As one French negociant recently put it, “France has for too long been resting on its laurels. We’ve been the best for so long that we’ve forgotten how to innovate”. Competition from the New World has spurred positive change in the French wine industry, and staple regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone have come up against serious competition at their top end in the past 10-15 years.
One doesn’t drink Burgundy to uncover ‘good value’, although it does exist. The traditionally unpredictable nature of white Burgundy in particular (corks, prem-ox etc) and the ever changing status of our Aussie dollar versus the Euro means that it can vacillate between the sublime to the ridiculous price wise, and that is if the cork gods are smiling on us on the day we wish to drink the wine. Set this gamble against the surety of a quality chardonnay from Australia (let’s call it the Dawson James Chardonnay from Tasmania at $70, or the Yabby Lake Block 6 Chardonnay at $85) and it becomes a challenge to find a Burgundy for the same price that can match the complexity, finesse and confidence of the Aussie chards.
None of this accounts for the irreplaceable allure of great Burgundy, which is stratospherically different to great New World chardonnay. The power, drive, layered complexity and sheer enormity of a wine from a vineyard like le Montrachet has to be seen (tasted) to be believed.
So how has international competition pushed Burgundy to be better? Has their long established expertise, like a big sister, had an effect on us – have they pushed us to be better too? In general, it would be fair to say that the new world introduced sanitation, chemistry and science to Burgundy – with great results. We see far cleaner wines on a much more regular basis. Perhaps one day screw caps will make more of an impression on the French… we can only hope. In return, the French have taught us artistry, bio-dynamics, passion and focus, all derived from generations of history. Hopefully together, we can continue to share our secrets and ultimately come to a pinnacle of great wine and knowledgeable grape growing. Experience is everything.