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Splashing out for the finest or the next best

China Daily | Updated: 2011-01-29 07:20

Wines from grand cru vineyards in Burgundy with good vintages command huge prices - often several thousands of dollars a bottle.

Yet a grand cru wine from a lesser-known vineyard can cost considerably less. I bought a 2002 Corton Clos du Roi grand cru for 54 euro ($70). A grand cru from the same vintage from one of the big names like La Tache or Romanee-Conti could cost somewhere between $2,000 and $10,000 a bottle.

Romanee-Conti is generally considered the most expensive wine in the world because of the law of supply and demand - and because it is considered the acme of wine excellence. Only 6,000 bottles are made every year from just more than 1 hectare of land.

The question of the value of wine often arises when people talk about French wine, especially when compared with wines from the New World.

In China, wines from Bordeaux are better known than wines from Burgundy. This is because Bordeaux produces two and a half times more wine than Burgundy, and Bordeaux wines are easier to understand. Burgundy has almost twice as many wine groups (appellations) than Bordeaux: 98 in Burgundy, excluding Beaujolais, against 57 in Bordeaux.

Grand cru wines are considered the best in France. Burgundy has only 33 grand cru wines out of almost 5,000 labels or less than 2 percent of the total. The next highest level, premier cru, represents only 11 percent of production.

Yet prices drop considerably for premier cru compared with grand cru. I bought a bottle of excellent premier cru pinot noir for 30 euro ($40) from a vineyard located only meters from one of the major grand cru sites, whose wines sell for hundreds of euros a bottle. It was a 2008 Vosne-Romanee Les Petit Monts made by Robert Sirugue.

This was a lovely wine with a perfumed nose of violets and rosewater that reminded me of the musk-flavored sweets I enjoyed as a child. The wine tasted like sour cherries and it had a silky and elegant backbone of tannin that suggests it would be even better in a decade.

When I tried the wine two days later - half a bottle exposed to the air - it had opened up even further to offer aromas of mint and sweet berries on top of the other flavors.

Another excellent premier cru was a 2004 Chassagne-Montrachet Grandes Ruchottes that cost 48 euro ($63). This chardonnay-based wine smelled of pineapple and cashews and yet on the palate it was lean and elegant like a Parisian fashion model.

The taste was austere and slightly acidic with good length that offered sophisticated drinking, though it should have been consumed with food.

(China Daily 01/29/2011 page12)

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