With the publication of his classic volumes, Bordeaux and The Wire's of the Rh�ne Valley and Provence, together with the several editions of his Wine Buyer's Guide, Robert M. Parker, Jr., has emerged as America's most influential and articulate authority on wine. Whether he writes of the fabled French ch�teaux or of lesser-known growers and producers from around the world, his books have proved invaluable reading for connoisseurs and neophytes alike, for they contain not only hard-headed, frank analysis but an undisguised and positively contagious enthusiasm for his subject.
In his new book, his most ambitious and comprehensive to date, Parker offers an extraordinary guide to the growers, appellations, and wines of Burgundy, the viticultural region in eastern France that produces the most exotic, sought-after, expensive, and frequently least understood wines in the world.
In the introduction, Parker provides an overview of his subject: Where is Burgundy? What sort of climate prevails there and how is it likely to affect the growing season? What varieties of grapes are grown and how are the wines actually made? How are the wines of Burgundy different from those of Bordeaux? Why are they so expensive and frequently so hard to find? He also gives readers a short but incisive history of the Burgundy region, one that explains to a large degree why land holdings there are so fragmented and how, as a result, it is essential for the consumer to know not only where a wine originates (both the appellation and the actual vineyard itself), but who it is that actually makes it.
The heart and soul of Burgundy is divided into three separate but interdependent sections. In the first, Parker offers an alphabetical listing of some 640 growers and/or producers of wine. In each entry he catalogs the specific wines produced, discusses their overall quality and style, delineates the vineyard holdings, describes the wine-making techniques employed, and assesses the producer using a one-to-five-star system, with five signifying the very best.
In the second section, Parker provides a detailed analysis of the entire Burgundy region, beginning in the northernmost district, Chablis, and descending southward through the famed C�te d'Or (comprised of the C�te de Nuits and the C�te de Beaune), and on to the C�te Chalonnaise, the M�connais, and finally, Beaujolais. Covering some thirty-five appellations in all, he offers all the necessary information for the consumer: What is the hierarchy of wines in a given district? What are the Grands Crus and Premiers Crus, for example, in the legendary appellation of Vosne-Roman�e? How many acres are under cultivation and with which grape varieties? What are the bench-mark characteristics of a particular wine? Where are the values? What is the aging potential? For the traveling wine enthusiast, he even passes along great tips on restaurants, hotels, and local color, as well as on those vineyards and producers most worth a visit.
In the third and final section, Parker sets down vintage summaries for burgundy wines during the years 19451989, noting the effects of the weather on crop size and quality, and describing the basic characteristics of each year's red and white wines. For the years 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988, he provides tasting notes and scores based on his 100-point system for dozens of wines from each vintage.
Like its predecessors, Bordeaux and The Wines of the RhOne Valley and Provence, Parker's Burgundy has all the makings of a classic. It is a beautifully produced book, and it boasts more than thirty specially made color maps, with those depicting the individual appellations drawn in such exquisite detail that each and every vineyard is visible. Burgundy is a fitting monument to the region that is capable of producing, in Parker's words, "the world's most majestic, glorious, and hedonistic red and white wine."
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Simon & Schuster
March 02, 2010
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Excerpt from Burgundy by ROBERT M. PARKER
The legendary wine-producing area in eastern France known as Burgundy encompasses five basic regions. The most renowned and prestigious wines emerge from either Chablis or the C?te d'Or, which encompasses the two famous golden slopes called the C?te de Beaune and C?te de Nuits. Immediately south of the C?te d'Or are the potentially promising, largely unexplored C?te Chalonnaise and the vast, well-known and exploited M?connais area, both of which are within the geographic department the French call Sa?ne-et-Loire. Lastly, there is Beaujolais, the most southern viticultural region, ironically located within the Department of the Rh?ne, but historically considered part of Burgundy.
The continental climate of Burgundy is significantly different from the maritime climate of Bordeaux, which is located on the Atlantic Ocean in western France. While the microclimates of Bordeaux are shaped by the ocean to the west and the giant Gironde River that divides the region in half, there are no rivers in Burgundy that significantly affect the climate. Burgundy, as a result, suffers more than Bordeaux from the significant rainfall that is often carried on the prevailing west winds that buffet the area. There are also devastating hailstorms. While such storms are not uncommon in Bordeaux, in Burgundy they can reach catastrophic proportions, particularly when triggered by the high heat and humidity of August. The hailstones cause the vines to shed their foliage, scar the grape skins, and promote the growth of rot. These hailstorms are particularly common in the northern half of the C?te d'Or, particularly in the C?te de Nuits. Balancing these negative weather factors is the northerly latitude of Burgundy, which provides for longer hours of daylight than Bordeaux. Anyone who has spent a summer evening in Burgundy will undoubtedly remember the 10:00-10:30 P.M. sunset. As a result. Burgundy receives almost as much sunlight as Bordeaux, located hundreds of miles to the southwest with an undoubtedly hotter, more stable maritime climate. Burgundy, in order to attain a top vintage, must have dry, sunny (not necessarily torrid) days from the beginning of September onward. Historically. Burgundy's finest vintages have been those when July and August were dry and warm. and September spectacular. While windy, cold, damp weather in June often reduces the size of the crop (Chablis has notoriously unpredictable weather in late spring and is particularly vulnerable), poor weather early will have no bearing on the vintage's quality if July, August, and September are generally dry and warm. Of these three months, September is the most important because cold or wet weather during this month will dilute the grapes, lower acidities and sugar, and promote the growth of rot. No wonder the vignerons in Burgundy say, "Juin fait la quantit? et septembre fait la qualit?," meaning June makes the quantity and September makes the quality.
When Mother Nature cooperates, the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes excel in such a frosty northerly latitude due to the kimmeridge clay/limestone soil. In Chablis, this soil and its cousin, the portlandian limestone, are ideal for Chardonnay. The famed C?te d'Or, which for many connoisseurs of Burgundy is that region's beginning and end, is essentially a limestone ridge representing the eastern edge of a calcareous plateau that empties into the Sa?ne River basin. The northern half, the C?te de Nuits. has an easterly orientation that gradually shifts toward a more southeasterly exposure. This ridge runs for about 31 miles between Marsannay and Santenay. In the C]244;te Chalonnaise, the limestone ridge begins to break up into a chain of small hills that have limestone subsoils with clay/sand topsoils that are occasionally enriched with iron deposits. However, the underlying limestone strata are still present and continue not only through the C?te Chalonnaise but also through the pastoral, rolling hills of the neighboring M?connais region, giving way finally to the granite-based soils of the Beaujolais region.
Each of Burgundy's five major wine-producing regions possesses an identity and character that I have attempted to capture in this book. With a production of nearly 1,200,000 cases of Chardonnay a year, Chablis, the most northern of Burgundy's famed wine regions, perplexingly remains a mystery wine. No doubt the multitude of styles of wine produced, in addition to the fact that the name Chablis has been reprehensibly bastardized throughout the world, have combined to cause many consumers to turn their noses at the mention of Chablis. Nevertheless, there are seven Grands Crus of Chablis that are capable of producing hauntingly intense wines with extraordinary precision and clarity to their flavors. There are also more than two dozen principal Premiers Crus, several meriting Grand Cru status, and a number undeserving of their Premier Cru status. All of this translates into confusion -- making Chablis the most enigmatic wine region of Burgundy.
The C?te d'Or, or golden slope (so named not because the wines produced there are worth their weight in gold, but because of the deep golden brown color of the vineyards in autumn), is surely the most thoroughly scrutinized and inspected stretch of real estate in the world. Historically, the monks of the Abbey of C?teaux first exploited these hills. But over the last 150 years, the French government has examined every field, valley, crevice, and outcropping, and determined that only 31 vineyards in a 31-mile stretch of limestone are capable of producing Grand Cru red and white burgundy. Just over 300 of these fields were deemed suitable enough to produce Premier Cru red and white burgundies. If the French government had not chosen to painstakingly inspect and classify the tens of thousands of fields that make up this golden slope, and if the vast estates of the church and wealthy landowners had not been dismantled during France's 1789 revolution, today's fragmented world of Burgundy might resemble Bordeaux, with its huge ch?teaux and giant vineyards.
Why Burgundy, and in particular the C?te d'Or, is so excruciatingly difficult to comprehend is best illustrated by the complexity of one of the golden slope's most hallowed Grand Cru vineyards, Clos Vougeot. This 124-acre vineyard has 77 different proprietors. Some of them sell their wines to large brokers to be blended with Clos Vougeot from other producers. At least three dozen growers estate-bottle their production. In short, the consumer is confronted with nearly four dozen different versions of Clos Vougeot. All of it is entitled to Grand Cru status, all of it is frighteningly expensive, yet only a small percentage of the wines could ever be described as sublime or celestial. Imagine, if you can, 77 different growers/producers making wine at the famous 125-acre Ch?teau Ducru-Beaucaillou, or the 120-acre Ch?teau Latour in Bordeaux. Clos Vougeot is the C?te d'Or's most distressingly chaotic vineyard to fathom, but its fragmented ownership and enormous range of wine quality typify Burgundy.
South of the C?te d'Or is the C?te Chalonnaise, today's best source for reasonably priced, well-made red and white burgundies. In the nineties consumers will need to take advantage of this viticultural region if they are intent on drinking affordable French red or white burgundy. Two-thirds of the vineyards are planted with Pinot Noir, a grape that has demonstrated a fondness for the clay subsoils of the area. The top Chardonnay vineyards are planted in chalky, limestone soils. This is an exciting area to watch as evidenced by the significant investments made in the C?te Chalonnaise by several of the C?te d'Or's leading producers.
The M?connais region lies to the south of the C?te Chalonnaise. It is a pastoral landscape with small ridges broken up by tree-topped hill-sides. It is primarily white wine country as the chalky, limestone soil there is ideal for producing fresh, exuberant whites from the Chardonnay grape. Red wine is also made in the M?connais, but it is generally insipid and feeble.
When the hillsides of the M?connais turn into small mountains, blanketed with vineyards and ranging in height from 2,300 to 3,500 feet, you are in Beaujolais. The landscape is not the only major change in evidence here; the red wine grape also changes from Pinot Noir to Gamay. In the sandy, stony, schistous soil of these hillsides, the world's fruitiest, freshest, and most exuberant red wine is produced in oceanic quantities, and is generally drunk within hours of purchase. I have never been able to comprehend why Beaujolais is considered part of Burgundy (officially it is within France's Department of the Rh?ne), but historically it is.
The grapes of Burgundy are well known. The great reds are the result of only one grape -- the Pinot Noir. the most fickle and difficult grape from which to cultivate and produce wine. While it buds and ripens early, its thin, fragile skin makes it highly vulnerable to rot and mildew. Although it likes warmth, it will shed much of its aromatic character, flavor, dimension, and precision when it is grown in too hot a climate. It is a grape that can offer an astoundingly complex bouquet and flavor, but rarely provides great color. To those weaned on Bordeaux or California Cabernet, red burgundy must indeed look suspiciously feeble. However, new techniques, including the controversial extended cold maceration prior to fermentation, seem to suggest that the Pinot Noir can produce deeply colored wines under certain circumstances.
In Burgundy, if the Pinot Noir fails, the red wine producers have no recourse to other grapes. Contrast that with the situation in Bordeaux where four major red grape varietals may be employed in a number of different proportions. If the Merlot crop is diluted because of rain, the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon can be increased, or other grapes, such as Cabernet Franc or Petit Verdot, can be used to augment the blend. In short, intelligent blending can still produce a very fine wine if one varietal fails. In Burgundy, however, the grower lives or dies with the Pinot Noir.
The only other red wine grape to be found in Burgundy is the Gamay. It is widely planted in the M?connais area and generally produces vapid wines. However, it is responsible for the delicious, crunchy, fruity, exuberant red wines of Beaujolais. It is not capable of producing long-lived wines, although a handful of producers who possess old vines and discourage high yields can make Beaujolais, particularly from the cru Moulin-?-Vent, that can last up to a decade. For the majority of producers, however, the Gamay's strengths are its prolific yields, and its ability, when fermented via the carbonic maceration method, to routinely turn out extremely fresh, profitable wines that can be drunk within months of the grape harvest.
As for Burgundy's white wine grapes, the Chardonnay is king. The great white burgundies are the standard-bearers for the rest of the world. The tiny fields of Corton-Charlemagne, Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet, and Meursault produce wines that are emulated by many, equalled by few, surpassed by none. The Chardonnay grape thrives in Burgundy's limestone soil and, unlike the Pinot Noir, seems capable of producing decent wine even during exceptionally wet harvest months. All of the growers and producers acknowledge that it is easy to make good Chardonnay, but exceedingly rare to produce compelling, great Chardonnay.
The white wine grape Aligot? is also found in Burgundy. At its worst, it is lean, mean, acidic, and nasty. At its best, Aligot? represents an excellent value and delicious wine at a budget price. Pinot Blanc is occasionally planted. It often tends to be too heavy, but there are some good examples, particularly in the C?te de Nuits. There is also Pinot Gris, frequently called Pinot Beurot. Personally, I would like to see more Pinot Gris made in Burgundy since the examples I have tasted are fascinating.