Thursday, February 14, 2008

Last Night's Tipple

It's widely believed among the marketing types that American wine consumers prefer New World-style varietal wines to Old World-style denomination of origin wines because the labeling of varietal wines is simple and easy to understand while the labeling of denomination of origin wines is complex and confusing. And Burgundy is the most complex and confusing of the denomination of origin wines that I can think of. There's the generic AOC Burgundy (both rouge and blanc). Then there are the wines from a specific region within Burgundy (eg, Côte de Beaune-Villages). Then there are wines from specific villages (eg, Gevrey-Chambertin, Rully, Meursault, and Pommard), each with its own AOC. Then there are the single vineyard wines, which can be either Premier Cru or Grand Cru (eg, La Tâche), each again with its own AOC. All in all, there are over 700 AOCs in Burgundy, some of them as small as 1.8 hectares (Romanée-Conti). It's a lot easier to buy a California Cabernet Sauvignon than it is to have even a rudimentary understanding of how wine in Burgundy works. It's intimidating.

The only grape permissible for red Burgundy is the Pinot Noir (Gamay is allowed in Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains and Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire, two less restrictive and less prestigious AOCs encompassing the same territory as the Bourgogne AOC). Pinot is a famously finicky grape capable of producing thin, acidic dreck. There are some grape varieties that will usually produce decent wine even in difficult circumstances. Pinot Noir isn't one of those. People who love Pinot Noir are usually disappointed by its expression. But when it's right, whoo boy, is it ever right. At its best, it is pale, aromatic, and delectable. The problem is that it is not often at its best; and when it is, it's extraordinarily expensive.

The 2005 Albert Bichot Bourgogne is not extraordinarily expensive. In fact, it's pretty cheap, about as cheap as an AOC Burgundy Pinot can possibly be. Albert Bichot is one of the major Burgundy negociants (merchants who buy grapes and wine from individual growers, then age, blend, bottle, and market the result), although not really in the top rank like Louis Jadot and Louis Latour. This wine has a lot of violets and vanilla on the nose, and the palate is relatively light in body with a good deal of tannin. I wish that there were more fruit, and I wish that there were more acidity; but it probably is a decent value for the money. I will admit, though, that I was a bit disappointed.

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