Chardonnay, America’s favorite white wine, is an especially good choice in the summer to accompany our abundance of local seafood. Its traditional home – and the place where the world’s best chardonnay is made – is Burgundy. The 2002 vintage there, the best since 1990, is a compelling reason to discover – or rediscover – these wines.
France’s mantra regarding wine – location, location, location – explains why they label their wines by where the grapes are grown, not by the name of the grape. Hence, French wines traditionally carry only the name of the region, town, or vineyard on the label. In Burgundy, chardonnay is the only white grape regulations allow to be planted. (A tiny amount of pinot blanc grows in Burgundy, but it can not be replanted).
Regulations also stratify vineyards according to quality. Wines from the best 1-2 percent of them, the grand cru vineyards, such as Le Montrachet, are frightfully expensive ($100-plus a bottle). The next level, still encompassing only about 10-15 percent of production, is premier cru. (The remaining 85 percent are labeled by name of the town, such as Beaune, or the region, Cotes du Beaune- Villages). The ranking of the vineyard notwithstanding, the single most important determinant of quality is the producer. When you combine a great producer, such as Bouchard Pere & Fils, with premier cru vineyards, especially in a superb vintage, the result is sublime.
Bouchard, a venerable firm dating from the 18th century, is the largest owner of grand and premier cru vineyards in Burgundy. Their wines took a leap up in quality in the mid-1990s after Joseph Henriot, a talented producer from the Champagne region, purchased and revitalized the vineyards and winery. Breaking with tradition, Bouchard uses a proprietary name, Beaune du Chateau, for this wine made from grapes grown in several of their premier cru vineyards in Beaune. It has sold in Europe since the early 20th century, but the 2002 vintage marks its introduction to our shores. More refined than the typical chardonnay from California or Australia, it’s a captivating wine. Its richness, intermingled with mineral and earthy flavors and balanced by refreshing acidity, reminds us why everybody loves chardonnay.
Bouchard Pere & Fils, Beaune du Chateau, 2002. About $30. Distributed by Classic Wine Imports, 781-352-1100.