Burgundy v Bordeaux, the great debate

On Monday night two of the most respected pillars of the UK wine industry faced off against each other at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster to debate the relative merits of the wines of Burgundy and Bordeaux. The beautiful, oak-panelled auditorium sold out to a 1,000 strong audience eager to hear the opinions of our heavyweight debaters. They were expertly marshalled by Michel Roux, chef de cuisine of Le Gavroche and host of Masterchef:The Professionals, whose books have included “Matching Food and Wine”. Sadly we were not able to test out his food and wine-matching expertise.

Hugh Johnson, co-author with Jancis Robinson, of the World Atlas of Wine, made the case for Bordeaux and opened his statement by declaring that Bordeaux had been made for the British since the 12th century highlighting its capacity to age and change. He described it as dry and refreshing and certainly the 2009 Chateau Lalande Borie that we tried was indeed wonderfully smooth with no tannins, which was little surprise given that it was made in a brilliant vintage. Finally Hugh said that it was easy to understand Bordeaux and that because it was sold in large quantities it was easier to buy.

However Jancis was not to be outdone by her old friend and countered with the arguments that Burgundy had been making wine since the 1st century AD, and that their wines were more distinct. She made the pointed and contentious observation that Bordeaux chateaux only made wines to please certain American wine critics ! She claimed that prices in Bordeaux were ridiculous whereas in Burgundy any necessary price rises tended to be more reasonable. Consequently Bordeaux no longer appeared on some wine lists as it was deemed too expensive, it had lost any youth appeal whereas Burgundy was still being bought by the younger generation and its fresher, lighter wines with softer tannins were more sought after. She extolled its more beautiful countryside, its greater reliability and its more romatic appeal.

It was perhaps a more entertaining and informative evening than a true contest and both Hugh and Jancis admitted as such when they said they could have easily tossed a coin if forced to choose between either region (Jancis is on record as saying that 1947 Chateau Cheval Blanc is her favourite wine). In the end Jancis Robinson’s better constructed arguments won the debate with a 55% to 44% victory (remarkably 1% were undecided) yet at the end of the evening both Bordeaux and Burgundy were winners and we all felt better informed for having been witness to the passion of two titans of the wine world.