Clos(e) encounters of the Vougeot kind (#MWWC6)
This month’s wine writing challenge, Mystery, was set by The Drunken Cyclist after his post won the November edition of the challenge (see his Feast post here).
When I think about mystery and fine wine, there is one area that immediately springs to mind. Like so many other wine nuts, to me the Cote d’Or in Burgundy is the summit of red wine production. The area possesses a mystique, majesty and magic that exist nowhere else in the wine world; the patchwork layout of the magnificent vineyards is unlike anywhere else, with it’s tiny appellations which are co-owned and co-worked by a multitude of talented (and sometimes not so talented) individuals.
The pinnacles of this great region are the Grands Cru vineyards; around 500 hectares of planted land, contributing only 1.2% of the region’s total output. For centuries these vineyards have been deemed to be the best land for cultivating the vine and command astronomical prices. Unlike the glamorous addresses and chateaux of Bordeaux, most of these vineyards are split into tiny parcels farmed by lots of vintners, most of whom possess many tiny holdings spread throughout the famous, and not so famous, vineyards of Burgundy.
The largest of the Grands Cru in the Cotes de Nuits is Clos de Vougeot, at around 50ha (Corton and Corton-Charlemagne in the Cote de Beaune are the only larger Grands Cru vineyards in Burgundy). More than any other vineyard in the region, the Clos highlights the complexity of the Burgundian landscape. The vineyard is divided into 100 separate parcels and farmed by some 80 different proprietors, producing an equal number of different wines. Chateau Latour, one of the great First Growths of Pauillac, on the other hand, has 78ha of land, with one winemaker producing 2 wines.
How can wine made from vines less than ten metres apart taste so different? My favourite examples of this fantastical mystery are the differences between Volnay and Pommard, and Chambolle and Morey. I’ve written before about the masculine wines of Pommard versus the femininity of Volnay; it’s an overdone metaphor but it really is true – how can wines from one end of a field possess so much power and stuffing, whereas the wine produces from grapes over the fence are so gentile and elegant? The same can be said of the wines of Chambolle Musigny and Morey Saint Denis in the Cote de Nuits; It’s not until you visit the region that you can truly appreciate the proximity of these vinyeards, how one becomes the other in the space of 20 steps.
The mystery of Burgundy is like a puzzle with hundreds of different pieces. Some of the pieces of the puzzle include how the vines are trained and treated, how many bunches per vine and when the grapes are picked, the temperature of the fermentation, to use stems or not, and how much new oak is used; how the pieces are put together creates very different wines. The real solution to the mystery of Burgundy is, more often than not, the name of the winemaker on the label. Who grew and produced the wine is often far more important than the name of the vineyard… but get the combination right and you are in for one hell of a treat.
Burgundy is a mystery without an ending… and that is why it is so special.