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Barrel Tasting the Grand Crus of Burgundy

Having been here for a grand total of four days we are now Experts (notice the capital E) on the wines of Burgundy, or Bourgogne, as we Experts like to call it. This much we can tell you – there are red Burgundy wines and there are white Burgundy wines and they are very good. Especially the expensive ones.

But even Experts can learn, and today we met with Christine Botton, the Oenologist at Louis Jadot, one of of the major wine producers of the region. After listening to her explain a bit about the astounding complexity of Burgundian wine classification we finally began to understand the supreme importance of terroir to the wines of the region – how slight differences in soil conditions, slope of the land, and other factors can make a profound impact on wine. It's why one vineyard only 50 meters wide can produce wines distinctly different from its neighbouring vineyard, also 50 meters wide.

In Burgundy only two grape varieties are used – Chardonnay for the whites and Pint Noir for the reds. This is totally unlike the region we know most about, the southern Rhone, where some of the appellations are allowed to use up to 14 different grapes in their cuvées, or blends.

Locally, around here, we have heard it said that there are over 1200 wines produced in the area surounding Beaune, and Christine told us that Louis Jadot alone produces over 130 wines. Christine led us on a tour of her pristine winemaking facility and then, unexpectedly, took us to the underground cellars where we barrel-tasted a couple dozen of the 130 wines aging there.

In case that's not clear, let us say it again: we spent the afternoon barrel tasting the Grand Crus of Burgundy. Just us and the winemaker of Louis Jadot. And that's, like, pretty cool for a couple of hicks from the backwoods of Vancouver Island. Even if we now are Wine Experts.

During the tasting tour Christine also opened a 1998 Chablis and a 1999 Nuits Saint-Georges. These were half-bottles stored in the Special Section of the cellar that had never even been labelled. The details were written on the bottles with a wax pencil. ANYWAY, the Chablis was like no Chablis we had ever heard of or even imagined, much less tasted.

Christine, who regularly has to taste dozens of different wines in the space of an afternoon, sampled each wine and then spat it out. We reluctantly followed her example, though a few rivulets of the elixir did course down our throats every now and then.

After we had sampled each wine, we poured our remaining wine into Christine's glass, which she then poured back into the barrel, not wasting a drop. She then marked the barrel with a special token so it would be topped off tomorrow with additional wine, leaving no air space in the barrel, thereby preventing oxidation. What this means is that some of our DNA is likely to be in the vintage burgundy you are probably drinking right now.

We tasted magical vineyard appellations with magical names – Beaune, of course, Mersault, Pommard, Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Pernand-Vergalesses, and other hyphenated names that a week ago meant nothing to us but now are like fairytale tingling tones. See, we told you we were Experts (with the capital...).

In actuality, the system is so complex that it takes years of study and tasting even to begin to fathom it. Luckily, we've now decided to dedicate the rest of our lives to this worthy end.

–Diane & Mark

photographs copyright Mark Craft

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