An elite chardonnay without the cost

It’s always a treat to run across a wine that delivers more than it is supposed to. And it’s a special treat when the wine is made from chardonnay, since wines made from that grape can be monotonous.

Although Californian and Australian chardonnay dominate the American market, the finest ones come from Burgundy. The Burgundy wine trade depends on firms that buy either grapes or newly fermented wines from the many growers who have no interest in making and selling wine. The firms, called negociants, finish making the wine, and then age, bottle, and market it under their name. Many negociants own little or no land, but others, like Faiveley, a well-respected family-owned firm founded in 1825, have substantial holdings.

Faiveley has made a name for itself with its outstanding wines from the Côte Chalonnaise, a lesser-known part of Burgundy about 60 miles south of the Côte d’Or, the most prestigious part of Burgundy. But while the towns in the Côte Chalonnaise, such as Montagny, lack the cachet of Burgundy’s best white-wine towns such as Meursault or Puligny-Montrachet, it is still Burgundy. Chardonnay grown here, especially in a year like 2002, can produce a marvelous wine. Precisely because of its lack of pedigree, prices for Côte Chalonnaise wines are lower.

About 15 years ago, Faiveley purchased a vineyard in Montagny, Les Joncs, which it thought had great potential but was underperforming. It not only pulled out all the chardonnay vines and replanted with what it felt was a superior stock, but it relandscaped the vineyard to improve its drainage and exposure to the sun, which should increase the ripeness of the grapes and, hence, the concentration of the wine. (The locals saw the earth-moving equipment and thought the company was building a new highway, according to Faiveley’s export director, Christophe Voisin.)

Faiveley’s vision was correct. Its 2002 Montagny Les Joncs is a stunning wine. With hints of minerals and citric flavors combined with a lush creaminess, it’s a much better wine than its pedigree indicates, a $40 wine with a $20 price tag.

Faiveley, Montagny Les Joncs, 2002 (about $20). Distributed by Martignetti Cos., 800-872-9463. 

September 29, 2005