John Hawkesby

John Hawkesby is a wine writer for Canvas Magazine.

Wine: Battle of the big reds

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The battle is on between Bordeaux and Burgundy. Photo / Thinkstock
The battle is on between Bordeaux and Burgundy. Photo / Thinkstock

Getting serious wine buffs to agree on which is the greater red wine style, Bordeaux or Burgundy, is akin to getting a roomful of economists to agree on anything. Bordeaux is the classic blend involving cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and, to a lesser extent, petit verdot and malbec.

It can be all of the above, sometimes with a dash of carmenere, or it can be a combination of just a few such as St Emilion wines, which often rely on merlot and cabernet franc. Burgundy, by contrast, is a single varietal: pinot noir.

Bordeaux aficcionados will extol the virtues of complexity, gravitas and history, claiming that Bordeaux is perceived as the preference for kings and nobility ... anything else is a pretender to the throne.

"Outrageous," cry the Burgundy lovers, pointing to the fact that Bordeaux relies on a partnership of grapes whereas their revered pinot has the grace, style and sheer class to stand alone.

A few years ago in Beaune, the small town at the heart of Burgundy, I foolishly asked for a bottle of Bordeaux, completely oblivious to this major faux pas.

Were it not for me obviously being an ignorant English tourist, I think I would have been hung from the gallows at the rear of the restaurant. A lesson soon learnt.

In New Zealand we're not so paranoid, protective nor narrow-minded. Bordeaux blends sit nicely alongside our pinot noir and we happily leap from either style depending on mood, food or what happens to be in the house.

Our pinot noirs attract more international attention than our Bordeaux blends. The former are bright, refreshing and clean with fruit flavours and gentle tannins, and a typical New World style can be a pleasant enough change from the more brooding barnyard, dirty, earthy examples of Burgundy.

Our Bordeaux blends have to compete in a tougher arena. Historically they've been criticised as being green and vegetal.

That criticism is fading as we are now producing some exemplary wines that are being noticed.

Waiheke's Passage Rock Vineyard, previously known primarily for its beautiful syrah, has come up with one of the finest Bordeaux styles I've tasted. Even Burgundy obsessives would be impressed.

Recommended

2011 Passage Rock Pinot Gris, $22
Proof that Waiheke Island is not just about reds; this is a perfect luncheon wine. It is light, approachable and has personality with gentle flavours of peach, pear, butterscotch and spice. Very smooth.

2010 Passage Rock Magnus, $69
Rejoice, another New Zealand Bordeaux blend to have the rest of the world quaking in its boots. Vintage dependant, it is a blend of syrah (replacing the usual cabernet franc), cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec and petit verdot. Magnificent.

- NZ Herald

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