The biggest catastrophe that the wine world has had to face was the infection of a tiny bug called phylloxera, originally from northwest America, which nearly wiped out all the vineyards in Europe in the 1860s. The start of this invasion was traced to a garden in Marseille where an individual had planted some vines brought back with him. Until now the best known solution to counter this tiny bug(ger) is to graft American rootstock – which is phylloxera resistant – to the vitis vinifera (European vine).
Chile is the only country in the world being phylloxera free, along with some pockets of vineyards in the world who resisted, sometimes for inexplicable reasons. This is occasionally a selling point as supposedly a non-grafted vine will give a wine of more authenticity, though this is not really proven.
Several things will affect a vine, influencing the quality of the grapes and ultimately the quality of the wine.
In addition to the pruning and canopy management which can vary from one grape, one region, or one winemaker to another, a very important part is the influence of the terroir (combination of soil, climate, topography and tradition).
Here we could compare a vine to the cliché idea we might have of an artist. Like a tortured composer or painter, the more a vine suffers the better the quality. Vines don’t do well in too-fertile soil. If the vine struggle the roots will go deeper and it will grow more refine fruits.
Like an artist again, the less a vine produces the better. Here the pruning comes into play: the winemaker will decide how many canes or buds to leave on the vine to limit production, increasing concentration in the fruit. And finally as he/it ages, production slows and is supposedly of higher quality. True or not this is also used as a selling point, as the term “Old Vines” or “Vieilles Vignes” is often specified on the label.
Bourgogne (or Burgundy until 2014) is most definitely the wine region in the world where terroir endues all of its importance. So much in fact that since 2015, the different terroir or “climat” – as it is called in Bourgogne – is listed as World Heritage. All situated in the Côte d’Or where it contains most of the highest priced wines in the world.
Pinot Noir is king there and the Bourguignons consider it mostly as a vehicle to express the terroir.
Delicate grape and terroir combine with an often difficult climate make the winemaker of the upmost importance. Add to this a relatively small production (Bourgogne produces only a quarter as much as the Bordeaux region), high demand, and the fact that a red Bourgogne often needs 10 years to start “speaking”, explains that it never comes cheap and you don’t find a good one behind every tree.
To illustrate this article I selected two wines under the Chambolle-Musigny appellation. Both of them situated no more than one kilometre apart, from two different winemakers and at a relatively reasonable price. Chambolle-Musigny has the reputation of making the most elegant and feminine red wines of Bourgogne.
Both young vintages and Bourgogne needing to be treated like a characterial diva, I opened the wines two hours before serving and without decanting, to allow a very gentle breathing. David Rouault
Wines available at www.wine118.com.
The two wines have few a similarities: deep ruby colour with a tawny rim (despite a rather young age) and good to drink now. Both medium-light bodied, very well balanced, very elegant and feminine indeed, with typical nose and flavours of wild strawberry and raspberry, mellow tannins, fresh acidity and long finish.
The first wine “Les Fremières” develops to plum, blackberry, charcoal and fresh-cut white mushroom on the nose. Simple and very agreeable on the palate, it is an easy drinking wine yet without being boring.
The Premier Cru shows more nobility with a bouquet recalling an impression of old study: mix of old books, noble woods and patinated leather scents; very complex nose with undergrowth, liquorice, grey pepper, ripe yellow apple… All of this reflecting in the taste as well as dark chocolate, grilled nuts and dried fruits. Two classics and very good representation of the Bourgogne region.
David Rouault is a professional classical musician, part time wine consultant and full time wine lover, holding WSET Level 3,
Certified Specialist of Wine and Introductory Sommelier diplomas. www.dionysos.com.mo