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Burgundy vs Bordeaux

We brought together 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.

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.



Michel Roux Jr

Chef de cuisine at Le Gavroche

Chef de cuisine at Le Gavroche, the first UK restaurant to be awarded one, two and three Michelin stars. He has been a judge and presenter on the BBC’s ‘MasterChef: The Professionals’, and has been a presenter on all three series of ‘Great British Food Revival.’ His books include Matching Food & Wine: Classic and not so classic combinations.

Hugh Johnson

One of the world’s leading wine authors

One of the world’s leading wine authors, who has led wine writing in new directions since his first book, Wine, was published 48 years ago. The World Atlas of Wine (since its fifth edition co-authored by Jancis Robinson), his Wine Companion (now in its sixth edition), his annual Pocket Wine Book (since 1977), The Story of Wine, and his memoirs, A Life Uncorked, have all been bestsellers. His books on gardening and trees are also celebrated. His latest book is Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2015.

Jancis Robinson

Award-winning wine writer

Voted the world's most influential wine critic in polls in the US, France and internationally in 2018, Robinson writes daily for JancisRobinson.com, weekly for the Financial Times, and bi-monthly for a column that is syndicated around the world. She is editor of The Oxford Companion to Wine and co-author with Hugh Johnson of The World Atlas of Wine, whose 8th edition has just been published. She has also written The 24-Hour Wine Expert, a short, practical guide to the essentials of wine. In 1984 she was the first person outside the wine trade to pass the rigorous Master of Wine exams and in 2003 she was awarded an OBE by Her Majesty the Queen, on whose cellar she now advises.