Monday, April 24, 2023

France’s Most Famous Aperitif was Created by a Priest

                         The Kir cocktail was invented during WW II by a Burgundian Priest

Let’s set the scene.  Burgundy in 1940 was under siege.  The Nazis had arrived and  those who could fled.   The Germans set about looting almost anything of value.  For Burgundy, this meant its wine.   Both Hermann Goring and Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s top officials, were wine aficionados but they didn’t just demand wine for themselves.  The German military viewed wine as a way to flaunt their victory, so wine was needed for all soldiers. 

It didn’t take long for Burgundy’s cellars to be ransacked of their best bottles.  The Nazis didn’t want the lowest level wines made with the step-child grape, Aligoté.  Wine made from Aligoté, after all, was a simple table wine, not worthy of their consumption.   Hence, Aligoté was the only wine left for Burgundians to drink…and even it was scarce as there were few people working in the vineyards.

     Kir was responsible for covert operations such as liberating thousands of French prisoners of war

The mayor of Burgundy’s largest city, Dijon, was a well-respected Catholic priest (all other mean were at war).   Priest Kir, a secret member of the French Resistance, wanted to do something to make the Burgundians feel better about the Nazi occupation, so he created a drink out of what the Germans didn’t confiscate:  Aligoté and the simple local black currant liqueur called Cassis.  This pale red drink mimicked the color of Burgundy’s prized Pinot Noir.   Immediately it became a popular drink and a symbol of the defiance of the Burgundians.  The drink was named after its inventor, Kir.

After the war, Priest Kir was awarded France’s coveted Legion of Honor medal.   Nearly seventy-five years later his drink has become a standard aperitif not only in France but world-wide.    Kir Royale, made with Champagne and Cassis, is undoubtedly served at every Michelin star French restaurant around the globe…and for that matter, at every upmarket restaurant in the US.

Next time you have a Kir or Kir Royale, you may want to pay homage to the circumstances of how and by whom it was created.   Or, better yet, why not come with Wine-Knows September 2024 to Burgundy and experience a Kir in its birthplace.

Burgundy & Champagne – Wine-Knows Travel (

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Decoding Burgundy’s Strange Wine Labels

This is the second in a three-part series on Burgundy (Bourgogne). 

It sounds unthinkable to Americans, but Burgundy does not mention the grape variety anywhere on their wine labels.   If it’s a white wine in Burgundy, then it’s a Chardonnay; if the wine is red, the variety is Pinot Noir.   So, if the grape isn’t listed what is printed on the label to tell the consumer what is inside this bottle pricey wine?   

The parcel of land (Corton-Charlemagne) & its hierarchy (Grand Cru) inform the consumer 

The most important prerequisite to Burgundian winemakers is the plot of earth in which the grapes are grown.   In the last blog, the concept of terroir was discussed in terms of the Middle Ages' monastic orders who analyzed every vineyard to determine which plots of earth produced the best grapes and why.   A thousand years later, the concept of terroir is the most important thing on Burgundy's wine labels, hence, the grapes’ birthplace is often front and center on labels.

 The wine's birthplace (Clos Mouches vineyard) is often the 1st thing a consumer sees

The parcels which medieval monks determined consistently produced the best wines are now the Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy.  For Burgundy lovers, Grand Crus such as Clos Vougeot, La Tâche, Romanée Conti, and Corton-Charlemange are the pinnacles.  Premier Cru, the second tier on Burgundy's quality ladder, is also displayed on labels.  With both Grand Cru and Premier Cru, however, the name of the actual vineyard takes center stage.

The last tidbit about Burgundy's different system of labeling, is that the name of the producer takes a back seat to the terroir and the wine’s hierarchy.  The star of the show is the terroir, and the winery is less important.

To learn more about Burgundy and its wines, we have a few spaces available for our harvest tour next year, September 2024.    Burgundy & Champagne – Wine-Knows Travel (

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Burgundy’s Wine Trade Was Invented by Monks

      The Cisterian Abbaye Citeaux had vast vineyards in some of Burgundy's most prized areas

The month of April this blog will be devoted to the Burgundy wine district.  The inaugural three-part series discusses the critical importance of Burgundian monks in developing the wine industry in France.

Hundreds of years before Bordeaux was even a wine region, the 10th century monks of Burgundy were honing the craft of wine production.  These Burgundian wine-making clergy were not only vinifying wine but they were actually selling it.  Think of these monks as the first full service wine company:  they grew the grapes, made the wine, bottled and stored it in the church cellar, marketed the wine during church service, and finally sold it to the congregation.  They actually invented the wine business.

              The Cluny Abbaye, founded in 909, still owns some of Burgundy's best vineyards

During the Middle Ages Christianity was on the rise across all of France.   It didn’t take long before red wine became a sacred drink, symbolizing the blood of Christ.   With religion becoming important in French culture, bishops and monks had a prominent role in French society.  The Dukes of Burgundy (the reigning nobility) began gifting churches with large parcels of land.   By 1098, monks controlled much of the best vineyards of Burgundy.  By the 1400’s, the wine of these Burgundian monks was recognized throughout Europe as top quality.

             Monks analyzed each vineyard & surrounded the best plots by "clos" (rock walls)

By far the biggest contribution of Burgundy’s wine-making monks was their diligence in mapping out each plot of earth in their vast estates.  The clergy studied each parcel and created a patchwork quilt map.  They identified which part of their vineyards produced the best grapes and why.  Their analysis took into account all of the elements that we know today produce great wines:  soil, drainage, exposure to the sun, wind, topography, humidity, pests etc.   The monks then built stone walls around the best vineyards.  These parcel defining walls were called “clos.”   (Clos means wall in French).   These clos remain today and are responsible for producing Burgundy’s Grand and Premier Cru (top quality) wines.

                     The monks' detailed mapping identified the best vineyards centuries ago

In effect, Burgundy’s clergy were the first to develop the concept of terroir.  For winemakers around the globe, terroir is everything in producing a quality wine.  Although there is no literal translation into English because terroir is not a word but a conecpt, terroir can be defined as the sum of ingredients in the environment that effect grape-growing conditions.   Every one of the elements the monks used to map out their vineyards is intimately involved in producing a great wine and have become part of the Bible of wine production.