Often referred to as a ‘minefield’, navigating these historic and celebrated slopes can be a thrilling rollercoaster ride but it is not a place to ‘buy blind’. Once bitten by the Burgundy bug, the thirst for knowledge and compulsion to access its wines is infectious. However, with volumes produced often no more than a few hundred bottles, finding the wines that are really worth having can be frustrating.This is where membership of Club Magnum is your secret weapon.
The oft-heard phrase ‘The Golden Age of Burgundy’ refers to the undeniable increase in quality and consistency from the region in the post-war period. This movement owes much to the family domaines who have wrestled the leadership of their region away from the large négoçiant houses, striving to fulfil the potential of their vineyards and return them to health.
The rise in quality is undoubtedly a boon for consumers but with it has come an inexorable rise in demand, particularly as global trade has opened up with the emergence of new markets. Burgundy has never been in greater demand than today but with pricing now attaining levels that could not have been dreamt of even one generation ago, there is danger that consumers are being pushed out in favour of those motivated purely by financial gain.
The distribution of these wines has not seen the same levels of dynamism and progress as that practised in vineyards and cellars. Large agents and distributors cling to their allocations, many of which arrived almost by accident during a period when interest in the region was negligible. While there are honourable exceptions, many use them as leverage to move other inventory and there is certainly evidence of restaurant allocations being flipped for quick profit and cash flow rather than being lovingly listed to maximise exposure for the brand owner.
If you haven’t been buying Burgundy for the last 30 years, be it for reasons of age, access to funds or otherwise, gaining access to the best wines is almost impossible to achieve. At the restaurant table, you will be faced with mark-ups that verge on scandalous and often on very young wines that ideally should be resting in the cellar; in the wine shop, you will have to join the back of a very long queue; buying direct from the agent will inevitably mean that you have to ‘play the game’, be that buying a large assortment of other wines or other demonstrations of loyalty and patience; buying direct from the vineyard is impossible (or only possible if your great-grandfather happened to be a friend of the current owner’s forebear); and buying on the secondary market is fraught with risk, be that provenance, uncertain storage or paying over the odds, or possibly all of the above.
With all this frustration, it would be understandable enough if the early flames of Pinot passion were snuffed out in favour of some safe, boring old claret. Fear not, as a solution is at hand…