I’ll lay my cards on the table from the very beginning – Burgundy is probably my favourite wine region. From the crisp and refreshing white wines of Chablis to the rich and complex reds of Gevrey-Chambertin, the magic that takes place with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes in the Bourgogne is simply stunning.
So it didn’t take much convincing for me to head along to the Burgundy dinner hosted by wine merchant Woodwinters at the Lake of Menteith Hotel. The hotel runs a series of wine dinners throughout the winter, ranging from Hungary to Rioja and from Chile to New Zealand.
One of the highlights of the annual programme is the American wine dinner in January, which is hosted by Ian Fleming, owner of the Lake of Menteith Hotel and its sister establishment, The Robert Morris Inn in Maryland. Tickets have already sold out for that dinner but, with Burgundy on offer, I wasn’t disappointed.
Following a sweet and creamy roast parsnip and apple soup as an appetiser, Adrian Laird Craig from Woodwinters opened the dinner by introducing the Domaine de la Motte Chablis Premier Cru 2011 Vau-ligneau (£17). On the nose, this high-class white wine delivered aromas of peach and lemon along with vanilla notes, hinting that it had spent some time ageing in oak barrels. The oak flavours came through as butter and a little nuttiness on the palate, but were balanced nicely by the fresh lemon and deeper lemon rind notes. Although it is oaked, this is no slap-you-round-the-face 1980s Aussie Chardonnay; this is skillful wine making, offering well-integrated oak, a good balance between the fruit and the acidity and producing a complex flavour with a fruity lemon finish. Delicious and a good price too.
Chablis is a classic match for oysters and seafood and at the dinner it was an ideal pairing for the kitchen’s fishcake, which was served with grilled corn slaw and a spring onion and tarragon sauce. The fishcake was moist and flavourful, but the real star was the sauce, which wasn’t overpowering with tarragon.
An impressive start indeed, but the wine for the main course blew it out of the water. The rich complexity of the Domaine Bernollin Bourgogne Rouge “Les Corbaisons” 2011 (£16) made me think it would be on sale at twice the price. The nose was full of the classic Pinot Noir red fruit aromas of redcurrant, red cherry and strawberry jam, along with smells of cigar smoke, leather and wet leaves that indicate that it’s already beginning to age beautifully. On the palate, the fresher fruit flavours dominate, with warmth from the alcohol and a full and rounded mouthfeel. The tannins are silky and well-integrated, while the finish is long and fruity, with a touch of nutmeg spice at the end.
The Corbaisons was a superb accompaniment to the Provencal lamb chops that came out of the kitchen – and how refreshing to see a chef calling them lamb chops rather than the ubiquitous rack of lamb. The local meat was superb, served perfectly pink, and accompanied by potato Boulanger, creamed walnut kale and a redcurrant jus.
When it comes to French sparkling wines, Champagne steels all the headlines. Yet step outside the world’s most famous fizzy wine area and France can serve up a whole range of exciting “cremant”, sparklers made using the same traditional method as in Champagne, with the second fermentation that creates the bubbles taking place inside the bottle instead of in a tank or by bubbling carbon dioxide through the wine.
Adrian rounded off the dinner by showing what Burgundy can do when it comes to sparkling wine with the Albert Sounit Cremant de Bourgogne Prestige Brut (£15). Made from 70 per cent Chardonnay and 30 per cent Pinot Noir – two of the three main grape varieties in Champagne too – the nose was full of pear, quince and red apple, with some sweet pastry and butter notes. The aromas followed through into matching flavours on the palate, with a creamy yet lively mousse.
The pastry flavours in the wine worked well with the apple frangipane tart for dessert, which was served with Calvados ice cream. Off-dry sparkling wines can make great partners for puddings, from demi-sec Cava in Spain through to the fruity and sweet wines of Asti in Italy.
Adrian was an excellent guide to the wines of Burgundy. He avoided get bogged down in detailed explanations of the system of vineyards, growers, winemakers, agents and appellations in the Bourgogne and instead concentrated on the flavours that dinners could smell and taste in the wines and which dishes with which they would go well at home.