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FRANCE: Red Burgundy

Far more erratic in their brilliance than their white counterparts, on this evidence it still pays to pick your red producers carefully

Red and white Burgundy. From the same region, yet year after year totally different in their performance in the Sommelier Wine Awards. The whites are high maintenance, but friendly; capable of moments of stupefying beauty but still approachable. If you see a team of tasters grinning like they’ve just been diamond shopping with Cameron Diaz, the chances are they’ve been drinking whites.

The reds. Well, they’re more troublesome. Tricksy. Awkward. Sometimes beguiling, sometimes horrid; never cheap. Occasionally lyrically beautiful, always memorable for whatever reason. A bit like taking Dylan Thomas out for a pint.

And this year’s competition. It was more of the same. Whereas half the white medals were £16 or less, nothing was over £40 and the feedback was as epic as Geoff from Moneysupermarket.com, the reds cost more and veered wildly between
‘Marry’ and ‘Avoid’ with not much ‘Snoggable’ wine in between.

There were no medals under £18 and a couple over £40. If you want cheap reds from this neck of the woods, we’d humbly suggest that you try Beaujolais. Or New Zealand.

Whereas the whites were nearly all 2010 and 2011, there was a much wider spread of vintages here. Some of this, admittedly, might have been because sommeliers have, in the past, complained long and loud about being given wines that were just too closed up and youthful in this part of the competition. And in wines like the Vallet Frères Gevrey and (particularly) the Charmes, the ‘older vintages’ technique clearly worked.

But there were also times when it looked like merchants were trying a last-ditch attempt at shifting old stock they still had lying around in their cellars, and a good few entries were kicked out for being as tired and past their best as a hairy sweet on the living room carpet. Red Burgundy is one area where stars really can’t phone in a performance and hope to get an Oscar.

Generally speaking, our tasters liked wines with freshness of fruit and genuine complexity – and, since Burgundy is one of the few areas where price is less important than class, were OK if that also meant a big price tag.

‘There were some proper, reference-point wines here,’ said The Vineyard Group’s James Hocking. ‘Great big prices, but great wines all the same.’

Of course, it wouldn’t be red Burgundy without a few comedy moments, where ambition outstripped technique in an almost X Factor-like way.

‘Probably one of the most expensive wines tasted here today, we tried two bottles and both were horribly bad,’ said Hocking. ‘The problem is when you order that bad wine at £175 and it’s awful and oxidised, the customer then will be thinking: “Oh dear, Burgundy again!”’

Still, for all it was far more of a roller-coaster ride than the whites, six medals (including two Golds) was about par for the course for the rouge side of Bourgogne. Add in the superlative performance of the whites and Chablis, and it makes for a monumentally strong overall performance from the appellation.

‘Some of these were almost New World in style. I think they were brilliant, but if you were drinking them blind, you might think you were somewhere else.’
Laurent Richet MS, Restaurant Sat Bains