It's been a while since I posted - for a variety of reasons. I've been busy studying (see last post), reading, tasting and hosting events but life has just got in the way of sitting down to share my thoughts.
But this week I spent some time in the company of a proper expert, which has really got me thinking. I was invited to a Burgundy masterclass by the Vins de Bourgogne wine board. It wasn't in London (where they all seem to be) and I had time off from the day job - so I went along to a swanky function room in a Birmingham hotel to see what it was all about.
This is the second masterclass I've attended - I went to a Beaujolais one a few years ago - and it's always a bit daunting because you find yourself in the same room as educators, sommeliers, restaurant and wine bar owners and retailers. I don't consider myself an expert in anyway so I really didn't want to embarrass myself.
I needn't have worried because neither did anyone else! We all sat quietly as Michelle Cherutti-Kowal led us through a tasting of eight wines from Burgundy (Bourgogne in French). Michelle is a Master of Wine - one of just 415 people in the world to hold the title. As an MW, she travels the world representing trade bodies, lecturing, judging competitions and speaking with the highest authority. In other words, she really knows her onions. You know what I mean.
Listening to someone with that much knowledge is inspiring. The purpose of the event was to shine a light on under-the-radar parts of the region. I was in Burgundy last year and spent a lot of time dreaming of some of the most inaccessible wines on the planet. I doubt I'll ever get the chance to try a Romanee Conti - which cost tens of thousands of pounds a bottle - but we can still dream.
Burgundy wines are very expensive. Production of the Grand Crus is really small (vineyard plots can be tiny because of French inheritance laws) so the price is driven up. Similarly demand for the Premier Cru wines is also high. Add to that unpredictable weather (frosts and record summer temperatures) and people, especially those with money, bid for bottles before they're released on the market.
But the idea of this masterclass was to show that there's far more to Burgundy than the 'exclusive' wines, which are out of the reach of most drinkers. So the wines were from lesser known (or at least to me) regional appellations. I'd heard of a couple of them before, but I didn't know about the Bourgogne Cote d'Or classification, for example,which has only been around for about six years. It indicates quality wines that can be produced from 40 villages in the Cote de Beaune and Cote de Nuits. In fact the one we tasted (L'embellie) was a fantastic pinot noir from parcels across the Cote de Beaune and could easily have passed as a "higher quality" wine which would have commanded a far higher price.
The wines were great. I'd never heard of Bourgogne Epineuil before. It's a small area close to Chablis, which makes red and rose wines. It was quite funky and most people in the room preferred some of the more traditional pinot noirs, but I loved it. It reminded me of some of the more progressive reds I tried when I was in the Loire Valley last year. Those were just as aromatic and herbal and would go brilliantly with some Chinese or Moroccan food.
I'm not going to list all the wines here - but I will give a big shout out to the Vins de Bourgogne wine board. Their website - www.bourgogne-wines.com - is a brilliant resource I've used before.
The masterclass, the website and the general experience of looking beyond the big names to more accessible wines, renewed my interest in one of the most historic wine regions in the world. So this weekend I presented a Macon-Villages wine as part of an event I hosted for Birmingham Wine School. It was a fantastic wine from Majestic, that cost about £15, and it went down a treat.
And spending a couple of hours in the company of a proper expert has reminded me how much more I've got to learn about the world of wine.