Bordeaux and Burgundy

Without a doubt Bordeaux and Burgundy are the two most famous wine regions of the world and for good reason. These regions have been making wonderful wines for many, many years and top wines from these regions remain world benchmarks for their varietals. I recently had some bottles from Bordeaux and Burgundy, that while certainly not fully representative of the regions, are illustrative of some traits that have become associated with them as well as some ways in which the regions contrast. While both regions make superb white wines, for the moment I am just discussing reds.

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I am only including on Burgundy, but it was a good one, with traits common to many good Burgundies. The 2001 Veilles Vignes Gevrey-Chambertin from Domaine Denis Bachelet is a village wine, not even a 1º Cru, but at just over 8 years from harvest, it was showing quite nicely with a lot of finesse for a village wine. The tannins were soft and well integrated, while the fruit was forward, but not over the top jam. Predominant fruit notes to me were cherry and red berry, both of which are pretty classic for Burgundian pinots. At 13% alcohol, it is not a behemoth and a very food-friendly wine with a strong acid backbone, that paired very well with the wild duck I prepared earlier this month. While not overly fancy, the wine possessed the characteristics I was hoping for and represented the refined nature of Burgundy with aplomb.

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I have always found Bordeaux to be easier to get a handle on and generally less finicky or hit or miss than Burgundy, though I find a top-notch Burgundy to be hard to beat and more versatile when it comes to pairing with food. While both regions match well with red meat, I tend to turn to Burgundy, red or white, when it comes to fish (but not shellfish unless it is a Chablis with oysters). For one recent dinner featuring porterhouse steaks from Mack Brook Farm, I opted to try my first bottle of Chateau Yon Figeac. At 13.5% alcohol, the Yon Figeac was still light enough to last through a meal without dragging, the way some higher alcohol wines can do. Fruit forward featuring dark berry notes, this wine was well balanced with noticeable, but controlled tannins without overt oak. As with most wines from St. Emilion, this wine was presumably comprised mostly of merlot and cabernet franc though I could not find confirmation either online or on the bottle.

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We drank my one bottle of 1990 Chateau Lynch Bages – from the Cabernet Sauvignon rich Pauillac area of Boreaux- the other night, paired with seared lamb loin mushroom soup and roasted potatoes. My initial tasting was very heavy on oak, but fortunately that settled down with further aeration. The tannins remain strong though they weren't overpowering. The flavor profile was complex and deep without any particular fruit jumping out. I actually enjoyed this 12.5% alcohol wine more with food than without. At nearly twenty years of age, the wine remains strong and supple. I'm sorry that I don't have more of the 1990 to try further down the line.

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Of all these recent wines, the Bordeaux I enjoyed the most was the 2000 Gruaud Larose from the St. Julien appellation. With a reputation of being a late bloomer with a long life, I was surprised at the finesse and the softness that it showed. I expected stronger tannins. Though they were clearly present, they did not overpower and the deep, complex notes shone through without obstruction. Perhaps the wine was acting relatively precociously because it was from a 375ml bottle. I had opened several previously at various times, but this bottle was the most advanced and most pleasing.

Clearly the regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux contain many great wines, many of which can be quite, quite costly even with what seems to be a recent correction of prices, particularly in Bordeaux. However, they don't need to be expensive to be good and enjoyable, as all but the Lynch Bages above illustrate. The best of the wines from these regions express some of the character of their specific locations, i.e. "terroir." For this particular series of wines, that was clearly more apparent with the Bordeaux's since I only had one Burgundy, but that Burgundy was exactly what I was hoping it to be when I chose it – a wine of finesse and character, subtle and delicious. The Bordeaux's, with the exception of the initial oakiness of the Lynch Bages were also right on point. They were strong and powerful, but somehow still resisted the usual high alcohol "fruit-bomb" characteristic of many wines from that region that followed the lead of the preferences of Robert Parker and globalization. Of that, I was glad.


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