Yesterday morning, sixty people huddled over rows of glasses in the new addition at The Mediterranean in Boulder, feverishly writing notes while sniffing and sipping. While they worked, a panel of master sommeliers highlighted comparisons and characteristics of wines from Burgundy, walking the group through tastes that compared village samples with premier cru, and pinot noir from Chambolle-Musigny with pinot noir from Gevrey-Chambertin.
"This is like holding back a racehorse," Bobby Stuckey, owner of Frasca Food and Wine, said of a premier cru Puligny-Montrachet chardonnay. "This Chassagne-Montrachet has more give."
"It's not when are they good or bad, it's when are they useful," divulged Richard Betts on when to drink certain vintages.
The panel, which included Betts, Stuckey and Brett Zimmerman -- who owns the Boulder Wine Merchant -- gave lessons on history and terroir and dropped and defined vocabulary used to describe wine and detailed wine-making specs. In the end, everyone from novices to seasoned professionals took home some useful nuggets of knowledge on the whites and reds from one of eastern France's most prolific wine regions. All in all, everyone drank about $600 worth of wine, too, thanks to the generosity of local distributors who'd contributed bottles for the event.
The seminar was part of a two-day festival devoted to Burgundy, organized by Zimmerman and his staff at Boulder Wine Merchant with the goal of giving interested drinkers a chance to steep themselves in information and taste wines from a region that's expensive, rare and somewhat inaccessible if you're on any kind of budget.
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The festivities kicked off on Saturday with a lunch at Mateo and a dinner at Frasca, where the sommeliers talked pairings while pouring (very expensive) juice. But the Sunday sessions -- which included the seminar and a grand tasting, where importers poured everything from A.O.C. level stuff to $442 bottles of grand cru wine -- provided an excellent opportunity to garner a sensory understanding of the wines, as well as the differences between wines from villages that are located just minutes from each other. And whereas the seminar was a focused tutorial with three of the most knowledgeable wine people in Boulder, the tasting was a chance for about 150 attendees to pick the brains of several wine professionals -- there were at least five master sommeliers in attendance plus dozens of advanced and certified sommeliers and all of the distribution reps -- and gain substantial context in the region via plenty of drinking.
It was impressive, especially considering that this level of education is typically available to people actually working in the industry; most wine expos and tastings feature an unmanageable array of varietals that don't serve much more purpose than an excuse to get very, very drunk (and most distributors at those events leave the good stuff at home, because it's not worth pouring for the intoxicated masses). Thanks to its focus, the Burgundy festival guaranteed every attendee walked away from the events with a better understanding of the region, whether that was in the form of distinguishing between the characteristics of two different winemakers in the same village or simply having a revelation that Burgundy is an enjoyable wine to drink and worth dropping money on for a special occasion.
Zimmerman already plans to make the Burgundy Festival a yearly occasion. But because of its success, he's looking at adding events focusing on other varietals, too. For instance, he hints that he might do something with nebbiolo in the spring.