The Skinny on Grapes, Part I: Burgundy

By Kate Thomson
Photo source

Right, I know, wine can sometimes be confusing. But something as great as wine shouldn’t be so confusing. Let me clear the air a little and give you the basics on Burgundy (or Bourgogne) grapes so that you can feel less intimidated and get back to enjoying the stuff.

The Centre of the Wine Universe—France 

As with the culinary and lovemaking arts, the French consider themselves to be the last word on wine. They aren’t, but like cooking and lovemaking, the French are very good with wine. It just so happens that the international varietals—or grapes—that most winemaking regions in the world use were either developed by the French or were first used by the French.

There are three major wine regions in France whose grapes, if you can recall them while shopping, forms the basis for the bulk of your wine knowledge: Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhone Valley (of course there are others, but let’s start here, shall we?)

Today we’ll talk Burgundy.

The Grapes

Here’re the two predominant Burgundy grapes:

Red Burgundy: Pinot Noir

White Burgundy: Chardonnay

(Again, I’m giving the basics here.)

Burgundy—The King of Grapes isn’t for Everyone

You know Chardonnay inside out, so I’m not going to talk about it much here. It’s usually fat and glycerol and buttery with tropical fruit flavours, like papaya and pineapple, depending on the region and grape ripeness. It pairs well with the richer seafoods, like lobster.

The ways in which French Chardonnay differs from new world Chardonnay (for example, Aussie, USA, NZ, Canada, South America, and South Africa) are similar to what I say below about Pinot Noir.

I consider Pinot Noir an acquired taste for most, although for me it was instant love. Some take years to come to appreciate its unique qualities, others embrace its spectacular individuality immediately. People who come from long-term consumption of heavy Aussie shirazes scowl at Pinot on their first taste. That’s because it’s lighter and thinner in weight, colour, and mouth-feel, although this is not to say that it isn’t a full-bodied wine. It’s just full-bodied in a different way.

For me, a good Pinot has hints of strawberries and flowers and rhubarb and finishes with its trademark sourdough flavour. Pinots are long and really stay with you well after you’ve swished and swallowed.

Three Predominant Pinot Styles

There are three reigning styles of Pinot: the French Bourgogne, which is more austere and astringent with plenty of drying tannins on the finish. Then there’s the New Zealand style, which resembles the French austerity in its flintiness but breaks away as colonials eventually do and offers bouncy fruit with a steely crispness (I can’t help but think of the Lord of the Rings landscapes when I drink NZ Pinot.)

My favourite is the Pacific Northwest Pinot of Oregon and British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley (although Ontario can make a pretty kick-ass Pinot in similar style to the Bourgogne). The Pacific Northwest offers immense jammy fruit and a yummy vanillin oaky finish with that textbook sourdough bread flavour.

Pinot Noir pairs particularly well with thick salmon steaks, lightly coated with good olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, fresh from the grill, and a mass of farmers’ market green beans with melted butter.

Mmm, Pinot and grilled salmon—and now the lovemaking, non?

Kate Thomson likes to enjoy a glass of wine while reading about wine and talking about wine and—oh sure, why not?—opening another bottle.


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