Sunday, December 07, 2008

5% of the Tip of the Terroir Iceberg

This is the first Burgundy Trip 2008 post. You can expect a steady stream of these for the next few weeks. There is no other way, I hope you'll understand...

What an incredible trip! There is no way to overstate how amazing it was. I drank some stupendously great wines, ate some great food, and hung out with great people. I also learned a lot about terroir in Burgundy. The main things I learned about terroir are this:

1) Terroir is real in Burgundy. It's not an invention of elitist wine snobs in order to intimidate people. Nor should the nuances of terroir elude 95% of the population. Quite the opposite. Drinking wines from producers such as those we visited (Mugnier, Roumier, Des Croix, Pierre Morey, Lucien Le Moine, Domaine de L'Arlot, Philippe Pacalet, Rousseau, Dujac, and DRC, although I missed that one), I bet that 95% of moderately experienced wine drinkers would see that Nuits St George is different from its neighbor Vosne-Romanée, and completely and totally different from Gevrey-Chambertin. That Aux Combottes and Clos St Jacques make vastly different wines, even though they are both vineyards in Gevrey-Chambertin. To take it a step further, wines from the same vineyard can express different characteristics depending on the parcel held by the producer (I haven't personally experienced this yet, but I believe it to be true).

Maybe all this sounds obvious to you, and it wasn't a big surprise to me either. What did surprise me was how truly profound are the differences between the various terroir. It was formative for me to experience this myself - there is no longer any element of blind faith.

2) Discerning terroir can depend on a few factors. In extremely ripe vintages (recently 2003 and 2005), the nuances of terroir can take a back seat to the aromas and flavors of ripe fruit. And even in classic vintages that are said to demonstrate clarity of terroir (recently 2006 and 2007), fruit that is not grown or vinified cleanly will not produce terroir-expressive wine.

3) When I begin to get a little bit better at something, inevitably I then realize how much there is to learn. On this trip I understood how desperately little I actually know about Burgundy wine. Maybe 5% of the tip of the iceberg - that's where I am.

4) Nuits St Georges really does make savage wines, very muscular and structured. Morey-St-Denis wines really do have an interesting contrast between the gamy, funky nose and the fresh burst of bright fruit in the mouth. I always heard that Gevrey-Chambertin is supposed to be the most masculine and powerful of the wines, yet I experienced them to be the most gentle in their youth, with decidedly feminine perfume and lacy fruit, often finishing with something zesty, like citrus peel. I learned to reject the accepted vocabulary and to think for myself over Gevrey-Chambertin. I always heard that Chambolle-Musigny makes the silkiest and most seductive wines, and maybe this is so with bottle age, yet I experienced them to be smoky and almost rigidly structured in their youth. Vosne-Romanée is the most difficult for me to define, even in broad terms. Probably because the wines are seamless, complete.

5) I have a thing for Échézeux and Grands-Échézeux. Clos St Denis isn't bad either.

Coming soon to Burgundy Trip 2008: Burgundy dilettantes, Charolais beef, and thoughts on wine buying strategy. Don't touch that dial.


peter said...

Welcome back; I'm glad all is well at home.

I also have a thing for Échézeaux. Thusfar it's pretty unrequited.

Looking forward to stories...

Do Bianchi said...

Brooklynguy, your blog is always a great (and weekly) read for me but this a truly outstanding post... Should be required reading for anyone who wants to approach Burgundy... keep it coming... I'm glued to my seat...

Marcus said...

Well done Neil. You host a wealth of wonderful insights from your time away in Burgundy, and all the while your blog seemed to chug along happily like you were still in Brooklyn (Now I see why you held on to our Muscadet lunch post... I liked reading your notes on the 05 Granite by the way). Anyway, what can I say - you're a pro.

Wait - is that a pic of your handsome mug you've just gone and published? No more quiet lunches sipping Muscadet with the BGuy I guess.

Anonymous said...

This is a very thoughtful and enlightening post. I can only imagine what it must be like to be able to ask yourself "Let's see, which vintage of which vineyard of which village would best complement the meal we are having this evening?" I am going to live vicariously through your further installments.

Anonymous said...

Hi Neil,

Glad you got back OK and hope that your wife is holding up well.

Re Gevrey= masculine and powerful, that was a description I took forever to figure out. What you need to realize is that these descriptors go back to another era, pre-steroids, 14%+ wines, etc.

My thinking is now roughly this:

feminine= perfumed, floral, silky,t hat type of descriptor, but also more sweetness and frivolity in the wine (remember these descriptors date back to times when it was ok to be sexist).

masculine= spicy, savory, serious, maybe even austere. I originally thought rustic, but there is nothing rustic about the Grand Crus of Gevrey.

More than anything, I think that the power is a description of the wines drive, length and seriousness when it come to Gevrey, rather than to alcohol, big tannin or anything else. Those wines have a real gravity to them. They are even regal, in the best sense of the word (and I write this as a staunch sans-culotte). It is this type of awe inspiration which I have decided is the kind of power a wine like Chambertin has.

In that sense, the power of Burgundy Grand Cru makes more sense.

Keep well and it was a pleasure meeting you!


Brooklynguy said...

hey peter - thanks! and thanks also for letting Mary know about my trip. She and David were soooo welcoming and generous with us.

thanks for your kind words Jeremy.

you too Marcus, and YES more lunches.

Steve - i think you actually have me confused with something who really understands the terroir, for example Jeremy Seysses of Domaine Dujac whose comments follow your own. I am just starting to learn in a more meaningful way, with a long (and expensive) road ahead.

Jeremy - quite an honor to host your comments, thank you for them. It was such a pleasure to meet you and your family, and that was an utterly ridiculous dinner. Subject of a post here soon.

Your thoughts on terroir terms make sense to me. I just need to taste a whole lot more to build my own context.

and thanks for your wishes for my wife - she's fine, there's no baby yet (bien sur) and everyone is well. If you have a moment, would you mind emailing me at ? I have a couple of questions for you...

thanks again,


Anonymous said...

I know--I was referring to someone whose family has been making Burgundy for eons. I look forward to hearing what they pulled out for you.