By Adam Arlen
Club Sommelier, The Peninsula Club
The beauty of wine in the region of Burgundy, France, is relatively simple. If it’s white, it’s Chardonnay. If it’s red, it’s Pinot Noir. The frustration begins with the complex maze of vineyards, villages, and producers. This region is home to the most expensive white and red wines in the world. Unfortunately, these wines can vary greatly in quality.
It’s all about inheritance
According to tradition, an estate was inherited by the first-born, the second-born went to the military, and the third-born went to the church. In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte decreed that the inheritance would be split among all eligible heirs. Over time, great estates were divided into smaller ones, creating many vineyards.
Not everyone is fanatical about taking care of their vineyard
Quality and pricing varies widely in all of Burgundy. You can look down the rows of Grand Cru vineyards and see vines that are cared for immaculately next to rows that look like a disheveled teenaged boy. Think of it this way: we all know the house in the neighborhood that doesn’t exactly fit in—the grass needs to be cut, there’s an old car on cinder blocks. The same thing happens with Burgundy vineyards. They all have name recognition and the price tag but not necessarily the care or quality to make a truly great wine.
Keep these producers in mind
Domaine Chanson started in the 18th century. It is one of five houses with this heritage. It was family-owned until 1999, when it was sold to the family that owns Champagne Bollinger. They have set the benchmark for the area that is affordable.
Domaine Albert Bichot, established in 1831, has amassed one of the largest land holdings in all of Burgundy. With six wineries and twelve winemakers in the fold, it has put the focus on making wine first in the vineyard.
The P Comms portfolio imports the wines of small producers, not normally eligible for distribution. (It makes only a few thousand cases a year.) Several of these winemakers started their careers at the larger houses but have split off to make their own wines.
Adam Arlen: “I am passionate about wine because it is history in a bottle.” He is the sommelier for The Peninsula Club in Cornelius, NC. Originally from Allentown, PA, he believes you should always branch out and find new things. His goal is to never stop learning and continuing to grow both personally and professionally. A fun fact about him: “I was a nuclear engineer on a submarine in a previous life.”