Among wine lovers, there is no greater divide than that between Burgundy and Bordeaux. These are the world’s most celebrated wine regions, different places producing different styles of wine. What separates them and why the great rivalry?
Many wine buffs believe that Bordeaux is for beginners. It’s a wine that you enjoy before your palate has fully matured and you then move on to the more exquisite pleasures of Burgundy. Bordeaux, say its detractors, is cerebral, like algebra, and is dignified at best. Burgundy, on the other hand, is a wine that makes you dream. As Roald Dahl once wrote, “To drink a Romanée-Conti is like having an orgasm in the mouth and nose at the same time”.
But others disagree. The best red Burgundy is made only from the pinot noir grape and some would argue that there’s not that much going on with it. Bordeaux, its aficionados like to point out, is almost always a blend of grapes that include cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot. It’s a construct, it has detail, you feel more deeply engaged.
And then there’s the business of place – and indeed the business of business. Bordeaux has historically been affluent and attractive to outsiders. In recent times it has become increasingly corporatised and preoccupied with hiking up prices. Burgundy, on the other hand, has always been insular, composed almost entirely of small, family-run farms where the owners roll up their sleeves, get out into the vineyards and make the wines themselves. Why, say Burgundy lovers, would you want to drink a Bordeaux label owned by a man in a Brioni suit, when you could have the romance and authenticity of a wine made by a boot-clad farmer whose family have worked the same plot for generations? But is the ‘soul’ of a wine really so important? Much Bordeaux may nowadays be industrially produced by big business, but isn’t what counts the quality of the wine that comes out of the bottle?
In March 2015 Intelligence Squared brought together Britain’s two giants of wine writing, Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, to go head to head in a debate on the world’s two greatest wines.