Inspiration struck Brett Zimmerman shortly after he bought Boulder Wine Merchant nine years ago.
When it comes to wines from Burgundy, thought Zimmerman, Colorado gets stiffed. Winemakers in Burgundy are mostly small producers. Together, they make only 3 percent of France’s wines. Most of the bottles they put aside for the United States market ends up on the coasts.
Zimmerman, a master sommelier, finds Burgundy wines especially beguiling. His enchantment is not unusual among wine enthusiasts — Burgundy ensorcels many, including me. Zimmerman wanted to routinely taste more Burgundies, and to enrich his staff’s Burgundy education. His Burgundy-loving customers wanted in on the action as well.
So he started Boulder Burgundy Festival. An event revolving around Burgundy wines, he cleverly guessed, would require … wines from Burgundy. Good ones.
That first year, he and a few other Boulder wine freaks, including Bobby Stuckey from Frasca Food & Wine, decided to celebrate white Burgundy at The Mediterranean. They planned a tidy get-together — no biggie. A seminar. Tastings. Sixty people showed up to toss back Chardonnay. It succeeded.
Boulder Burgundy Fest a celebration
Now, the Boulder Burgundy Festival is a four-day, 600-guest bacchanal of Burgundy’s winemakers and its grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gamay and a few smidges of the white grape Aligote.
Famous winemakers show up. Among others, this year features Jean-Marc Roulot, the Albus Dumbledore of Burgundy. His Domaine Roulot in the Côte de Beaune’s Mersault commune produces some of Burgundy’s most sought-after bottles of Chardonnay.
Ashley Hausman, Colorado’s first Master of Wine (sort of like achieving a doctorate in paleobotany, in Latin), leads a seminar on lesser-known Burgundy appellations. Joining Hausman are Ludivine Ambroise from Domaine Ambroise, in Ladoix, and Laurent Mouton from Domaine Mouton, in Givry.
I had hoped to chat with Hausman before writing, but she has been in Burgundy, working the harvest and deepening her understanding of the wines.
“She will be charged up,” said Zimmerman, as we enjoyed one of the wines Hausman will be pouring during the seminar (a 2016 Premier Cru from Mouton). “She will have this vibrant, fresh take on everything going on in Burgundy right now. It’s going to add such dimension to this seminar.”
Never savored old Burgundy? Join the club. Burgundy Fest includes an old and rare Burgundy tasting. One of the wines was bottled in 1934.
Boulder Burgundy Fest Hogwarts for winos
For me, one of the ensorceled, attending Burgundy Fest is sort of like spending most of the year learning magic tricks on YouTube, and then for one long fall weekend entering Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
The pageant of grape nectar astounds, wines I never would taste if not for Burgundy Fest. I drink most of them during the annual Grand Tasting, where somms and industry pros pour hundreds of Burgundies for guests. I’ve sipped Burgundies in excess of $500 during the Grand Tasting. An estuary of Burgundies for between $100 and $200. And wines that sell for about $20, too.
I’ve read plenty about Burgundy, and bought bottles here and there to drink with mushroom pizza or roast chicken at home. Both of these activities aided my understanding of the wines. But I credit Burgundy Fest for the bulk of my education.
What’s the fuss about Burgundy? The balance of bother about a couple of grapes that thrive on vineyards around the globe?
Magic informs many wines from Burgundy
“The climate. The soil. The clones. The history. The grapes are relatively new to much of the world. The monks in Burgundy have a 500-year head start,” said Zimmerman. “When the vintage, the producer, and the site all come together, it creates this unmatched glory. When you have tasted a magical bottle of Burgundy, it’s kind of burned in your brain. The high points make it such a special experience that you find yourself going back for more.”
For Zimmerman, Burgundy crafted from Pinot Noir finds its foundation in bright flavors of red fruit, particularly cherry. In the most interesting red Burgundies, surrounding that red fruit core, in layers of antechambers and hallways, is wild complexity. Mushrooms. Forest floor in the fall. Possibly hints of baking spices.
The best white Burgundy from Chardonnay, which Zimmerman identified as the wine he would ask for should he be hanging from a cliff and had time for one glass of wine before the plunge, is a blend of “power, intensity and concentration without weight.”
“It’s this detailed explosion of flavor that hits all areas of your mouth for an extended period of time and goes from bright citrus to ripe spiced apple to tangerine and exotic mango,” he said. “A tiny bit of vanilla. A hint of smoke. Caramel. It’s a tangled web of flavors that dances on your palate for too short a period of time.”
We don’t grow Vitis vinifera wine grapes, the varietals that fill most bottles around the world, along the Front Range. It’s too cold, the volatile climate too forbidding. We are lucky to have a strong wine community, though. Between the ambitious liquor stores, restaurants and educators like Zimmerman, Hausman, Stuckey and many more, Boulder is a good place for wine crazies.
And our madness mounts every fall when the wizards show up, pouring their potions.
This story first appeared in The Daily Camera on Oct. 10, 2019