Wine lore has it that ‘Burgundy is for the heart and Bordeaux for the head.’ It’s an old adage that neatly, albeit simplistically, pinpoints the stylistic differences between the red wines from these, very famous and very different, wine regions.
Putting flesh on the bones with a flourish, wine critic, Victoria Moore, winningly writes, “Bordeaux is said to be cerebral: the algebra, the musical theory, the astrophysics and the essay; Burgundy, meanwhile, is a scintillating flare of emotion and pure being that eclipses thought like the sound of an operatic aria or the sight of the northern lights.”
Why do the wines differ so much? Mainly, it’s to do with their composition. Burgundian red wine is comprised of a single grape variety, the silky and sensual Pinot Noir. Claret (Bordeaux red wine), in contrast, is a blended wine that may consist of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Mysteriously, the reds of Burgundy seem, at their best, to somehow just ….be. Whereas, good Claret is all about building, detail and structure.
In the wine world, Burgundy versus Bordeaux is the great divide. Wine lovers always have a favourite and, for me, it’s Burgundy but, as the Autumnal days darken, there’s really no greater treat than Bordeaux and beef at the end of the week. Splash out on a good bottle with a few years age, roast the beef until it’s pink and Sunday satisfaction is all but guaranteed.
However, buying Bordeaux at source is a far less relaxed affair and requires involvement in a long established, and highly archaic, ritual known as ‘en primeur.’ In the spring after harvest, the Bordelais Chateaux pour their new wines at ‘en primeur’ tastings to which the great and the good of the wine world are invited. At these tastings, the Chateaux gauge the response of the buyers and critics and price their wines accordingly. Essentially, the process is an exercise in buying wine futures. The wines aren’t even bottled until at least a year after purchase and aren’t released to the buyer for 18 months or more.
In recent years, nature has smiled kindly on Bordeaux and superb vintages were produced in 2005, 2009 and 2010. Unfortunately, the Bordelais haven’t been quite so benevolent and massive price hikes have caused much resentment and a growing discontent with the ‘en primeur’ system.
So what’s the cost? Well that depends on the status of the wine that you’re trying to buy. At the very top of the Bordeaux pyramid are the five Premier Cru (First Growth) estate wines, Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Latour, Chateau Margaux , Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Chateau Le Pin and Petrus from across the river in Pomerol. Until fairly recently, there’s always been massive demand for these wines, even in poorer vintages, and prices for good or great vintages reach outrageous levels. For example, a 2005 Petrus currently sells for a staggering £ 2,000 per bottle. The other factor to consider, if the cost hasn’t already put you off, is that wines such as these won’t be ready for drinking until about 2020.
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that 2005, 2009 and 2010 were great vintages due to perfect weather conditions and that the sun shone just as much on the humble estates as it did on the lauded big boys. In other words, for canny drinkers, there are always plenty of reasonably priced and approachable Clarets to drink as Bordeaux has improved immeasurably in this area in recent years, chiefly due to increased competition from the New World.