Why sommeliers love Burgundy

Our man Jameson Fink is boots-on-the-terroir in Burgundy all week. Writer Alia Akkam caught up with thirteen wine directors to learn what makes Burgundy so great. —Ed.

Michael Scaffidi, sommelier, Plume at the Jefferson, Washington, DC

“If I had to be a genie in a bottle for eternity, the bottle I would choose would be Burgundy. Specifically, it would be a very large magnum of Raveneau Chablis from the Grand Cru site of Blanchots. There is no greater expression of excellence than Chablis. One can inhale the intoxicating aromas of Kimmeridgian soil, which is composed of 150 million-year-old dinosaur seashells. The wine is subtle, elegant, and powerful.”

Peter Morrell, chairman emeritus, Morrell & Company and Morrell Wine Bar & Café, New York

“Nowhere in the vast world of wine does the significance of terroir come through more distinctly than in the soils of Burgundy. Immersing one’s palate in well-made Burgundy from virtually any appellation is joy easily heightened to the level of hedonism by marrying Burgundy with tasty cuisine. As Napoleon once noted, ‘Nothing makes the future look so rosy as to contemplate it through a glass of Chambertin.’ For me, a bottle of any fine Burgundy, red or white, will suffice.”

Chad Zeigler, sommelier, RN74, San Francisco

“My favorite thing about Burgundy is the wines have soul, they have warmth and they capture the people that make them. When you meet the producer and you taste their wine, you get such an understanding of who they are—not just the person behind the wine but the family history behind it. I also love the intimacy of the wines. There are such small productions of wine that every time you drink one bottle, that is one bottle you’re drinking that will never be around again. It forces you to take notice and appreciate what you’re tasting. There is so much heart and soul and feeling in the wine.”

Jon McDaniel, wine director, Henri and The Gage, Chicago

“Where Bordeaux is the prom queen and the head cheerleader, Burgundy is the subtly attractive, intelligent captain of the debate team. To somms, Burgundy is somewhat of a paradox because the highs are higher than any other wine. A bottle of Burgundy that has been aged at the perfect temperature, for the perfect amount of time can be the best drug on the planet—velvety, textured, the perfect amount of fruit, earth, spice, and truffle. It is so soft, elegant, and feminine that after the first few sips, you lose where you are sitting. Burgundy can also be the extreme letdown. I have saved bottles of it for years that I have spent a week’s salary on, only for it to be bad. No other wine can be as crushing when off, because no other wine is as anticipated. The best vintages of Burgundy are better than anywhere else in the world, and the worst are defeating.”

Ehsan Mackani, general manager/sommelier, Due Forni, Austin

“Burgundy is a user-friendly wine. In tastings, young Bordeaux can be harsh and off-putting with strong tannins, and can take years to come around. Not to say that fine Burgundy does not need to mature, but it spends less time at it and, truth be told, often tastes wonderful right from the barrel or with little aging. At its best, Burgundy is supple, round, rich, and sexy. It can be complex or one-dimensional, but it will always give off the amazing perfume of the Pinot Noir grape and, unlike Bordeaux, will be approachable and pair up better with most food.”

Matt Tunstall, sommelier, Husk, Charleston, South Carolina:

“The allure of Burgundy lies in its centuries of history and its soil. From the Gauls to the Romans, to the monks that shaped it into what it is today, it sets the world’s benchmark for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Each village offers something unique. From smoky and elegant Pinot Noir to kingly Chardonnay, the wines are a direct link to the life of the vintage every year. Burgundy is simple and complex all at the same time, and rewards you tremendously for all of your time spent learning about it.”

Shannon Tucker, wine director, Foreign Cinema, San Francisco

“I love Burgundy because it offers an endless exploration; you can never be finished with it. Whenever you taste something unlike anything you’ve had before, or learn about a producer or vineyard, it’s like starting all over. In the best way possible. I love the discovery and the hunt. Burgundian wine can be likened to gambling: it’s quite expensive to pursue and you are often met with disappointment, but when you hit the jackpot it offers a chance at the sublime that just isn’t found in other regions.”

Greg Majors, beverage director, Craft, New York

“The diverse terroir of the Burgundy region—from northern communes like Gevrey and Chambolle-Musigny, to further south in Puligny and Meursault—creates some of the most enchanting and inspiring Pinots and Chardonnays in the world. But the real draw for me is the people. Beyond the négociants, the community in Burgundy is composed of farmers rooted in tradition who tend to their land and grow their grapes just as their grandparents and great grandparents did before them. The hamlets in Burgundy are filled with some of the most charming and delightful storied individuals you will ever encounter, which perfectly personifies the wine produced there.”

Matthew Pridgen, general manager and sommelier, Underbelly, Houston

“Why love Burgundy? The region and its wines are steeped in tradition, balanced in nature, and beautiful in appearance and taste. With Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Burgundy balances power and finesse like few other wines in the world can. The wines speak of a place, and tell you a story of where they were grown.”

Bret Heiar, wine director, Nico Osteria, Chicago

“Because we are an Italian restaurant, Nico Osteria doesn’t carry Burgundy, only Italian and Greek wines. But I have a longtime love of Cru Beaujolais from Southern Burgundy. I have collected it for a long, long time and consider it the most under-appreciated wine value in the world. Older Cru Beaujolais is just a wonderful thing.”

Olivier Flosse, wine director, A Voce Columbus & A Voce Madison, New York

“No region more perfectly represents the beauty of terroir than Burgundy. The soil quality throughout the region is unmatched and creates an incredible variety of wine in terms of taste and body, all with a perfect balance between soil and grape. The region is made up of small, family-run vineyards that have been passed down from generation to generation, creating wines that reflect their passion and dedication. Two wine varieties from Burgundy that are especially popular right now are Chablis and Meursault, which offer a perfect balance in minerality and alcohol content.”

Amy Racine, wine director, Sons & Daughters and The Square, San Francisco

“Burgundy is my favorite wine to serve at Sons & Daughters. I find romance in the vast expressions produced within the small region, and am fascinated with its geographical diversity. Exploring our selection of Burgundy with a guest (whether newly intrigued or well-acquainted) always promises humbling and rewarding experiences; it’s impossible not to fall in love with Burgundian wines.”

Ryan Arnold, divisional wine director, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Chicago

“Burgundy is unpredictable, has attitude, and is so transparent; it doesn’t hide anything. Burgundy is truly a region that reflects the land it was grown on and the cellar it was raised in. This is why we’ve put an emphasis on the region at new our concept, Paris Club Bistro and Bar. If a glass of white or red Burgundy could talk, I imagine it would say, ‘This is who I am. Enjoy me or someone else will.’