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Burgundy bemuses

Sebastian PayneWhy do so many wine producers regard pinot noir as the holy grail of winemaking? Because it is difficult to make well? Few truly succeed. Burgundy growers certainly have been making it the longest, though it may not have begun there. The Côte d’Or’s unique geological escarpment though basically clay and limestone mixed, is fantastically complex so different vineyards within villages should taste different from one another. The angle of the slope, depth of the soil and work of the grower are crucial.

Toby Morrhall always advises us to follow the grower more than the vineyard name. Great Burgundy is sublime, but much is still incompetently made. Younger generations of growers tend to be better trained than their forebears and more aware, since the influential viticulturalist Claude Bourgignon told them 30 years ago that their soils were dead through over-treatment, that they must keep their fantastic legacy alive.

Unlike more cerebral claret, Burgundy bemuses in a sensuous way. Bouquet is all-important, elusively reminiscent of black cherry, violet, strawberry, etc. when young and undergrowth, spices and confit when older. It should never lose freshness or life and become jammy. For me, a silky sensuous texture on the palate is a yardstick of good quality for Burgundy and pinot noirs from anywhere in the world.

This is easily lost by poor oak ageing or harsh filtration. The longish growing season of a coolish marginal climate which allows complexity to develop has been a key factor, now possibly endangered by global warming (see Toby’s article about the effects on white Burgundy). Hence the success of the best Oregon or Tasmanian pinots. Hofstätter in the Alto Adige with 100 years’ experience grows his pinot quite high up on the cooler side of the valley. The New Zealanders get better and better and their pinot is good but it isn’t Burgundy.

Low-priced pinot noir should usually be avoided. Chile makes the best entry-level pinot but it is a simpler animal. Burgundy lovers have fun searching for wines that capture some of the fragrance, texture and complexity of their favourite wine. Try (Earth and Sky ref N-GR641, £19.50), or good growers’ Morgon.

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