrated vintage of Pinots in Burgundy, points out what many of us have found through tasting the wines: That, despite their reputation as “too pale, too light, maybe even a trifle diluted,” Asimov writes about the overall perception that people have about them, they are actually quite good and, perhaps more importantly and inseparably, exceptionally honest wines. He continues: “Fans of dense, powerful Pinot Noirs packed with fruit flavors may well wave off the ’07s with barely a glance and a sip.”

That’s a telling statement, and taps into a wine zeitgeist that, thankfully, seems to be fading--or, at the very least, shifting--a bit. After all, a glass of classic red Burgundy, at its best, offers an in situ example of terroir expression, of the minute differences that make a wine from one village or vineyard such a unique thing.

For a while there, of course, this ran counter to popular taste, and among far too many consumers, a delicate, finely etched Pinot Noir, no matter where it was from, was often looked upon as somehow lacking. Fruit and power, in other words, had overwhelmed finesse and a sense of place.

As more consumers become familiar with the concept of terroir, the concept of a wine transmitting some ineffable truth about a particular patch of the earth, vintages like Burgundy’s 2007 will continue to grow in popularity. After all, the best of these wines “will not only provide a good deal of early pleasure, they will age well and offer great opportunities for exploring the often subtle differences among Burgundy’s varying terroirs,” Asimov notes.

“From careful producers who did their work,” he adds, “the reds offer unusually transparent expressions of Burgundian terroir, which can differ not only from village to village but from vineyard to vineyard.

“Even in the village wines, the lowest level at which the terroirs become discernible, the differences seem striking. A Gevrey-Chambertin from Joseph Faiveley, for example, is light-bodied in keeping with the vintage yet with exotic red fruit and precise mineral flavors that are typical of Gevrey. Meanwhile, a Nuits-St.-Georges from Faiveley’s own estate grapes is darker, earthier and more rustic, as is characteristic of this village.”

And that, really, is what the wine of Burgundy is all about: Its mind-bogglingly long history, and the way its villages and vineyards have been explored and mapped out for centuries, all contribute to wines that, at their core, are inextricably linked to the land in which they are grown. No matter what the current taste might be, and regardless of reputation, a vintage like 2007 here seems to be as honest, as typical, as we could hope for. And that’s a very good thing.


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