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NOTES ON BURGUNDY

The back labels of wine sold in South Africa come with mandatory health warnings. The slogan which seems to have been the choice of most producers and importers is “Alcohol is addictive.” No doubt this is true for people prone to addictive behaviour (though the same might then be said for chocolate, cayenne pepper and anti-social conduct). If you are unlikely to succumb to addiction – in the precise and medical sense of the word – you are still susceptible to the seductive properties of people, products and objects which contribute to your quality of life. You want to spend time with people you love, surrounded by the works of art you most enjoy and, if you love great beverages, you might choose to do this sipping Champagne or simply inhaling the aromas of great Burgundy.

I was lucky enough to have been introduced to fine wine at an early age. My parents had a good, though modest, cellar, and many of their friends served wines which today would be impossible for all but the wealthiest collectors to offer to their guests. I remember magnums of 1949 Clos des Lambrays on the table for mid-week dinners (They only cost R10-40 each in the early 1970s, making them slightly more than twice the price of Nederburg Selected Cabernet.) The most expensive wine on the Civil Service Wine Store price list in those days was Romanée-Conti (as it would be anywhere today). The 1966 vintage – then eight years old – cost R18-50 and the older (and better) 1964 slightly more.

In short, it was easy to get addicted to great Burgundy, and as a student whose standard tariff for extra maths lessons to matriculants was R7-00 per hour, it was easy arithmetic for me to convert teaching time into great wine at a very acceptable exchange rate. However, the moment when I knew that Burgundy had passed from the realms of flirtation to serious and passionate obsession was at dinner one September evening in 1972 when I had my first bottle of DRC Richebourg. Hugh Johnson’s first book – simply entitled “Wine” – had said that it would deliver aromas of allspice, cinnamon and cloves – which to my youthful mind seemed an improbable promise. How wrong I was – as the wine took more air, the aromatics transformed into the most haunting fragrance, spice, fruit and vinosity, woven into an elusive but utterly seductive bouquet. Like Dante’s momentary glimpse of Beatrice on the Pointe Vecchio, everything changed for me in that encounter. Burgundy still remains the primary object of this affection, though she allows me the promiscuity of all great wines, whatever their origin or variety.

First published on port2port.wine 19/05/2018

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