The Burgundy Paradox and how to overcome it

Question: How do you organize a Burgundy wine lunch as a collective?

Answer: very carefully.

Unless you are a collector or a distributor, organizing a wine tasting of great Burgundy is a difficult and expensive proposition.  But The Wine Connoisseurs (TWC) of Bangalore decided to do just that a few weeks ago.  We ended up with quite a lineup.

So how can you replicate this? The first is to come up with a theme that works for the wine group.  The theme in turn is dictated by the wines that are accessible to members of the group.  In our case, one member, Ananth Narayanan, had a lot of Burgundy wines.  We chose five wines from his cellar and another from the celler of Devesh Agarwal, co-founder of TWC. The three of us organized the tasting. It took a lot of brainstorming about the lineup of the wines and the food-pairing.  As always, the trick was to choose the lineup of wines and the food pairing.  For instance, an idea that we batted around was to taste the reds first before palate fatigue set in.  We ended up sticking to the classical red-after-white route.  We decided to do away with a dessert wine– none of us had a Cremant and we didn’t want to compromise on region.  We did compromise by beginning the lunch with a 2008 Dom Perignon even though it is hardly from Bourgogne. We argued a lot about the wines we tasted, but then, isn’t that what makes this region special? We ended up with wines that were different varietals and years that lent themselves to two different types of horizontal tastings.

The first course was a side-by-side blind tasting that we called the “Clash of the 2009s.” A Louis Latour Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru versus a Henri Boillet Clos de la Mouchere Monopole Puligny Montrachet. Both were stunning wines with a luscious mouthfeel.  Both were savoury with hints of salt and pepper.  The Corton has aromas of pear, muskmelons and paired well with a brie.  The Montrachet smelled of green mustard, and a hint of yeast buttermilk. As Sharmila Senthilraja, a member of the TWC said, “the Corton is like an opera singer while the Boillet is like a flamenco dancer.” 

For the second course, we had a pecorino creme brulee paired with a 2012 William Fevre Bougros Cote Bougurerots Chablis grand cru. Since we had only one such wine, we did a small pour.  To me, this Chablis was unlike the other austere ones I have tasted.  It was fruity, smelling of violets and grass, quite unlike the minerality that one expects in a Chablis.  

For the third and main course, we had a side-by-side blind tasting of three reds, pinot noirs, all from the Chambolle-Musigny area.  They were a 2003 Frederic Magnien Les Baudes Premier Cru, a 2012 Domaine Georges and Christophe Roumier, and a 2011 Domaine Patrice Rion Les Charmes.  Since we tasted them blind, it was a fun exercise to figure out which one we like and whether price was linked to taste.  Of the three, the Roumier was most expensive at $393, which the other two were $112 and $100 respectively in Wine Searcher.  Was the price worth it? Well, it was up to us to decide.

Even though it occupies a tiny part of France, Burgundy or Bourgogne, occupies an outsize place in the wine world’s imagination. Part of it is because of sheer supply and demand. This region cannot supply enough wine to keep up with the insatiable demand of wine collectors everywhere and most recently, from China. Part of it is history that is linked to that elusive term, terroir. As Christophe Roumier, who looks after several grand cru labels in Burgundy says in a publicly available Youtube video, terroir happens because a single varietal, the pinot noir is planted in a variety of terrains– the hillsides and lower down– and over several decades.  By conducting this controlled experiment, this region has been able to make its vines and wines sing. 

How did our wines fare? Well, we all agreed on the wines and gave it points.  After the big reveal of which glass carried which wine, this is what we found out.

The Roumier began life smelling a little damp.  We wondered if it needed more decanting than the 3 hours we accorded it.  Gradually, it opened up to become the haunting, restrained pinot noirs that are eulogized in the movie, Sideways.  It took a whole hour of swirling in the glass for the wine to truly reveal itself but finally it did and those of us who waited for it were glad.  The Patrice Rion had aromas of fennel, coffee, sour cherry, and for me, most interesting of all, smoke and cigars.  The Magnien was well structured and epitomized the scents and flavours of what the world imagines a Burgundy wine to possess: cherry, oak, restraint, structure, a good balance of acid and tannins and a long finish.

The TWC has certain rules that make sense.  The first rule is that we all share the cost of the wines.  We use and get the average price.  This is because we don’t know how each person has acquired the wine.  Some members buy their wines en primeur and get it at a good rate.  If the price goes up, they are happy because they get to share their rare and lovely wines with a group of wine-crazy friends and get some of their investment back in return.  Some buy it at auction where we don’t have control over the price.  Using Wine Searcher is a good way to regulate the prices.  After that, Devesh Agarwal, the founder creates a spreadsheet calculating who has to pay how much based on an equal cost-sharing.  The table below explains the process. I have shortened the names of the members to preserve privacy.

The Wine Connoisseurs – Wine Cost Sharing 

THE WINE CONNOISSEURS – Cost Sharing Worksheet Month : Feb-21 

Prices based on average worldwide price for the vintage EX Rate : 72.92 

Sl  Wine  From cellar of  W-S Price  U$  In INR
2008 Dom Pérignon, Champagne  $212  ₹15,500
2009 Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, Cote de Beaune  $186  ₹13,600
2009 Domaine Henri Boillot Clos de la Mouchere Monopole, Puligny-Montrachet  $180  ₹13,100
2012 William Fevre Bougros Cote Bouguerots, Chablis Grand Cru, France  $100  ₹7,300
2003 Frederic Magnien Les Baudes, Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru, France  $112  ₹8,200
2012 Domaine Georges & Christophe Roumier Chambolle-Musigny, Cote de Nuits $393  ₹28,700
2011 Domaine Patrice Rion Les Charmes, Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru  $100  ₹7,300
TOTAL PRICE OF WINES  ₹93,600  participants 9
TOTAL  ₹93,600
Anan ₹10,400  ₹86,300  -₹75,900
Dor ₹10,400  ₹0  ₹10,400
Heem ₹10,400  ₹0  ₹10,400
Sho ₹10,400  ₹0  ₹10,400
Shar ₹10,400  ₹0  ₹10,400
Dev ₹10,400  ₹7,300  ₹3,100
Nit ₹10,400  ₹0  ₹10,400
San ₹10,400  ₹0  ₹10,400
Ran ₹10,400  ₹0  ₹10,400
*Positive difference implies the participant pays additional this amount  ₹93,600  ₹93,600  ₹0
*Negative difference implies the participant receives this amount (Above row for internal use only)

Amounts are rounded up to the next ₹100 for ease of transaction. 

**Wine sharing prices capped at $125. Original prices are indicated in the wine name. Signature events excluded. W-S is 

AVERAGE COST is the amount being shared by each participant EXCLUDING the dinner which is paid direct CREDIT is given for a contributor’s wine

Clash of the Burgundies PDF is here

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