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Wine column: Burgundy

22 November 2019


I HAVE been abroad twice during the past month; first, to the dry, in both senses of the word, Sudan, and, second, to a very wet, again in both senses of the word, Burgundy.

Climatically, this has been a difficult year for the wine-growers in the region. There were late frosts in the spring, the weather was unkind at the time of flowering, and there was excessive, intense heat during the summer. The result is excellent wine, but a crop only half the average.

In Burgundy, over the past few years, prices have been rising rapidly. I asked one grower whether this meant yet further increases. He hesitated, and then said that he doubted it, because of so much commercial uncertainty in the world at present. For him, three crucial markets were the United States, where taxes on French wines have just been raised by a half; the UK, with all the uncertainty about Brexit; and Hong Kong.

The centrepiece of our trip was a banquet in the medieval cellars of Clos Vougeot, which, until the French Revolution, used to hold the wines from the extensive vineyard holdings of Cîteaux, the mother house of the Cistercian order. In contrast, now it is the HQ of the Burgundian drinking brotherhood of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin. These banquets area marathon: six courses, each accompanied by copious glasses of wine, singing, and extensive speeches.

The three star wines of the evening were a white Meursault Perrières 2016, and two reds, a Nuits Saint-Georges Les Saint-Georges 2010 and a Corton le Rognet 2014. The sad thing was that none of these three wines was anywhere near approaching its best. We were drinking them far too young. In the wine world of Burgundy, infanticide is a common crime! For me, the wine that showed best on the night was the comparatively humble red Côte Chalonnaise 2016. It was full of rich, ripe, soft red fruit flavours.

At lunch with a friend the next day, he gave us a bottle of his Pommard 1972 — a wine older than his children who were eating with us. The 1972 vintage was an ugly duckling: the fermentations were difficult; the wines tasted hard and tannic; and it was a disaster of a vintage in Bordeaux. As a result, it was widely condemned. Now, the wines are showing beautifully. For me, it was the wine of the weekend, even though we had tasted many with more glamorous pedigrees.

How about the trip to Sudan? Well, I have nothing to say about the wines of that country, because there are none produced there — and none available from anywhere else.

I did have one very agreeable surprise, however. Between changing planes at Cairo, I tasted a bottle of Omar Khayyam Bobal 2016 from Gianaclis Vineyards, outside Alexandria. Now, the Bobal is a fairly undistinguished grape, best known for producing Utiel-Requena in south-eastern Spain, and all but unknown elsewhere.

I have no idea how this emigrant had arrived in Egypt, but it was an unexpected treat.

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