How was born the idea of this book on Burgundy?
It is a region I have been visiting for quite some time (20 years) and I was initially put off because of the large number of books already written about Burgundy. But I realized that there is no book that really targets the budding collector or Burgundy lover who doesn’t want a reference book but rather an accessible book with specific wine recommendations. There is a growing interest, especially in Asia, for wines from this region and I felt I could add some insight packaged in a book with beautiful images that convey a sense of art. Great Burgundy wine should be an experience, not just a glass of wine for food.
Do you think that Burgundy vineyard is different from the others?
It is a very unique region, that is small, compact and finely delineated in terms of geography and quality of wines produced from it. It is a region rich in history (of monks, dukes, the aristocracy as well as farmers) and culture with producers who are dedicated and humble. There is a new generation of passionate young Burgundian producers who are pushing the envelope and that is creating progress, momentum and increasing quality. There are regions similar to Burgundy, perhaps one can point to Piedmont or Brunello di Montalcino, but Burgundy has going for it two grape varieties that have become international in terms of popularity (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) and they are still the benchmark region for these 2 varieties.
What were the difficulties you encountered?
The difficulties were twofold: 1) Challenges in having access to the domaines and having the owners/vignerons open up to me took time and effort. But over the years, as people saw my dedication to my work in genuine love for Burgundy as well as and my persistence (going back a few times a year from Hong Kong) I could feel more openness. It also helped that the HK/China and Asian market was growing tremendously for Burgundy wines. Fortunately, having access to great mature Burgundy wines was not that difficult living in Hong Kong with many generous collectors who shared their verticals with me. 2) The second challenge was the constant changes in the domaines, both in terms of new acquisitions or expansions as well as change in key staff (for example the move by Jacques Devauges from Clos de Tart to Domaine des Lambrays which happened as my book was going to the printers).
How much work did this book take?
Conceptually I had this book in mind 5 years ago and it was about 3 years ago that I started to work on the book. But forming the relationships took much longer – more than 10 years to gain access to all the vineyards and really understand their philosophies and have a good sense of the vignerons/wine growers making the wine.
They say that the winemakers of Burgundy are closed. It could be difficult to open the door. Do you confirm? How did they receive you?
As I mentioned, initially they were cautious, quite closed and some even reluctant. But as with many challenging things in life, it helps to be persistent and always humble in your attitude and grateful for their time.
In China, Bordeaux wines are popular for longtime. What about burgundy?
Burgundy is now over-taking Bordeaux in terms of fine wine sales at auction and is definitely on the rise. Bordeaux’ popularity peaked around 2010-2011 and by 2012, the interest turned to Burgundy. Over the past several years, the top wine auction houses (such as Zachys) told me the sales value of Burgundy wine is higher than Bordeaux. There was a disenchantment with the en primeur system as well as the realization about the sheer volume of wines from Bordeaux. Coupled with the great vintages over the past 20 years that Bordeaux has enjoyed, it means top Bordeaux wines from great vintages are easy to find and easy to buy at any time. Thus, the more rare wines, the more exclusive alternative became Burgundy. I think this is a natural evolution anyway given the cuisine and our dining culture – Burgundy red and white wines are more suited to all different Chinese cuisines (Cantonese, Shanghainese, northern Chinese, etc). Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are more refreshing, more versatile and reflect the nuanced, delicate food of Chinese cuisine so it makes sense to me that eventually the Chinese palate would gravitate towards Burgundy wines.
Which names are very notorious?
It is DRC by far – it is what Lafite was to the Chinese 10 years ago. The other Burgundy wine names are not nearly as well known.
Today, after all this work, what do you keep in your soul about this book?
I keep in my soul the feeling of gratefulness – that I had the privilege of enjoying these wonderful wines, uncovering the stories behind them and meeting incredibly dedicated people who spend their lives thinking, breathing and making exceptional wines for all of us to appreciate and enjoy.
What is your next project?
I am just finishing my PhD in wine so I hope to finish this in 2020. Also I have another book in mind which I would like to start working on starting next year.
Jeannie Cho Lee, the first Legendary Master of Wine in Asia
Jeannie Cho Lee is the first Asian Master of Wine (MW) and an award-winning author, television host, editor, wine critic, judge and educator.
Jeannie has been a professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) where she helped to launch the Master of Science (MSc) in International Wine Management program since 2012. She is currently the Co-Chair of the Decanter Asia Wine Awards and the Burgundy Chair for the Decanter World Wine Awards. She is also a Wine Consultant for Singapore Airlines since 2008 and is the former Publisher and CEO of Le Pan, a wine lifestyle publication she launched in 2015. Jeannie is currently a monthly columnist for Robb Report China and writes for numerous international publications. She is a sought-after speaker, traveling the world giving seminars and masterclasses on wine, food pairing and the quickly evolving Asian wine market. Jeannie has co-hosted a weekly wine program In Vino Veritas, for three years on TVB Pearl, Hong Kong’s leading English-language TV broadcaster.
Recognized for her contributions to the food and drinks industry, Jeannie was selected as one of the top 100 most influential people in Hong Kong by the South China Morning Post and Debrett’s in November 2015. She was named the 25th most powerful person in wine by Decanter magazine (UK) and was listed among the top 60 most influential people in wine by La Revue du Vin (France) in 2015 and won the International Vinitaly Award (Italy) in 2009.
Jeannie’s pioneering book, Asian Palate, which explores wine and Asian food pairings, has won many awards, including the Gourmand Award for Best Food and Wine Pairing Book in the World in 2010. Her second book, Mastering Wine for the Asian Palate (2011), provides a fresh Asian perspective, introducing a new set of Asian wine descriptors. Both books are in their second reprint and are available in English, Korean and simplified Chinese. Jeannie’s third book on Burgundy in two separate editions, in English and in Chinese, will be launched by Assouline in the fall of 2019.
Jeannie holds a Certificat de Cuisine from Cordon Bleu and trained as a Master Sake Sommelier at Japan’s Sake Service Institute. She is a Certified Wine Educator with both the UK’s Wine & Spirits Education Trust and the US Society of Wine Educators. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Smith College as well as a Master’s degree from Harvard University. Jeannie has lived in Hong Kong with her family since 1994. More details and high resolution photos can be found on her website: www.JeannieChoLee.com.