Burgundy Buying Blueprint for the 99-Percenters

Even a brief glance at on-line ads from wine retailers shows that Côte d’Or Burgundy has become prohibitively expensive for everyone except the so called “one-percenters” at the very peak of the wealth pyramid.  And I’ve seen even some of them balk at the prices.  What’s a Burgundy fan to do while waiting for one’s lottery number to be chosen?

One option is to look to other areas, such as Oregon or New Zealand, that can produce stunning wines from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  But that’s not an option for committed Burgundy lovers, because to them, it’s not about Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.  To quote, Jacques Lardière, the venerable longtime winemaker at Maison Louis Jadot, “If you taste Chardonnay in my wine, I’ve made a mistake.”  Burgundy is about the site—the Burgundians maintain that the grape is merely a vehicle for transporting the flavor of the place to the glass.  So, yes, there are wonderful Chardonnays from New Zealand—look no further than Kumeu River’s line-up—and elegant Pinot Noirs from Oregon—Martin Wood’s Jesse Jackson Vineyard Pinot Noir springs to mind.  But they’re not, nor do they pretend to nor aim to be, Burgundy.

Complicating the matter for U.S. consumers is the fragmented distribution of Burgundy.  Aside from the major négociants, most producers are small and lack national distribution, so wines that might appear on the shelves in New York, might not be in Kansas City or Los Angeles.  And even wines that wind up in major markets, such as New York, may only be available in one or two shops.  So, I will recommend a general approach to finding affordable Burgundy as well as recommending specific wines.

Speaking of major négociants, do not overlook their basic Bourgogne Blanc and Bourgogne Rouge.  I’ve enjoyed many vintages of both colors of Latour’s “Cuvée Latour” and Drouhin’s “Laforêt” bottling.  (Look for more producers to jettison the word Burgundy from the label, replacing it with Bourgogne, the traditional name for the region.  Indeed, burgundy in French means…Mon Dieu…Bordeaux.)

There’s plenty of excellent and exciting wine outside of the famed “Golden Slope.” And even within that hallowed ground, some villages, such as Marsannay, and Auxey-Duresses still offer value from producers like Domaine Bart (Marsannay) and Domaine Lafouge (Auxey-Duresses).  Also, within the Côte d’Or, there is a new regional appellation, Bourgogne Côte d’Or, which means all the grapes came from that strip of land and opposed to other parts of Burgundy.  So, keep your eye out for wines labeled as such from top producers, such as Pernot-Belicard, Benjamin Leroux, and Michel Bouzereau.

Look North and South

Between Paris and the Côte d’Or lies Chablis, where value abounds.  Though the prices of Chablis 1er and Grand Cru are rising, they remain well below their counterparts in the Côte d’Or.  My advice, though, is to look for village Chablis, especially from the 2020 and 2021 vintages, from top producers.  My list of is long, which is good because most of these wines will not be in all markets: Barat, Billaud-Simon, Romain Bouchard, Jean-Marc Brocard, Jean Collet, Courtault-Michelet, Dampt Frères, Drouhin, Droin, Bichot’s Domaine Long-Depaquit, Christian Moreau Père et Fils, Louis Moreau, Oudin, Pinson, Pommier, Servin, Simonnet-Febvre, Eleni et Edouard Vocoret.  These are not voluptuous Chardonnay-based wines, so if that’s your preference, look elsewhere.  The edgy minerality imparted by the Kimmerigdian limestone-based soil makes them a traditional choice with seafood, but the same zesty character means they can cut through and hold up to spiced dishes as well.

Around Chablis there are a bunch of relatively obscure village and regional appellations now making excellent wines thanks to a bevy of talented young producers and, yes, climate change.  Wines from these areas were lean and often astringent in the past because of poor ripening this far north.  Climate change has made an enormous—and positive—difference here.  Look to Irancy and Epineuil for reds, Bourgogne Tonerre for whites, and Bourgogne Chitry and Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre, for both colors.  The whites, especially Bourgogne Tonerre, resemble Chablis with a cutting edginess, whereas the white Chitry and white Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre convey noticeable spice.  The reds from these areas tend to be lighter but not vapid.  The best have an intriguing interplay of fruit and savory earthiness.  Guilhem & Jean-Hugues Goisot is a star with their Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre, as well as their Saint Bris, another obscure Burgundy appellation that mandates Sauvignon Blanc, not Chardonnay.  You can buy Goisot’s wines blind.  They offer tremendous value.  Many of the above-named Chablis producers bottle wines from these lesser-known areas.  Additional names to remember are Stephanie Colinot, Christopher Ferrari’s Domaine St. Germain, Clothilde Davenne, and Domaine Richoux.  Trust me, these appellations will not remain obscure for much longer.

South of the Côte d’Or is the red hot Mâconnais, which has attracted super-star producers like Dominque Lafon, whose stellar Côte d’Or Burgundies routinely sell out quickly despite triple digit price tags, and Domaine Leflaive, whose simple 2021 Bourgogne Blanc goes for $140 a bottle.  Growers are discovering and taking advantage of the different terroirs in the Mâconnais.  More and more are bottling under a specific village name, such as Azé, Mâcon-Vergisson, or Mâcon-Lugny, rather than a blend from several villages and labeled as Macon-Villages.  Look for wines from the Bret Brothers, such as their 2021 Mâcon-Chardonnay “Les Crays.” Located in the village of Vinzelles, as in Pouilly-Vinzelles, the Bret Brothers is the négociant arm of Domaine Soufrandière, their family estate.  Their estate wines have increased in price—and are still worth it—but the Bret Brothers label remains affordable and excellent value.  Yes, Virginia, there is a village named Chardonnay in the Mâconnais.  The grapes are from a single plot, “Les Crays” within the village.  This balanced and fresh Mâcon-Chardonnay displays subtle fruity elements balanced by bracing acidity in the finish that amplifies its considerable charms.  Not overdone, you’d never mistake it for a California Chardonnay.  (92 pts; $25).  The Bret Brothers are another producer whose wines you can buy with your eyes closed, so if you can’t find this Mâcon-Chardonnay, just remember their name.

To see the magic in the Mâconnais, find wines from different Mâcon villages made by the same producer to see for yourself how terroir exists here in the Mâconnais just as it does in the Côte d’Or—at a fraction of the price.  I suggest two from a top young producer, Domaine de la Garenne, but any producers’ pairs will make the point.  The difference between the chunky minerality of Domaine de la Garenne’s 2020 Mâcon Solutré Pouilly ($15, 90 pts) and the sleeker stoniness of its brother from Mâcon Azé ($16, 90 points) is illuminating.  Both these wines are fabulous values.

A Few to Try:

Goisot, Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre “Le Court Vit.” 2019:  Goisot considers the Le Court Vit their best white wine.  The 2019 is stunning, floral, and exuberant in a paradoxically restrained way.  Fresh and spiced, it would be perfect with grilled swordfish or seafood with more assertive flavors.  If you find a more enjoyable $22 wine, please let me know.  ($22, 93)

Dampt Frères, Bourgogne Tonnerre, “Chevalier d’Éon,” 2020:  Tight and youthful initially, this beauty opens in the glass within 30 minutes to reveal a winning combination of floral and mineral notes.  Edginess in the finish amplifies its charms.  If you tasted it blind, you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish it from a village Chablis.  ($20, 92)

Dampt Frères, Bourgogne Epineuil, “Elegance,” 2019:  Dampt Frères, best known for their cutting Chablis, does very well with the surrounding, lesser-known appellations, such as Epineuil.  Indeed, they make at least three cuvées from that village.  Elegance was my favorite of a trio of their 2019s, but I’d been happy with either of the other two, their straight village bottling, or “Les Beaumonts.”  The finesse-filled Elegance delivers more black, rather than red, fruit robed in suave tannins and finished with a subtle and attractive hint of bitterness.  It’s another fine choice for current consumption ($25, 92).

Christine, Elodie & Patrick Chalmeau, Bourgogne Chitry, 2019: This refined red shows the potential of Pinot Noir in Chitry.  Generous yet refined, this classy Chitry expresses the near magical interplay of minerals, fruitiness, and savory subtleties of Bourgogne Rouge at a price we normals can afford.  Enjoy now.  ($20, 91).

Château de Chamirey, Mercurey, 2020:  Between the Mâconnais and the Côte d’Or sits the Côtes Chalonnaise and the appellations of Givry (not to be confused with Gevrey, as in Chambertin), Mercurey, and Rully, all of which make both colors, and Montagny, which makes only whites.  Château de Chamirey, a top-notch producer, makes an array of marvelous Mercurey, starting with this village wine.  A blend of six plots from throughout the village, this stylish wine highlights subtle dark cherries in the foreground supported and balanced by a firm stone-y background.  Juicy and harmonious, it’s a delight to drink now.  ($40, 93).

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February 1, 2023