Monday, May 21, 2007

Wine of the Week: 2004 M. Magnien Bourgogne Rouge

"Rustic" is a term that I often find misused or misunderstood in wine writing. All too frequently, a wine is described as "rustic" to excuse its being underripe, thin, imbalanced, or overly acidic -- generally unable to compete by world-wide standards. Conversely, critics who favor more modern-styled wines tend to employ the term pejoratively to criticize wines for those very same negative qualities.

I would like to reclaim the word "rustic" as a positive, yet accurate, descriptor in wine writing by returning to an older definition of the word, one cited by the OED in the works of Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, and Johnson: "Plain and simple; unsophisticated; having the charm of the country." The key element here, of course, is the notion of "charm." For me, rustic wines are those that while lacking in sheer richness, power, and sophisticated tannins nevertheless have a certain brightness, a liveliness, a distinctive character that make them eminently pleasurable to drink. Could "the charm of the country" perhaps even connote a sense of terroir?

Our wine of the week, Michel Magnien's 2004 Bourgogne Rouge ($20), is a wine that I would call "rustic" in the best sense. It displays a brilliant ruby color, and the classic pinot nose is dominated by raspberries and earth. It is medium-bodied, high in acidity, yet very well-balanced, with bright red fruit flavors. As this wine originates from the generic Bourgogne appellation -- meaning the grapes can be sourced from anywhere in greater Burgundy -- it inevitably lacks in concentration and sophistication. It does, however, offer great persistence and length for its level as well as an attractive core of ripe fruit. (Magnien is known for making Burgundies in a riper style, an asset in a difficult 2004 vintage that left many wines with a green or vegetal streak.) And most importantly, the racy acidity gives the wine a liveliness on the finish that freshens the palate and makes it a great food wine (it paired excellently with roast chicken). Red fruits and earth -- charm of the country, indeed.

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