"The poems to come are for you and for me and are not for mostpeople—it's no use trying to pretend that mostpeople and ourselves are alike."—E.E. Cummings, New Poems
If ever there was a category of wine that, as the poet E.E. Cummings put it, is not for "mostpeople," it's Burgundy. So before I go any further, allow me to offer a quick, you-can-do-this-at-home test:
First: When you buy wine, do you expect to find what you're looking for at your nearest grocery or wine store?
Second: Are you willing to make some sort of effort to track down a wine?
Third: Do you find beauty in vintage differences?
I doubt that I need to explicate the answers that identify likely candidates for the Burgundy madness. Do they apply to "mostpeople"? Of course not.
But here's what's interesting: It's amazing how many wine lovers today aren't "mostpeople." Their numbers will never be so large as to make them a majority, but what was once a fringe group is now paddling along nicely on at least the edges of the mainstream. No one, not even the most cockeyed wine-optimist, could have foreseen 30 years ago the market scale and joyous enthusiasm of today's wine-enlightened.
Now, back to Burgundy. Even the wine-enlightened would very likely respond in a word-association game to the trigger word "Burgundy" with comments such as "too expensive," "impossible to find" and "too confusing.” Not so, not so and not so. Consider this:
So what should you buy? I can only tell you where I look (and buy), and why. Your kilometers may vary, as they say.
Bourgogne rouge and Bourgogne blanc. Burgundy, like all high-end wines, sees its share of snobbery, and nowhere is it more keenly felt than in this humble category. As the lowest level in the Burgundy classification, its very lack of vineyard specificity makes it less attractive to Burgundy lovers who are enthralled (as we all are) by site-specificity.
That said, the best Bourgognes can be remarkable, with the very finest (Domaine Leflaive and Maison Leroy for white; Domaine Michel Lafarge and Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg for red) almost stealth premiers crus. The trick to buying Bourgogne is to choose your producer carefully and load up in very great vintages, where a rising (quality) tide raises all boats.
Pernand-Vergelesses (red and white). It was two different bottles of red Pernand-Vergelesses that actually instigated this column. One was a magnum of 2009 Domaine Chandon de Briailles Île des Vergelesses ordered at New York's Betony restaurant. The other was something I exhumed from the cellar recently, a 1996 Louis Jadot Pernand-Vergelesses Clos de la Croix de Pierre.
Both were stunning: The 2009 winking madly at you with enticing promise, the 1996 suffused with a stoniness and subtlety that would put to shame a good number of lesser-quality grands crus.
Really, you simply cannot go wrong with Pernand-Vergelesses, red or white. The village is a stronghold of high-minded producers (Chandon de Briaille, Jadot, Marius Delarche, Rollin, Dubreuil-Fontaine, Nicolas Rossignol, Champy, Rapet) and prices are utterly reasonable for wines of exemplary purity, flavor luminosity and an unmistakable stony/mineral note.
St.-Aubin. I've warbled before over the glories, red and white, of St.-Aubin. Like Pernand-Vergelesses, it's a bastion of rigorous producers creating some of the most surprisingly fine Pinot Noirs and, especially, Chardonnays, in Burgundy. More than a few Burgundy connoisseurs have been fooled into thinking “great Meursault” when tasting, say, a white St.-Aubin En Remilly. Look for producers such as Hubert et Olivier Lamy, Henri Prudhon, Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Marc Colin.
Auxey-Duresses. It was not that long ago (and may still be true today, if less so) that the "secret ingredient" to many shippers' red and white Bourgognes—and even, if illegally so, village-level Meursaults, Pommards and Volnays) were the red and white wines of Auxey-Duresses. The reds are more rustic than those of nearby Volnay; the whites lack the finesse of neighboring Meursault.
But by golly, the wines are genuinely fine, if not of the fabled first rank. And the prices are tasty indeed. Look to Auxey-Duresses (and neighboring St.-Romain) in warm or hot vintages. Why? Higher elevation.
Also, you should know that some of the oldest Chardonnay vines in Burgundy are found in Auxey-Duresses. Unlike their counterparts in Puligny-Montrachet or Meursault, Auxey-Duresses growers don't get enough money to make it worthwhile for them to uproot their old vines and then wait three years for new vines to produce. So they keep the old ones. And that makes a real difference, I assure you. Look for producers such as d'Auvenay, Lafouge, Maison Leroy, Violot-Guillemard, Diconne and Comte Armand.
This is a start, anyway. I could go on: Savigny-lès-Beaune, Côte de Nuits-Villages; St.-Bris; St.-Romain, village-level Volnay; Santenay; Chablis; certain producers in Mâcon and Puilly-Fuissé; and cru Beaujolais, among others.
As always, please do feel free to offer your own nominations, suggestions and advice.