Monday, June 17, 2019

Burgundy AOC Simplified

Burgundy AOC Simplified

Burgundy AOC Simplified Pyramid by ©LeDomduVin 2019 

Recently, during a discussion about wine with a few wine amateurs, while sipping rosé outside under bright sunshine (a rare thing in Hong Kong), one of them told me: "I love Pinot Noir, but they don't make Pinot Noir in France..., do they?

I was surprised, and it almost broke my heart to hear that, but I didn't judge, I kept my cool and asked her a simple question: "Did you ever drink red wine from Burgundy?"

"Yes," she said, and added, "I like them very much".  

"Well, the red wines from Burgundy are made with Pinot Noir, that's surely why you like them" I answered

"...but Pinot Noir is not written on the label, that's why I never realized they were made with Pinot Noir," she replied. 

And it was at this somewhat "peculiar" moment, that I realized that despite all the possible ways of learning about wine (wine schools, tastings, classes, books, videos, webinars, and other wine-related posts and articles in magazines, news, reportages, websites, social media pages, etc, etc...) ...widely available in most major cities around the world and online, they are still tonnes of people out there that have difficulties to read and understand French wine's labels (and don't get me started on the German wine labels...), and more especially to know which grape varieties some wines have been made with... and that it is not "peculiar" at all, but rather quite common, and at the end of the day perfectly understandable.... (even me, with my 28 years career in the wine business/industry, I have some difficulties to read some labels sometimes...)    

You see, back 20-25 years ago, the French were very dry and sarcastic about the fact that most new world  wines stated the grape variety on the label (e.g. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc...) for easier recognition of the type of wine, and, (to a certain extent for some and/or more especially for others), better recognition of the taste of the wine too. That way consumers with lesser knowledge could easily recognize and buy their wine, especially in supermarkets where (until recently and only occasionally, unfortunately) no wine professionals are here to help and guide you, without having you browsing the wine shelves for hours, scratching your head in dismay of the number of unrecognizable labels populating seemingly endless wine aisles.       

VINO, VIDI, VICI - Bottles on Supermarket's Shelves by ©LeDomduVin 2019

And, although I admit that in regions where various grape varieties are blended together, it would be difficult to do so (e.g. Bordeaux, Rhone Valley and Languedoc-Roussillon), in other regions where only one grape variety goes into the wine (e.g. Chardonnay or Pinot Noir respectively for White and Red Burgundy wines), it could have been a good idea.

Even if not on the front label, at least on the back label (which is now more often the case than it used to be back 20 years ago). Like in Alsace, for example, where varieties such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Muscat have always been stated on the bottle. So, what prevents the french from doing it if it could help the consumers?

Well, let me tell you a little about the French in an "Aparté"... (a subject I know rather well being one myself).


Aparté about the French

You have to realize that "The French", especially in regions such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, are traditionalists and quite chauvinistic by nature, often reluctant to make changes to secular traditions or even to slightly change their ways to adapt to the rest of the world.

Immutable traditions passed on from one generation to the next for the past few centuries oblige them to continue to respect certain rules and protocols inherited from their elders, thus making changes in their everyday life and routine a difficult task. More especially when it comes to their local products, including wines, cheeses, and local, traditional recipes. 

French products in general, wine and food included, are all about traditions, knowledge, skill, craftsmanship, regional artisanal cultures, and usually the fruit of a life-long career of people who have put their heart, time and passion to craft distinctive products proud of their regions of origin and the country they come from, pride for the "Made in France".

Thus, whether you agree or not, you can only (and understandably) respect the French's protective attitude and conservative approach about making any changes, as they are renown for the quality and durability of their products and want to keep them as they are. Their restrictive "Appellation of Origins" system (AOC = Appellation d'Origine Controlée / AOP = "Appellation d'Origine Controlée"), and several other specifically and typically French quality labels, are an intangible proof of it.

Therefore, making even the slight changes in France often command time, patience and long deliberations prior to a final decision can be made. More especially knowing that the French take their work-life balance very seriously (35h working law, etc...) and habitually ate being pushed or rushed about doing something unplanned. Last-minute decisions are not a thing in France, everything has to be planned and long in advance not to interfere or lengthen the time spent at work and definitely not to compromise or shorten their evenings, weekends and vacations time.   

The French dislike indecision, preferring the people who know what they want and can make reflective decisions rather than act on hasty decisions. That said, they also can make, and take quick decisions, and even help when needed too, as long as, (evidently), it is not right before lunch or dinner, or worst, prior to the summer vacations (needless to say that nothing gets done in France between the end of June and early September).     

You have to understand that France, despite all of its talents and prowess in technologies, medicine, architecture, design, fashion, and luxury goods in general, (and in many other sectors too), has remained an old-fashion country with a very agricultural background, unavoidably coming with the rural, backward, narrow-minded and conservative attitude most French are notorious for.

The usual french stereotype is often characterized as a smiling Frenchie with a "beret" on his head, a cigarette in his mouth, bearing a mustache or a 3 days-old beard, wearing a Britany striped t-shirt and pants too short to cover his ankles, and carrying a "baguette" and a "saucisson" under his arm, a bottle of wine in one hand, and holding a bike with the other hand... and the fact is that I can't neither deny or ignore this stereotype as it is simply true... how many times did I see a French boasting such an allure?...   

Funny to also think about the "cliché" of the French being charming, laid back, smiley, with a certain insouciance, "laissez-faire", "laissez-aller" and "joie-de-vivre", even being by definition sexy and fashionable for some (to some extent), when most likely, while visiting France, you'll find them usually rather rude, pessimistic, grumpy, long-faced, complaining or making a fuss about something, and being opinionated and/or know-it-all about anything and everything, and most often pompous and snob in many ways. 

"Ask the waiter what the French words mean"
An illustration by A.B. Frost - 1894 (*)

Amongst other things, for example, when, in a restaurant, a hotel or even a boutique retail store in France (especially in Paris), who never experienced the contempt look of a posh Maître D', a concierge or a luxury goods retailer, raising one condescending eyebrow and politely disdaining you with an unfriendly-dry "Monsieur?" or "Madame?", simultaneously simulating some form of respect for you while questioning your right to exist at the same time. Sounds familiar, isn't it?

Yes, the French can be unpleasant, up-their-nose, condescending, posh, arrogant, mannered and unpolite bourgeois (a behaviour they refer to as being sophisticated), or at the opposite, rustic, rough, uneducated, grumbling, antipathic, unmannered and still unpolite peasants (totally unsophisticated), or anything in between, as well as being annoyed and annoying, frustrated and frustrating, grumpy and unfriendly, dry, sarcastic, proud-to-a-fault, abusing the use of 2nd-degree jokes and metaphors sometimes difficult to understand, and, etc... etc...

This list is non-exhaustive, and I could definitely babble for a much longer while about the French and their annoying behaviors and habits... (sigh)... but the above is enough for you to get the idea (and for me to think it and write it out loud), and, at the end of the day, even if I could complement this list with more diminishing adjectives, I should stop there and shouldn't be all negative about the French, after all, being one myself...

So, yes, the French are all the above, yes... but,... in their own ways, they can also be charming, sophisticated, refined, elegant, cultivated, well-dressed and well-mannered, with a taste for luxury and lust, and love for culture and traditions, and history, as well as a way of getting into recurring complicated adventurous and sexually-oriented stories, with an irresistible attraction for femme-fatales and charismatic men, mingled with this "je-ne-sais-quoi" of confident demeanor and innate nonchalance, that almost make them cool and sexy.

Needless to also mention their taste for interior design, architecture and decor, their attention to details in everything they craft, and most importantly their unsurpassed "savoir-faire", traditions and mastery in the Art of Culinary, Hospitality and Service ("l'Art de la table et du service"), "le bien boire et le bien manger" et "surtout le bien recevoir", anchored in their life-style and countlessly copied yet never equaled all around the world.

And let's not forget their somewhat annoying and often excessive manners and protocols, more specifically their well-educated table manners, which often make us love them even more, especially when having a passionately-opinionated endless conversation, while sipping the "apéro", prior sitting around a well-dressed table where an array of good food is usually paired with carefully selected wines, the way only the French hold the secret of. Surely some of the reasons why the world envies the French way of living, drinking, eating, and kissing too.

The world always had, and will always have, an intricate "love-and-hate" relationship with the French, and I don't think anything will change with time...    and maybe that's for the best!

Vive La France!         


But enough of this aparté about the French, as once again I'm derivating from the main subject. So let's go back to Burgundy and Pinot Noir, should we?  Where was I? Ah, yes... the difficulties with the labels and why Pinot Noir isn't mentioned on the label... a vast subject that is.... (sigh)

And 25 years later, I'm realizing that the topic is still of actuality, like some people, even if somewhat knowledgeable and more than occasional drinkers, still don't know apparently. 

So, regarding Burgundy, I told her that although it is a complex and complicated region to understand, I will try to explain to her in a very simple manner via some illustrations (drawings, shapes, graphs, pyramids, processes, cycles, and other visuals) for her (and others) to better understand. And that is what prompts me to write this post.    

💥 Work in progress, to be finished soon💥

Santé! Cheers!

LeDomduVin (a.k.a. Dominique Noël)

(*) A.B. frost Illustration found on this website

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