Christmas Wine Week – The Whites

Australia, France, Whites


I think turkey gets a bad reputation, mostly cos it’s a big bird and it’s hard to cook properly. Ever since someone bought my mum “Nigella at Christmas” then we’ve been having a great time of it. It’s also an incredibly good meat for promoting the production of serotonin (the happy hormone), so one to look out for all year round if you can!

The Best of Burgundy #5: On Yer Bike, Son!

France, Info For Beginners, Info For More Seasoned Winos, Reds, Whites

Burgundy is really one of those places that is great to use to explain a few more general things. Last post I was saying about terroir and how everywhere in the world has it and is affected by it, but Burgundy’s one of those places where it’s easy to highlight the big differences it makes.

I decided to use the last post in this intro to Burgundy series for another of these topics. That’s the fact that when you think of a wine region, like Burgundy (or Piemonte in Italy, or Barossa in Australia, or Finger Lakes in the US, etc) i guess you have this thing in your head that you think “right I’ve had a Pinot Noir from there before, i know what this is going to be like”. But to be massively annoying, it’s just not like that

Thing is, these regions can be pretty big areas of land covering some really different areas of a country. We’ve spoken before about how things like hills and valleys, soils and stones, and obviously the weather and climate have massive effect on how a wine, from grape to glass (can’t remember where i nicked that from?!). Well Burgundy has the lot, somewhere within the border.

A very official looking map of Burgundy

A very official looking map of Burgundy

Burgundy’s over of the eastern side of France, pretty landlocked. It starts up close to the Champagne area, with the Yonne Valley going south to the Côte de Nuits, then onto the Côte de Beaune, and finishing down by the Beaujolias region with the Côte Chalonnaise and the Maçonnais.

Up north in the Yonne region (where Chablis is) it’s hilly and frosty. You’re right up by a town called Auxerre and that’s only a couple of hours drive from the north of France. Then down south by Lyon (a couple of hours from Nice and Monaco) you’ve got the Maçonnais. It’s a lot flatter, much warmer, and vines spend their time vying for space with cows and corn on the valley floor. I’m not going to bang on about the differences in every different sub-region here, I think you get the point.

The generalisation comes from the grapes and, to a large extent, the way the wine is made. It’s a branding exercise in itself. You can make a sweeping statement about the chances of a white wine from Burgundy being chardonnay, or that centuries old Burgundian winemaking techniques are in full swing up and down the region. But it stops there, as it does for wines from Napa in California or Walker Bay in South Africa.

The best bits about this are that you have an excuse to try more of it and that if you ever get a chance to go to one of these places, it’s a great holiday. If you enjoy your wine and your cycling or hiking you’d be like a pig in poo round here.

There's always room for a little rest here and there

There’s always room for a little rest here and there

So wherever you end up for a wine holiday dust off the bike clips and saddle up, or get the walking boots from the back of the cupboard and load up on blister plasters. It’s time to get moving. And if you’re in Burgundy, well hopefully you know roughly where you’re going now!


The Best of Burgundy #2: Ooooooh ABC, Easy As 123

France, Whites

I’d never really heard the expression before earlier this year, but apparently it’s a fairly well known one in wine circles. ABC. Anything But Chardonnay. It came about due to the influx of chardonnay wines coming in from all parts of the world, where it was used to benchmark new areas against the old.

As I said in the opener to this series, chardonnay is a pretty hardy grape and can grow most places. Name a wine producing country and someone somewhere is making a chardonnay. Because of this it’s used sometimes as some sort of universal comparison tool. And because of this, some areas try to make it their own with really outlandish techniques. In the US for example, they love ageing in oak barrels (adds flavour from the wood), or putting oak chips into the fermenting tanks. One wine critic came away from a tasting session of US chardonnay scathing “I feel like I’ve just given Pinocchio a blowjob!” Some producers clearly went over the top, and world chardonnay became a difficult sell to the average punter.

No wonder he always looks so happy!

No wonder he always looks so happy!

Try telling that to Burgundy, the historical heartland of chardonnay production. Well over half the grapes grown in Burgundy are chardonnay. If it’s a white wine from Burgundy, and it’s not got a label telling you otherwise, it’s 99% likely to be chardonnay. It’s a grape, like Pinot Noir, that will give different wines from soils that are 200 yards away, let alone the 200+km of the vineyards of Burgundy. For me, that’s why people who go around spouting “ABC” are idiots. There are so many styles, just in Burgundy, that generalising makes you sound like a tool.

In the north of Burgundy is the appellation of Chablis. These tend to be pretty acidic (think refreshing) with green fruit flavours (because it’s a cool place) and some minerality (it’s what chardonnay is famous for, think what it’s like to lick a stone…in a good way). They’re labelled in the same way as with Pinot Noir, so Premier Cru and Grand Cru exists. Also there’s wine that’ll be called Petit Chablis. This is similar to Chablis, but it’s grown on soils outside the legal requirements of Chablis AC. So they call it Petit Chablis to help with marketing.

In the middle of Burgundy is the an area called the Côte de Beaune. Now are you ready to get the credit card out here? Cos you may need it! Because some people reckon this is the mutt’s nuts of world chardonnay, it can be eye wateringly expensive to buy this stuff. Here you get the villages of Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, and Chassagne-Montrachet, amoungst others. (Same deal here with the town councils, the villages of Chassagne and Puligny shared the world famous vineyard of Montrachet, so they double barreled up!). Winemakers keep yields low (less fruit, but more flavour) and make a fairly full bodied wine, with lots of oak flavours (vanilla and toast). I’ve been fortunate enough to try a few of these wines (I wasn’t paying!) and, without trying to sound like a wine snob, you could sit there and taste these wines for hours and come up with something new each time.

Chassagne-Montrachet starts at around £35

Chassagne-Montrachet starts at around £35

Towards the south of Burgundy you get the Mâconnais region. Possibly the best value white wines in Burgundy. You still get a couple of famous appellations down here, such as Pouilly-Fuissé, but on the whole the area produces solid quality chardonnays, in what is a slightly hotter area. This means the fruit flavours are a bit different than further north (so peach and melon) and they can be pretty full bodied whilst still being refreshing. A bottle of Mäcon in the shops could be £5-£8, and Mâcon-Villages (from slightly better sites) around £7-£15. Really not bad at all.

So don’t give me that ABC rubbish. You will definitely find one you like!


Bordeaux Broken Down ‪#‬‬‬4: Appellations

France, Info For Beginners, Info For More Seasoned Winos

In France, wines from certain areas can label themselves under the local appellation. It’s the French system of looking to ensure quality and standardising the production of famous areas. On the bottle of wine will be written Appelation D’Origine Contrôlée (AOC). It’s a way of telling the drinker that this has been made in a certain way, with certain grapes, in a certain area, and it’s most likely going to taste exactly like you’d expect. It’s effectively as near as damn it a stamp of quality as you can get in product that varies so much between producers and vintages.

So famous appellations? Well, you’ve probably heard of Chablis, Sancerre, Chateauneuf Du Pape. These are all AOCs. The growers that produce these wines will be subject to stricter guidelines in the production techniques, but on the other hand, chances are they’ll charge a tad extra for them. Not much you can do about that I guess.

In Bordeaux there are plenty of AOCs. Keep your eye out on the bottle for the AOC:

It may be a specific named one; such as Pauillac, St Émilion, or Pessac-Léognan.

Or maybe from a more generic AOC; such as Bordeaux Superieur. (Each one means certain standards in wine making have been upheld. As a rule of thumb, the more generic AOCs have less stringent controls, usually.)

Usually a geographical distinction, find the right one and you could be quids in on the best value for money in the region

Usually a geographical distinction, find the right one and you could be quids in on the best value for money in the region

Satellites have their own appellation names; Appelation Puisseguin-St Émilion Contrôlée for example.

Within appelations, the wines can be internally ranked. On the left bank you have the growth system. So 1st Growth chateaux are supposedly the best of the best, going down to the 5th Growth chateaux which are the still in the group of the best, just a bit lower down. This is a bit messed up as the last ranking was done in 1855, which was funnily enough, the first one too. Chateaux have changed owners, sizes, shapes, and so on over the years. But people still hold these rankings pretty dear to them, so there you go.

Chateau Lafite Rothschild, 1st Growth Chateau, now available at Tesco!

Chateau Lafite Rothschild, 1st Growth Chateau, now available at Tesco!

Over on the right bank it’s a bit different. The only place to really make ranking distinction on the label is St Émilion. The better wines are St Émilion Grand Cru AC, and the best wines (as chosen roughly every 10 years) are St Emilion Premier Grand Cru AC.

Chateau Angelus, Premier Grand Cru Chateau, the bell is still there fyi

Chateau Angelus, Premier Grand Cru Chateau, the bell is still there fyi

Don’t let this confuse you too much. It’s just so you can look at the label and sort of understand a bit more what’s happening.

One quick hazard to point out, Grand Vin De Bordeaux is not a controlled term. It means sweet FA. Don’t go paying up for this.

Right, that’s enough on labels.