In Praise of Regional and Village Burgundy…or, Where to Find Value

Simple economics explains why the wine from Burgundy, or Bourgogne, as the French would now like us to call it, has become expensive.  Really expensive.  French wine regulations limit what can be planted where (a.k.a. the supply) and demand has increased as new markets around the world, such as China, Japan, and Russia, to name just three, discover Burgundy’s allure.  But, in the last year, thanks to the 25 percent Trump tariff, prices for us here in the U.S. are now truly outrageous. (That tariff translates to more like a 35 or 40 percent increase to the consumer by the time the wine traverses the distribution channel and those businesses tack on their margins.)  Zachy’s, a major New York retailer, just announced a “special” price for Jadot’s 2018 Jadot Bonnes-Mares–$512 including local sales tax. Granted, Louis Jadot is a top Burgundy producer in general, and of Bonnes-Mares, a Grand Cru, in particular, and 2018 was an excellent vintage for reds.  But still, over 500 bucks a bottle! Or You could snag a bottle of Domaine Michel Lafarge’s 2017 Volnay Clos des Chênes, one of that village’s top Premier Crus from a stellar producer, for a mere $241 (including tax) at MacArthur Beverages, a leading wine shop in Washington, D.C.

My advice is to forget about Grand and Premier Cru Burgundy until you win the lottery.  (After seeing those prices, that advice will be easy to take.)  For too long, too many consumers have focused only on those exalted wines that come from the crème de la crème vineyard sites, which is another reason why prices for Burgundy are in the stratosphere.  But annual production from Grand Cru vineyards averages only one percent of total Burgundy production.  Throw in the wine from all Premier Cru vineyards, and together they still only account for about 11 percent of Burgundy wines.  So, where are the other 89 percent of Burgundies?  They are at the regional and village level.

Regulations require, with rare exceptions, regional and village wines to be made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, similar to Grand and Premier Cru wines. They transmit the same amazing site-specificity, a major allure of Burgundy, that their more expensive stablemates deliver:  Wines made by the same winemaker using the same techniques from the same grape grown in adjacent vineyards taste different.  A marvel of nature!

The 44 village appellations comprise about 36 percent of all Burgundies, while the seven regional appellations comprise more than half (53 percent) of all Burgundy, according to data provided by the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne (BIVB – Bourgogne Wine Board).  Wines that are labeled with the village name typically come from grapes grown in vineyards in that village that are not classified as Premier or Grand Cru, although on many occasions producers will “declassify” some Premier Cru wine into their village label.  Sometimes village wines will carry a vineyard name on the label, such as Gevrey-Chambertin “Justice,” but the appellation remains Gevrey-Chambertin.  Regional wines also may be labeled with a vineyard or fantasy name.  With both village and regional wines, the presence of a vineyard name on the label does not guarantee a higher quality.

The single most important piece of information on the label is the producer’s name, not the classification:  Producer, producer, producer.

Here are a dozen examples of regional or village wines, six reds and six whites, under $40 a bottle that I recommend enthusiastically.  Many of these wines have limited distribution, so if you can’t find these specifically, ask your local wine merchant for similar ones:

Maison Louis Latour, Mercurey 2015 ($26, 91 points):  Though Mercurey, a village in the Côte Chalonnaise, is best known for its reds, it’s a treasure trove of affordable Burgundy, both red and white.  Louis Latour, one of Burgundy’s best producers, rarely disappoints. The 2015 vintage is one of the best of the decade. That combination makes this wine a no-brainer.  A firm, mineral edge, characteristic of the reds from Mercurey, balances and amplifies the wine’s bright cherry-like fruitiness.  There’s a case in my cellar.

Domaine Bart, Marsannay “Les Finottes” 2018 ($30, 91): Domaine Bart is a star producer in Marsannay.  This house makes splendid Grand Crus, such as Bonnes-Mares and Chambertin Clos de Bèze that routinely sell for $200+ a bottle upon release.  Their skill is also found in a bevy of single-vineyard wines from the village of Marsannay, the northern most village of the Côte de Nuits.  There’s been an enormous leap in quality of Marsannay wines over the last decade, so that village is a good place to find wines that deliver more than the price suggests.  Bart’s 2018 Les Finottes, both savory, fruity and finesse-filled, is one of those wines.  It would be a fine choice for Thanksgiving. Bart is a name to remember.  I’d be happy to buy any of their Marsannay.

Domaine Jean et Giles Lafouge, Auxey-Duresses 2017 ($37, 91): One formula for Burgundy bargains is to find a top producer who lives and has vineyards in an out-of-the-way place.  Domaine Lafouge’s Auxey-Duresses (“oh say doo ress”) fits that formula. Auxey-Duresses, like Monthélie, which it abuts, is situated in the prestigious Côte d’Or, but most of its vineyards lie even further west.  Lafouge is a compulsive grower who makes at least four Premier Cru Auxey-Duresses in addition to this village wine.  Their focus is on elegance.  They do not over manipulate the wines to make them “bigger.”  This mid-weight red wine conveys the charm of Burgundy, combining red fruit notes with savory ones.  It would fit nicely on the Thanksgiving table.

Maison Louis Jadot, Santenay “Clos de Malte” 2018 ($40, 91): Though Jadot is a major négociant, they also are an important grower, farming over 300 acres of vineyards in Burgundy.  This Santenay, from a village in the southern part of the Côte de Beaune, is from one of their vineyards.  Jadot’s Clos de Malte consistently provides excellent value. The 2018 outdoes itself with a hint of extra fleshiness and spice, which enhances its rustic charm.  It would also be a good addition to the Thanksgiving table.

Domaine Dominique Guyon, Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits “Les Dames de Vergy” 2018 ($30, 90): The Hautes Côtes de Nuits, a regional appellation, sits above and behind (to the west) of the Côte de Nuits, a sort of hinterland.  Many of the reds from here have a rustic charm.  Dominique Guyon, the son of another fabulous producer, Antonin Guyon, makes a more refined version than many. It delivers dark ripe juicy fruit, savory spice and fine tannins, making this charmer another good choice at Thanksgiving, or, frankly, anytime.

Château de la Maltroye, Bourgogne Rouge 2017 ($27, 90): Château de la Maltroye, a top producer of both red and white wines from Chassagne-Montrachet, makes this charming Bourgogne Rouge from vineyards in that village that lie outside the boundaries of the village appellation.  Delicate red fruit flavors balance its savory, herbal side.  Bright and forward, it, too would fit nicely on the Thanksgiving table.

Parent, Monthélie Blanc 2017 ($48, 94): Domaine Parent, arguably the best producer of Pommard, also makes this stunning white Monthélie.  It’s a bit of an oddity because ninety percent of Monthélie’s production is red and the vast majority of Parent’s production comes from their own vineyards.  In this case, Parent buys grapes from growers in this nearby and less well-known village and explains why Domaine is not on the label.  But quality is in the bottle.  Though this wine falls above my arbitrary $40 price point, it is so riveting that I had to include it.  Creamy, mineral-y and zesty, it’s a bargain for what it delivers.

Domaine Michel Bouzereau, Bourgogne Blanc Côte d’Or 2017 ($30, 92): With the 2017 vintage, regulators added a new sub-category, Côte d’Or, to Bourgogne, the very broad regional appellation that allowed grapes to come from anywhere in Burgundy.  Wines labeled Bourgogne Côte d’Or mean that the grapes all come from the famed Côte d’Or, the very heart of Burgundy.  Domaine Michel Bouzereau, one of the leading producers in Meursault has 10 acres of vines, a third of his domaine, that lie just outside the official limits of Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault.  Grapes from these vines go into his stunning Bourgogne Blanc Côte d’Or.  Their focused and mineral-laden 2017 is an impressive white Burgundy.  Though not a village wine, it combines a Puligny-like minerality with a Meursault-like creaminess.   It shows the enormous talent of this grower.  Buy as much of it as you can afford.

Domaine Guilhem et Jean Hugues Goisot, Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre, Gueules de Loup 2017 ($35, 92): Goisot is a good example of why my mantra is producer, producer, producer.  You can buy any of their wines and be thrilled.  They are located in the far north of Burgundy, near Chablis and make an array of distinctive and captivating wines.  Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre, similar to Bourgogne Côtes d’Or, is a sub-category of Bourgogne.  In this case, the grapes, still Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, come from a delimited area around the town of Auxerre, which lies just west of Chablis.  Goisot’s 2017 Gueules de Loup (literally, mouth of the fox), a single vineyard wine, is flinty, lively and persistent.

Maison Joseph Drouhin, Rully 2018 ($27, 92): Consumers can safely select virtually any wine from Drouhin, another top-tier Burgundy producer.  Indeed, for this article I could have included their Bourgogne Blanc “Laforet,” or their Mâcon-Villages, both of which typically retail for less than $20 a bottle, but I chose their Rully, from a village in the Côte Chalonnaise.  Whites from Rully (“roo-e”) can be angular, but not Drouhin’s 2018 (remember producer, producer, producer).  The ripeness of the vintage added depth to its cutting edginess. It punches far above its weight class.

Domaine Sylvain Langoureau, St. Aubin 2017 ($30, 91): St. Aubin, lying behind the famous white wine villages of Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet with their Grand Cru vineyards, is off the beaten tract, which means consumers can find value.   Prices for Premier Cru St. Aubin have climbed dramatically as consumers have caught on, but bargains still exist for village wines, even from a top producer like Langoureau.  This village St. Aubin displays lovely roundness buttressed by a citrus vigor.

Maison Louis Jadot, Pouilly-Fuissé 2017 ($27, 91): Louis Jadot, one of Burgundy’s top producers, needs no further introduction.  It’s hard to go wrong with any wine carrying the Jadot name. With the 2020 vintage, regulators have designated about 25 percent of the vineyards in Pouilly-Fuissé, the leading village in the Mâconnais, to have Premier Cru status.  Wines from some of those vineyards is included in Jadot’s 2017 Pouilly-Fuissé, which along with the talents of Jadot’s winemaking team, explains why this wine is so enjoyable, delivering the perfect balance of opulence and elegance.

Not all village wines are inexpensive, nor are they always ready to drink right out of the gate.  Recent releases of a village Chambolle-Musigny from Domaine Ghislaine Barthod, one of the village’s very top producers, run about $100 per bottle.  Her still-youthful 2005 village Chambolle-Musigny, drunk at 15 years of age, was plush and mineral-y, the quintessential expression of that appellation.

However, all of the wines recommended above are delightful to drink now.  But don’t underestimate the ability of modest village or even regional wines to develop with bottle age.  Twenty years ago, I served a bottle of Louis Latour’s 1985 Bourgogne Rouge without revealing its appellation to a group of wine aficionados.  Most thought it came from a Premier Cru vineyard.  Similarly, when I was at Maison Jadot some years ago, they served a 10-year-old white St. Aubin that was glorious.  So, if you buy a case of any of the above wines, put a bottle or two aside to drink in a few years.

Remember: producer, producer, producer.

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November 4, 2020

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