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Wine to 5: Kyriakos Kynigopoulos, consultant oenologist

Inside a professional’s everyday life, Decanter speaks to Kyriakos Kynigopoulos, a consultant oenologist based in Burgundy.

Originally from Greece, Kyriakos Kynigopoulos and his small team of oenologists at Burgundia Oenologie work with about 200 wine estates worldwide. Clients include Domaine Leflaive, De Vogüé and Domaine Lafarge in Burgundy, Vega Sicilia in Ribera del Duero and Mastroberardino in Taurasi.

How did a Greek become Burgundy’s best-known oenologist?

My grandfather owned vines, and from an early age the idea was instilled in me to work with nature, vines and wine. But in the early 1980s, there were no in-depth oenology programmes in Greece, so I first studied at an agro-alimentary engineering school focusing on oenology. My professor, could see my passion for the subject and suggested I continue my studies in Burgundy, which is climatically more similar than Bordeaux or Montpellier to northern Greece. I came to Dijon in 1982 to study and never left.

How was it when you first started working in Burgundy?

It’s a very traditional region, and my arrival did raise a few eyebrows. However, several of the region’s leading producers like Jacques d’Angerville and Olivier Leflaive took me under their wing. I remain grateful to them and still consult for them today.

What was Burgundy like back then?

Much of the viticulture and winemaking was in need of serious change. Before 1988, the approach was to do ‘curative oenology’ rather than addressing potential issues before they happened. Most domaines did not have sorting tables and many of the vines planted were not high quality.

People were encouraged to pick early to avoid botrytis, but the grapes were often unripe so they had to chaptalise heavily. People did not yet realise how sensitive Pinot Noir was to high yields. In Bordeaux, there were already some great teaching oenologists like Emile Peynaud, Denis Dubourdieu and Pascal Ribéreau-Gayon. But Burgundy was behind in this way.

What changes did you make?

When I began, oenologists gave guidance from their labs. I was the first to carry out vineyard and cellar visits to see how people worked. I introduced more science, but using a layman’s approach so producers could understand how to address issues logically and clinically. Since I started, there really has been a ‘quality revolution’.

Premox in white Burgundy has been a huge issue. Is it still a problem?

Premature oxidation is a fairly serious ‘accident’ that surfaced in the early 2000s on wines from the mid-1990s. Causes included not mastering the use of sulphur dioxide during vinification, too much lees stirring, exaggerated use of new oak, too much oxygen exposure during bottling, and cork issues. Today we understand far better its origins and ways of handling it. Science has helped, but it is a work in progress. Hopefully it will soon be firmly in the past.

How does biodynamics change wines?

I have followed biodynamics for 32 years, since Anne-Claude Leflaive began experimenting with it in Puligny-Montrachet. In my experience, grapes tend to ripen earlier, but it also gives the wines excellent freshness, balanced acidities and an appealing primary fruit character. This is particularly striking in warmer, sunny vintages.

What are your favourite Burgundies?

For red, without a doubt Musigny. It is a wine built on elegance not power and can have incredible complexity. For white, many would say Montrachet, but I really appreciate its underrated neighbour, Bâtard-Montrachet. It’s powerful, structured and never dominated by food.

Any advice for aspiring oenologists?

My philosophy is ‘oenology is exposed, not imposed’. Give guidance without pushing your personal tastes, so wines remain the expression of a domaine and winemaker.

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