French cassoulet has become a regular in our home and on this blog, I bring it back from time to time with variations depending on the mood, from vegetarian to rich and meaty. This time it became the star of the holiday season together with a bottle of a Pinot Noir from Burgundy, or red Burgundy. The fitting bottle of Vigne de L’Enfant Jésus from Bouchard Père e Fils lifted the otherwise rich bean and meat casserole, and gave me a reason to write another post.
Burgundy is a complicated wine region, and a pursue understanding it one glass at a time. The region is a dichotomy, a place where only two major grapes, chardonnay for white Burgundy and pinot noir for red Burgundy, make for layers of complexity in style from village to village through the rather small chunk of land. And yes, even though Beaujolais is considered part of Burgundy it’s a separate entity when it comes down to what is known as red or white burgundy wine.
We first visited Burgundy in the wet spring of 2012. The bright, earthy and complex wines made up for the damp, cold, and grey excursions from winery to winery. At the time, my love for Burgundy wines was in its infancy and my understanding of the long history and importance of the region in the wine world was non-existent. The hot summer days of 2015, during our second visit, allowed us to wander around the region, to hop through famous grand cru vineyards in Chablis to the north, Côte de Nuit, and Côte de Beaune to the south.
My first question about Burgundy was, “What is a grand cru?” Grand cru is the highest designation a piece of land has when it comes to grape growing. It’s the perfect marriage between grape and geographic location, or what the French call terroir. When we traveled through Burgundy, we stopped at vineyards sites and Scott rushed to grab handfuls of soil to investigate and confirm its contents. Each grape has a preferred soil type, and the soils in Burgundy suit perfectly the chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. Pinot noir is indigenous to the area, as the story goes monks found the wild vines in the forest and domesticated it. The king then asked for gamay – the grape of Beaujolais- to be torn up and replaced by pinot noir, making it the ruling red grape of the region.
This notion made sense to me after a couple of years of backyard farming and constant reading about how the specifics of the soil affects different plants, together with the amount of sun based on exposure, water, and nutrients required to keep different plants happy. The same applies to grapes, after all it’s an agricultural crop before it becomes wine. Centuries ago the monks figured this out and began enclosing plots of land where their grapes did best and produced the best wines, developing the beginnings of a classification system based on quality, and price, from grand cru, premier cru, village level, to regional Bourgogne rouge or blanc.
Studying this region is a life-long endeavor and I take it one wine at the time. For this pairing we had a wine from a well-known producer and negotiant based in Beaune, Bouchard Père et Fils, founded in 1785. The story of the Vigne de L’Enfant Jesus vineyard dates back to the XVII century when a Carmelite sister predicted the birth of King Louis XIV after Queen Anne of Austria had endured four still-births. The kingdom gave the vineyard to the Carmelite order who tended to it until the French Revolution when Napoleon took all the lands from church holdings and sold it as bien national.
When deciding what to drink with the hearty cassoulet while following Julia Child’s advise between a red Burgundy, a Rhône, or a Beaujolais, we leaned toward red Burgundy because of its bright acidity and earthy flavors to lighten up the dish, which is rich from the meat and creamy from the beans. Pinot noir from Burgundy is tart, unlike some New World pinots, which offer riper fruit flavors. It’s that tartness that keeps me coming back, that makes red Burgundy so delightful.
To celebrate the season Scott chose the wine from the vineyard of baby Jesus, or Vigne de L’Enfant Jesus, for not particular religious believe, but rather to honor history and culture.
Depending on where in the region the wine, red or white, comes it might showcase more subtle or robust flavors, and that’s what makes Burgundy so intriguing, trying to figure each area of the region, each village, each plot of land, and their specific nuances.
Burgundy is an emblematic region in the world of food and wine, from truffles, cheese, meats, to iconic wines, and my admiration has grown after that wet spring when we first met.