Opinion: The rising price of Burgundy – Hamish Anderson

Drinks: Drinks, Wines
Location: Europe, France
Other: Opinion

Believe it or not, there is a positive to the constant upward price pressure in Burgundy…

I have just returned from four days in Burgundy tasting the 2015 vintage. I admit to having an in-built bias towards the region – it helps that I love Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, true – but it is much more than that.

One could study Burgundy’s nuanced vineyards for a lifetime and still not be close to mastering them; every trip reveals a new piece of information that puts some tiny patch of land into context.

The producers are some of the most unassuming in the wine world, and even the grandest name, made in miniscule quantities and likely to be already sold, is offered for tasting. Demand and prices might be sky high, but there is still humility.

The vintage is a red one, nicely following 2014 when the whites dominated the headlines. But white shouldn’t be ignored completely in 2015 – the best are forward and ripe with enough bite of acid to keep them balanced, and they do not need cellaring.

The reds have the instant, juicy appeal of the 2009s, but with more vineyard definition and focus. There will be no difficulty in finding good wine in 2015; the problem, of course, is price.

Classic Burgundy is very expensive. The exchange rate does not help, but that is a distraction from the long-term trend of people wanting to buy a product of which little is made.

The intricacies of Chambolle-Musigny’s premier crus get the attention, but in the future, they will be appreciated by an ever-diminishing segment of society. The challenge is to remain relevant to a wide audience and not just those with bottomless pockets.

There is a benefit to high prices, though: it’s now worth giving proper attention to vineyards that previously did not receive it.

Tasting the astonishing range (in its size and quality) of Nicolas Potel, I was struck by the fact that the wines that excited him most were not the six grand crus, but small parcels of supposedly humble vines. The standout was a dense, powerful, old vine St-Romain.

A few years ago, this wine would not have been bottled or even vinified in this way. It would have likely been made in a softer style and downgraded to Bourgogne Rouge. Now, the higher prices of the famous villages are forcing us to look at the ‘lesser’ regions, which in turn gives winemakers like Potel the incentive to make them properly and market them.

A few days later I finished the week in the cellars of Domaine Berthaut tasting wonderfully seductive Fixin, made by the young Amélie Berthaut. Fixin, like St-Romain, is not going to get the collectors’ blood racing, but both are going to feature on restaurant wine lists in the future. And that will enable those on a budget to keep enjoying the region’s wines.

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Hamish Anderson

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