Basic Burgundy: Does vintage matter?
When it comes to fancy Burgundies - particularly those from vineyards designated as premier cru or grand cru on the basis of their favored location - wine fanciers devote considerable attention to vintage and producer in making buying decisions.
In yesterday's Wine Advisor Premium Edition, we pondered the implications of critical disagreement over the quality of the 2001 vintage and its implications for wine consumers. It was a wild summer in which frost, rain, searing heat and hailstorms yielded variable results, opening up some opportunities for bargains but making it critical to single out the successful producers of high-end wines.
Heat and hail posed similar-only-different challenges in the 2000 vintage, which the experts rate as another year in which critical discernment is essential, with many wines to be avoided.
But in these cases, we're talking about the high-end, sought-after wines priced well above the level that most of us are willing to pay for everyday enjoyment.
How about the more generic Burgundies, the Bourgogne Pinot Noirs, typically bottled by major producers serving a large international market with wines in more affordable price ranges?
In my experience, the connection between vintage and quality at this generic level is tenuous at best, although it still pays to stick with producers you've learned to trust. The large, Beaune-based negociants have economic clout when they buy their grapes, and the good ones are not loath to use it to get the best fruit in the available price range.
At the same time, you can afford to gamble a little. Although even generic Bourgogne Pinot has risen to mid-teens dollar prices with the strong Euro, you're not taking nearly as much of a risk with an unknown label as you do when you choose an $80 grand cru.
At the bottom line, generic Bourgogne can make a pleasant table wine at an appropriate price, and can give you at least a hint of why so many wine lovers wax poetically enthusiastic about the better Burgundies. The Louis Jadot 2000 Pinot Noir Bourgogne that I reviewed on Feb. 18 is a good example from an iffy vintage, as is the Domaine Chêne 2000 Bourgogne Rouge reviewed below. Another random sample from a big-name shipper, Joseph Drouhin 2001 "Laforet" Bourgogne Pinot Noir, was thin, tart and less appealing ... but then, I have rarely found Drouhin's low-end offerings to be quite up to those from Jadot.
You pay your money and you take your risks. But when you're buying generic Burgundy - in contrast with the more pricey stuff - I don't advise expending too much emotion or stress over what the critics are saying about the vintage.
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Domaine Chêne 2000 Bourgogne Rouge ($14.99)
This is a clear, cherry-red wine, not too dark. Fresh and clean red-fruit aromas add an appealing smoky note. Crisp, tart and dry red-berry flavors are laced up with lemony acidity and a soft layer of tannins. Good balance and structure and a still-youthful quality come together in an impressive package that's relatively simple but distinctly Burgundian and even hints at the possibility of gaining interest with cellar time. U.S. importer: Wine Adventures Inc., W. Des Moines, Iowa. (Aug. 31, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: A food-friendly Pinot Noir that would serve well in a broad range of carnivorous and vegetarian optionss, from beef or lamb to our meatless choice, an earthy, offbeat veggie pasta dish of broccoli tossed with a thick chopped walnut and white miso sauce.
VALUE: Appropriately priced in the mid-teens.
WHEN TO DRINK: As noted, it's drinking well and youthful now, but might reward two or three years in a good cellar.
WEB LINK: Here's the Domaine Chêne Website, available only in French; online sales are offered within Europe.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Check first with local retailers, or contact the importer for information about retail vendors in the U.S.,
Joseph Drouhin 2001 "Laforet" Bourgogne Pinot Noir ($14.99)
Clear ruby color, on the light side, a shade or two darker than a rosé. Fresh, light red-fruit and dried-cherry aromas add a whiff of brown spices, cinnamon and cloves. Tart and a bit thin on the palate; fresh-fruit flavors are consistent with the nose, but lemony, almost sour acidity dominates the fruit. Simple, rather one-dimensional, but fruit and acid make it a decent food wine. U.S. importer: Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., NYC. (Sept. 18, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: A natural with beef; also worked well with a meatless match, roast beets (a good vegetarian choice with Pinot Noir) braised with mild but aromatic Indian spices.
VALUE: To be frank, it is no bargain at the $15 price point. Note, however, that my local price is very high. Some vendors list it for less than $10 on Wine-Searcher.com, at which point it is certainly competitive.
WHEN TO DRINK: Although Pinot is unpredictable, I don't see it improving with age. In no danger of losing its fruit over a year or two, but don't bother to cellar it.
WEB LINK: Although it's available in both English and French, the Drouhin site attempts to detect your browser's language settings and deliver the appropriate page:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Research Drouhin Laforet wines on Wine-Searcher.com, click
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Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2004