It inspires awe among its devotees and head-scratching puzzlement among many others.
But why? What’s so special about Burgundy?
It is produced in minimal quantities and possesses a nomenclature that challenges comprehension.
Big estates are few, the business being conducted by thousands of small growers and négociants (merchants or traders who combine the grapes from the small growers and sell them), and quality can vary considerably. Famous vineyards frequently have multiple owners, each making wine under his or, increasingly, her own name.
Understanding this complex, frequently illogical world requires a level of esoteric knowledge that would cause a medieval theologian to feel he had left things a bit too simple.
To make matters worse, Pinot Noir, the red wine grape of the region, is maddeningly unreliable, so unless everything goes just right, which happens too infrequently, the resulting wine can lead, if not to disaster, certainly to disappointment.
Oh, and did I mention that it’s frightfully expensive? So the disappointments turn out to be costly, too.
Why, then, a sensible reader might ask, does anyone bother with such an expensive, unreliable wine? The answer is simple: When it’s right, when the stars are aligned and Dionysus is smiling, the wine is sublime.
Thus it requires money, patience, and a highly developed level of knowledge to negotiate this arcane world. It is the ultimate elitist wine.
These ruminations occurred to me following a recent dinner at the house of a friend in England. Our host was one of these Burgundy partisans, and to accompany the roast goose, he produced from his cellar three venerable bottles.
True to Burgundian form, two of these, while being eminently drinkable, did not touch the greatness of which Burgundy is capable. But the third—this week’s wine of the week, the Rouchottes Chambertin, Grand Cru, Clos des Rouchottes 1990, Domaine Armand Rousseau ($240-$470)—did.
This was wine heaven, utterly astounding. It glowed with dark cherries, ripe plums, raspberries, and strawberries contrasted with the subtle pungency of spring morels, that impression of damp leaves the French call sous-bois. It had achieved the elusive magic—a crystal-clear brilliance, an ephemeral delicacy combined with that pure sense of earth and place that is the Holy Grail of Burgundy lovers. An absolutely perfect wine.
To find this wine near you, try Wine-searcher.com.
When to Drink: Now
Breathing/Decanting: One hour breathing
Food Pairing: Richer red meats, roasts, game; soft cheese
Grapes: 100% Pinot Noir
Appellation: Rouchottes Chambertin
Availability: Extremely limited