Burgundy collectors are chasing an elusive high, and it has nothing to do with the wine’s alcohol content.
“It’s never the same wine twice,” says Chicago-based master sommelier Alpana Singh, who is the proprietor of three wineforward restaurants in Illinois. “Fickle,” is how she describes the celebrated wine from Burgundy, France, in the east-central region of the country.
“It’s always changing in the bottle,” Singh, 41, says, so tastings can truly be once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Why it’s special
Red burgundies are made with Pinot Noir grapes, while white burgundies use Chardonnay grapes. They can be very hard to get, and older bottles are rare and expensive. Production has always been limited, Singh explains, and market pressure has made supply tighter. All that adds to the wine’s legendary status.
There are four tiers of Burgundy wine: grands crus, premiers crus, village appellations, and regional appellations (appellations indicate the area where the grapes were grown).
Grand cru is the most rare, thus the most coveted and expensive, with some bottles priced in the tens of thousands of dollars. “It’s the ultimate collector’s wine,” says Singh, who became the youngest female master sommelier when she achieved the title at 26.
How much it costs
Prices for burgundies skyrocket as bottles become harder to find. Singh says when she started out buying burgundies as a sommelier at Chicago’s acclaimed Everest Restaurant in 2000, she had several $140 to $150 bottles on the list. While buying for her three restaurants—the Boarding House and Seven Lions in Chicago and Terra & Vine in Evanston, Ill.—some of those vintages could be $350 or $500 a bottle, she says.
How to serve it
The older the vintage, the more fragile it is, Singh explains. And one way to protect an investment in a bottle is to do nothing. Decanting the wine “accelerates the opening process and could kill the perfume…It’s very delicate,” she says. Instead of decanting, Singh recommends serving Burgundies in globe glasses, which just slightly opens them up.
“If it grows together, it goes together,” she says. Morel and other mushrooms, cream sauces and certain cheeses from the Burgundy region, which tends to have rich cuisine, are good pairings, as are gamey meats like duck and lamb, and even seafood. “Oysters are brilliant with Burgundy,” Singh says.