C’est l’homme qui fait la différence

March 22, 2008 at 6:24 pm (French Wine) (, , )

This is a saying that the French use when discussing Burgundy: it is the man who makes the difference. Although the French system of classifying vineyards is based on the idea that pieces of land are better suited to certain grow grapes than others, this does not detract from the sentiment that it is the winemaker who is ultimately the determining factor in the quality of the wine.

I was recently listening to an interview with Burgundian winemaker Frédéric Magnien. Magnien echoed this creed, going so far as to state that the winemaker is most important, then the vintage, and THEN the terroir in determining the quality of a wine. In a wine world obsessed with the concept of terroir, this seemed like a bold statement to make.

Perhaps it is not surprising that a winemaker would believe that it is the “man who makes the difference,” but Magnien’s interview did a lot to convince me the veracity of this statement. Magnien is a négociant as well as a grower himself. And unlike most négociants, he is intimately involved in the growing and harvesting of the grapes he buys. Every morning, Magnien heads out early on his bike, roaming the vineyards of Burgundy. He looks at which hills get the best light at different times of day; he looks for high quality soil; he looks to see if there is a thoughtful and meticulous grower in the vineyards. He carefully selects these vineyards, growers, and grapes to make wine with. This is the type of man, I thought, that I would like making my Burgundy.

The day after I listened to this interview, I came into LUSH to find a case of Frédéric Magnien’s 2005 Mercurey ($38.50) on the wall. How fortuitous! This wine is three for three: winemaker, vintage, and terroir. Mecurey is a village in the Cote Chalonnaise (named after the messenger of the Gods!), known for its high quality, relatively inexpensive reds: aromatic, flavorful, and elegant at a fraction of the price of Cote D’Or. And if you’ve read anything about wine in the last year, you know about 2005 in France — perhaps the best vintage in 20 years. Mercurey can also be drunk much younger than many Burgundies, usually in the 3-7 year range (and perhaps upwards of 10 in this vintage). This is one 2005 that is ready to go and approachable right now, but should also continue to age beautifully. 

All elements converge to make this a gorgeous wine. The man, the vintage, and the terroir. The French are not wrong to say “c’est l’homme qui fait la différence,” though perhaps they should extend it to “c’est la personne qui fait la différence.” But that is a battle for another time… 

 Posted by Jane

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