Fight for your name and your title!

Struggle has always been part of wine. This is especially true in France. It does not only mean to struggle with the elements and terroir, it means a struggle with the system as well. Many ambitious wannabe wine regions struggle for attention – such as Southern Burgundy.

This struggle is all about the name.  Quite while ago I secured an interview with Mr Roland Masse, the head winemaker of Hospices de Beaune (For wine, this is like scoring an interview with Keith Richards). He knows a lot about Burgundy so I asked him: “There are all levels of wine qualities here in Burgundy, so what would you suggest I use to guide me to quality?” He. looking into his glass of magnificent Pinot Noir, and quietly answered: “The winemakers name. Nothing else”.

That is quite the same on a community level as well, especially in France. One of the most common romantic stories about wine is how this or that Commune gained their AOC qualification. French wine classification system is strictly territorial. The information you get on the bottle is mostly about where the wine comes from. No-one used to care about the grape varietals, not until the new world came around. They too were territorial – you grew what you and everyone else grew around you – As everyone had for centuries..You didn’t get a Chardonnay, you got a Bourgogne Blanc. There was no question about what it was.

The top level of this classification is the “Apellation d`Originem Controllee” otherwise known as ‘Product of a Controlled Origin’ – It can be applied to everything from wine through cheese to some very posh liquorice. Like everything in France this structure is strictly centralized with a national body to rule them all: the INAO.

Only the best producing regions get to put their villages name on the label. For the rest, there is an umbrella of origin. Take, for example, Macon Villages. Picturesque villages around the Southern Burgundy town of Macon. Lovely region, great white wines all around. Picture this though. One little village in this pocket start producing a far better wine than the ones in the neighbourhood. The folks with mediocre or bad quality down the street are also are  naming their wine under the same banner of Macon Village, and therefore tainting the rep of the better quality wine. What is the village to do?

This was the situation with the good people in Vire Clesse. They kept applying for an AOC status from as early as  1964. There were several attempts with years and years of lobbying and administration. Finally the grandchildren succeded: in 1994 the INAO granted them with the AOC status. They could finally join the few villages in Southern Burgundy that are allowed to release wines with their own names on the labels.

The wine is actually the perfect justification of this decision. Yes, they are that much different. The area is slightly warmer than the neighbouring villages, and therefore the wines are fuller, rounder and a lot more robust. A wine region most certainly worth fighting for!

Come around to Borough Market this Saturday, and have a taste of these wines – perfect smooth to please you. Guaranteed.

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