Dear Grape Minds,
“If Paris is France’s head and Champagne her soul, Burgundy is her stomach”
– The World Atlas of Wine.
Summer is reason enough for cheerful celebrations. No matter where. No matter whom with. Myself, I like to celebrate summer (and weekends, and special occasions – like being alive, for example –) with wine. Nothing hits the spot better than a glass of liquid sunshine while watching the sun go down after a hard week of work or as a way to close an adventurous travel day.
When I was a school girl, I dreamt of travelling around the world on a hot-air balloon. I was triggered by the cover of Jules Verne’s ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ (the children’s version) which I had at home next to my colouring books and my Lego blocks. Later on, as I grew older, I discovered that the trip wasn’t actually done by hot-air balloon but by a combination of train, steamers, ferries and even elephants. “What an adventure!” – I thought. It was then a prompt for me to want to explore the world even more (though by then it only meant reading more of his – and other author’s – books).
Jules Verne (French novelist, poet and playwright) is best known for other novels such as ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ and ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’. He is sometimes called “the father of science fiction”. What we don’t hear very often is that he wrote a novel called ‘From the Earth to the Moon’. This is a story about a couple of American weapon lovers trying to build a cannonlike spacecraft with the aim of launching it to the Moon while carrying two American gun makers and a French poet (of course). And, to celebrate this special historical occasion (Verne imagined) these explorers would pack a bottle of Nuits-Saint-Georges wine with them to drink as they’d landed on the moon. Cheers!
It seems very difficult to talk about adventure without thinking on Jules Verne’s stories. And it is even harder to talk about the French without thinking about wine. And of course, you guessed it, it seems unconceivable to talk about wine without thinking of France. Like another famous French writer would say ‘wine for all and all for wine  …!’
So, what about this Nuits-Saint-Georges? What is so special about it that space explorers would take it with them to drink on their moon landing celebrations? Well, Nuits-Saint-Georges is within the best appellations of the more than 80 wine AOC (appellation d’origine controlée – controlled designation of origin) in Burgundy – France. These (mostly red) wines are intense, structured and with silky tannins. Nuits-Saint-Georges are produced in the commune with the same name and Premeux-Prissey in the Côte de Nuits district located in the world-famous Côte D’Or sub-region.
Do I hear confusion? Well, the French like complexity; as an example, their way of saying the number 80 is ‘four-times-twenty’, and 90 is ‘four-times-twenty-plus-ten’…for other “simpler” questions in life, they have Descartes.
As a wine lover and connoisseur: I wine…therefore, I exist. Now, as a chemical engineer, I like to make things easier and find ways to remember even the most complex recipes. So, let me tell you something useful about French wine regions: most of them take the names and characteristics of the main towns and rivers in the area. Burgundy (Bourgogne) is a French wine region located along several valleys and slopes around the river Yonne, and West of the river Saône. Dijon (yes, known for its sharp and tasty mustard) is its capital.
If you take a map of France and draw a straight line between Paris and Dijon you’ll pass by the middle of Chablis. If you draw the line between Dijon and Lyon, you’ll definitely be covering most of Bourgogne’s wine regions e.g. Côte d’Or ($!), Côte Chalonnaise and Mâcconais (in that order). Voilà, that’s a tiny and compact Burgundy geography lesson for you…sponsored by Grape Minds.
When you travel through Burgundy, besides wine you’ll get acquainted with a myriad of gastronomic options to pair them with. The Burgundians are famous for their love of wine and food and the region is the birthplace of acclaimed dishes like Boeuf Bourguignon, Coq-au-vin (there’s the wine again) and Escargots à la Bourguignonne. But that’s not all, try any dish with the local free-range chickens, quails, mushrooms, and river fishes and anything with mustard! Looking for something to start your aperitif with? Don’t miss the fresh veggies, the terrines and pâtés, sausages and all kind of cheeses.
What about the wines? Aha! First things first. By the most basic Bourgogne wines’ lesson: reds are made from Pinot Noir and whites from Chardonnay grapes. Is that all? Well, no; you can also find Gamay for reds in Beaujolais (the South end of Burgundy) and both Aligoté and Sauvignon Blanc in other AOCs. However, you won’t find this on the label. The French assume you already know all these rules and, as I said earlier, the town and area featured on the label will be the main hint on the bottle’s content.
So, where to start with these wines? The most typical regional ‘cocktail’ is called Kir. This is made with dry wine (usually made from aligoté grape) and crème de cassis (black currant liquor). Attention! If it is called Kir Royal it is because they use champagne instead. Start with this while you enjoy some pâté and crudités.
Once you’ve got acquainted with the local drink, transition into a white, fresh and mineral (Chardonnay) wine from Côtes d’Auxerre. Here I’d like to tell you that the ideal temperature for drinking chardonnays is 10-12 degrees Celsius. Contrary to popular belief, these are not drunk ice cold. Chardonnays have depth and different layers of aromas and tastes. You will benefit from slowly savouring these wines to find Chardonnay’s typical tropical bouquets, roasted almonds scent and taste, and floral and mineral hints with every different sip as your body starts to warm up.
On your next occasion (or the same adventurous afternoon) get familiarised with Côtes d’Auxerre’s famous big sister: the Chablis. What else can I say, that a good label of Chablis can’t tell you?
- Perhaps the fact that where these vines are now planted, there use to be a huge tropical sea (okay, many dinosaur-years ago).
- Hence, the soil below these vines is now a mere amalgamation of clay, limestone and oyster fossils (and perhaps other swimming ancient creatures too).
The chardonnays from Chablis are cool, mineral, satisfying, with enormous potential… and vastly underestimated (but not by me, as I am a confessed lover for this grape and wine – Cha-bliss!). Best pairing for these wines? O-Y-S-T-E-R-S!! And anything fishy and savoury. Think fishes on creamy sauces, seafood or vegetable risottos, fish pie, mussels, clams, snails, sushi, goat cheese…
Moving South in the Burgundy region, I’d like to introduce you to the Mâconnais: the largest and southernmost sub-region of Bourgogne. This area is considered the black-sheep of the family i.e. an area with some sort of a dual northern-France (sharp and reserved) and southern-France (open and expressive) personality; with a climate that tends to feel more Mediterranean than the rest, and wines with tropical, yet zesty, buttery and mineral aromas. What to try from here? I’m sticking to whites on this post, so I’ll present you with the appellation Pouilly-Fuissé.
The AOC Pouilly-Fuissé means that it is made of 100% chardonnay grapes. They are usually aged in oak barrels (for an average of 10-12 months) and showcase a beautiful light golden color. On the nose, they present aromas of peaches, grapefruit, almonds, brioche and butter. On the palate, they are fresh and rich and showcase the minerality of the Mâconnais soil. These wines are delicious to have a glass or two on its own. However, its alcohol content (around 14°) will invite you to have some food with it.
Recommendations for pairing a Pouilly-Fuissé? I’d say roasted almonds, goat cheese, couscous & tajines, squash, rich shellfish & crustaceans such as scallops and langoustine. But also, you can try it with fleshy white fish such as monkfish, and definitely a match made in heaven with poultry on creamy sauces. This is definitely a foodie’s wine, YUM!
If chardonnays from Burgundy were singing:
- a Chablis would say ‘Don’t let me be misunderstood’ (in Nina Simone’s voice, of course), and
- a Pouilly-Fuissé would be humming ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ (Janice Joplin, undoubtedly).
Can you think of something/someone else to compare burgundy whites to? Let me know in the comments!!
On a next delivery, I would be glad to tell you more about the Burgundy reds and other famous (and infamous) wines. Follow me in my adventures (without a hot-air balloon – yet) while I let you discover more about my more than four-times-twenty stories & experiences about wine.
Spread the love… (for wine), drink responsibly, keep safe and adventurous!
Wine Consultant / Workshops / Imports