Breaking up with Burgundy

on 17 March, 2017

Making my way through the recent tranche of Burgundy tastings for the much-hyped 2015 vintage, I found myself experiencing a moment of guilt.


Surrounded by thousands of pounds worth of wine, at least in some part opened for my consideration, it struck me that, as delicious as many were, I couldn’t recommend that anyone with mortal wallets actually buy them. It’s a feeling that has grown with passing vintages in Burgundy. For some customers, and maybe some buyers, classic wines are just reassuringly expensive, to borrow a slogan. While many older vintages exist that still represent value, as current release prices increase with grim inevitability many will only get to taste the least exciting wines too young at an inflated price. If, like many in the independent trade, you interact daily with a group of customers who start to take on the familiarity of friends, then throwing your personal weight behind such expensive wines is a matter of honour and good conscience that I can’t always follow through on.

Perhaps, instead of trying to convince customers a Bourgourgne Rouge or a second wine from some Medoc estate is a good alternative to the Vosne-Romanée or exalted classed growth, it is time, as buyers, we put our money where our mouths are and step outside the world of well-written-about wines.

As merchants we have often complained about writers attending the en primeur circus in Bordeaux, but how many of us still reluctantly but cautiously take our shrinking allocations of top names without an immediate market? If we want to get over these sorts of wines, we need to break up with them.

The next time a customer wants white Burgundy, let’s give them top South African Chardonnay for a third of the price. Or, instead of increasingly inaccessible and painfully young Barolo, get some mature Xinomavro from the Macedonian hills. And if we have to talk about terroir, let’s not kid ourselves that most village-level Puligny-Montrachet is much more than a localised blending exercise. Wouldn’t it be better to put our customers on to single-vineyard Fürmint from Tokaji, which positively resonates with terroir?

It can be a new lease of life for many drinkers. Often I have listened to customers talking morosely about how they can no longer afford their favourite clarets, only to send them home with a mixed case of underpriced Gascon gems: Madiran, Cahors, Fronton and Bergerac – a wine makeover, if you will. And that’s before they return, full of enthusiasm, and we broach the subject of Bulgarian Mavrud and Greek Agiorgitiko.

It is our job to ensure our customers, who have eschewed Amazon’s drones, the lures of mail order and the temptation of cut-price supermarket wines, are well-rewarded by expanding their horizons. And, if they really want to taste top names, wouldn’t it be smarter and a lot more fun to suggest they book a ticket to Dijon, where you can enjoy Dauvissat Les Clos 2012 for €70, compared to three or four times that in the UK? At that price, I’d even go with them.

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