The phenomenon that is Parkerisation is already much discussed however Tim Atkins has brought that back with his piece on his eponymous website. I have touched on this previously when writing about Chateauneuf du Pape and how it's going out of fashion with a lot of drinkers. However after coming back from Sicily, a region famous for making "Burgundian" style wines, I realised that Burgundian is fast becoming another latent yet loaded term in wine.
What is Burgundian? Obviously it is derived from the region Burgundy, now perhaps the most expensive and talked about wine region around the world. The region itself has seen many changes over the years, from the negociant dominance pre 1970s to the shift in domaine bottling, the introduction of biodynamics, from heavy extraction and lots of new oak to gentler maceration and nuanced touches of wood. The term Burgundian however refers to the modern Burgundy that has captured the minds and palates of seemingly everyone these days: an almost razor-like focused on terroir, subtlety yet with nuance, complexity with finesse, in parts approachable young but still built for long term ageing.
I spent the first part of my career in Burgundian wines, so naturally my palate is primed for Burgundy. Admittedly, I do love Burgundian styles from around the world. This is seemingly a great thing––more of us can enjoy our favourite style of wines from many regions all over. Case in point: while visiting Girolamo Russo, his Feudo di Mezzo 2015 reminded me of a Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru, perhaps Clos St. Jacques even but with more sweet spice than peppery notes. Instinctively, I exclaimed, "wow this is incredibly Burgundian" and Giuseppe Russo, the winemaker, was incredibly flattered to be compared with such a well known lieu-dit. Yet suddenly it felt wrong, to use a term of another region and impose it on someone who was frankly trying to do his own thing, on his own land with his own grapes.
This continued to bother me that night, as I laid awake alone in my little B&B. Why hold Burgundy as the sole barometer of excellence but instead embrace each regions' own idiosyncrasies, own indigenous varietals and historical winemaking techniques? How is this any difference than Parkerisation, then the predominant influence in winemaking and tastes that held its grip for a good 20-30 years? Comparatively, Burgundian is already a more wholesome, inclusive term because of its focus on terroir––naturally each region's terroir is different and the lesser new oak gives more character and idiosyncrasies back into the wine. It's also a style and a term that is not imposed by one individual but rather it's the market and consumer preference at large that are influencing the winemakers to look to Burgundy for guidance.
This is what was strongly fomenting in the back of my mind as I headed towards Ayunta, a small one-man artisanal operation from Filippo Ayunta, who still has a full time job as export manager of another Northern Italian estate. Maybe because the visit itself was quite casual in nature, Filippo's frankness and overall friendly approach, I felt comfortable asking him what he thinks about the term Burgundian and its use to describe the style of wine he and the region makes. "We are trying to speaking your language, using our words," he articulated. What a simple but succinct statement that easily clarifies any winemakers' attitude to outside forces from their winemaking––that is to create equally compelling terroir-driven elegant wines, yet using their methods, their ideas and their approach. One do not have to sacrifice one approach for another but rather achieve a balance between market tastes and his/her own individual thinking.
And while there has been a seismic shift in taste, style and approach to wine from the yore of Parkerisation till the now of Burgundian, there always has been winemakers who march to the beat of their own drum, from producers such as Quinterelli, Didier Dageneau and Pingus. These are just a few (famous) examples of winemakers who followed their ideologies and shaped the market their own way, irrespective of what was in vogue at the time. So as consumers, we must have faith that there will individualistic winemakers that will pursue their own school of thought and make good wines period––no matter what the current paradigm may be. The market is big enough to absorb those that choose to follow trends and those who will set them. If anything there are more pressing concerns such as global warming, which will impact wines more than any one critic or region will ever have.