White Marsannay is subtle and satisfying

White Burgundy, made almost exclusively from chardonnay, is one of the most sought-after wines in the world.

Despite tremendous advances in California and other New World locales with chardonnay, white Burgundy remains the benchmark for wines made from that grape. But buying Burgundy is not easy. It is expensive because worldwide demand far outstrips the supply that this narrow strip 100 to 200 miles southeast of Paris can produce. And price, sadly, does not ensure quality, which is highly variable. Many of the greatest wines I have tasted came from Burgundy, but so did the ones that have disappointed me the most. Labeling the wines by the village or vineyard where the grapes grow, instead of the name of the grape, adds to the risk and confusion of buying Burgundy.

Louis Latour’s 2002 white Marsannay shows that the producer — the person or firm that made the wine — is the most important factor when buying Burgundy. Latour, one of Burgundy’s stellar producers, has been based in Beaune, in the southern part of the Cote d’Or — the heart of Burgundy — since 1797. It makes outstanding wines from throughout Burgundy either from grapes grown in vineyards it owns or from grapes purchased from others. Latour’s $100-plus a bottle Corton Charlemagne, one of Burgundy’s greatest white wines, is consistently superb and a dazzling expression of chardonnay.

Almost a suburb of Dijon, Marsannay is in the northern-most part of the Cote d’Or. As a wine village it has a poor reputation, known mostly for its rose. Since price follows pedigree in this part of the world, its wines are inexpensive, at least by Burgundy standards. Only about 10 percent of Marsannay’s production is white wine, usually from chardonnay, although regulations allow producers to include pinot gris.

Despite its lowly pedigree, Latour’s 2002 white Marsannay is captivating because of the talent of the producer. Though made entirely from chardonnay, it is very different from the rich, sometimes overdone California versions. Latour’s Marsannay has an attractive minerality and cleansing citric finish that makes it ideal with our region’s seafood.

Maison Louis Latour, Marsannay (white), 2002. About $15. Distributed by Boston Wine Co., 617-666-5939 and M. S. Walker, 800-238-0607. 

December 2, 2004.