Online wine tastings are elevated to a whole new level with grand cru wines from Burgundy, says Peter Ranscombe.
IT’S hard to think of an activity that hasn’t headed online during lockdown.
From family quizzes and cocktails with friends through to work meetings and court hearings, there seems to be no part of everyday life that hasn’t been transported into the virtual world.
Even BBC Radio 1’s roadshow, I mean, “big weekend” is taking place in our living rooms over the next few days – with wines to match to the performers and their music.
Now, Chateau de Pommard – the Burgundian wine producer owned by American tech entrepreneur Michael Baum – has elevated the online wine tasting into a whole new dimension with its La Route des Grands Crus online experience.
La Route des Grands Crus is a driving route through Burgundy’s most famous wine villages; think of it a bit like the malt whisky trail along the A95 through Moray, although with baguettes and saucisson instead of oatcakes and smoked salmon.
Chateau de Pommard takes its tourism very seriously, offering visitors a wide range of “experiences”.
During lockdown, it took those activities online, including its La Route des Grands Crus experience, with more than 1,000 guests taking part in its range of tours over the internet.
I sat in on this evening’s La Route des Grands Crus online experience, which was led by brand ambassador Olivier Bouchard.
Participants were invited to buy the Chateau de Pommard La Route Des Grands Crus Tasting Trio (£162) so they could try the three wines mentioned over the course of the Zoom presentation – with a 15% donation from the sales price going to hospitals in France to fight Covid-19 – and I came equipped with the 2018 Chateau de Pommard Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru (£128).
Guests could also splash out on the full six-bottle Chateau de Pommard La Route Des Grands Crus Premium Collection (£539), which featured the three from the tasting trio alongside other big names from the region.
Bouchard’s style was gentle and relaxed, and produced a very calming experience for a Friday evening.
It’s not for the faint-hearted though; this was a wine tasting presentation taken to the next level, with lots of details about soil types, vinification techniques and whether the fermentation yeast was natural or came from a packet (it was natural, in case you were wondering) – although, judging by the questions asked at the end of the presentation, it was pitched at the perfect level.
After all, if you’re spending around £80 or £90 a bottle then I think you’ve already firmly in “wine geek” territory.
Bouchard switched between sharing his screen with the Zoom participants – so that they could see his excellent maps and illustrations – and then appearing on screen so he could lead the tasting element of the experience.
This combination worked really well and replicated the high standard of education carried out in the chateau’s physical wine school on site.
Bouchard explained that the chardonnay grapes used to make the Corton-Charlemagne come from the slopes of the Hill of Corton.
It’s easy to see why this wine is among many Burgundy fans’ favourite whites – it’s got all the classic heavy toast, wood smoke and butter notes on the nose, alongside aromas of lemon rind, apricot and a bit of red apple.
The acidity is much brighter and fresher than the toast on the nose suggests, and then it’s into butter, butter and more butter alongside the oaky vanilla on the palate.
As Bouchard explained, white Burgundy is made to be aged, hence the use of brand new French oak barrels in which to age half the Corton-Charlemagne.
If you like your chardonnay buttery and packed full of vanilla – and want a kick in the teeth from the fresh acidity – then now is the time to drink it.
But, if you want something more suitable and nuanced then follow Bouchard’s recommendation and age it for five years to give the oak more time to integrate and the acidity the opportunity to calm down.
Neither is right nor wrong – when to drink wine comes down to the flavours you want to taste and the style you want to sip.
Although I haven’t tried it, I spotted the 2015 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru (£111) on the chateau’s website and wonder whether that would be at a more harmonious stage, letting the underlying fruit flavours shine through.
While there’s no substitute for visiting Burgundy in person, Bouchard did a great job in bringing Burgundy to us instead.
Read more of Peter Ranscombe’s wine, beer and spirit reviews in his The Grape & The Grain drinks blog at www.scottishfield.co.uk/grapegrain/