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Drinking Out Loud

Real-World Burgundy

Really, it's nowhere near as expensive or challenging as you might think
Matt Kramer offers a few examples of affordable—and excellent quality—villages for red and white Burgundy.
Matt Kramer offers a few examples of affordable—and excellent quality—villages for red and white Burgundy.

Matt Kramer
Posted: November 18, 2014

"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:

  • Once past the grands crus (which really are expensive), most Burgundies are not at all outrageously priced, and a good number are actually quite modestly priced given their quality and rarity.
  • Yes, Burgundies can be tricky to find, but in today's massively distributed and Internet-linked world, the best Burgundies are now easier to locate than ever before.
  • As for Burgundy being confusing, this is a misapprehension. You want confusing? Check out Italian wines. Now, there's chaos. Burgundy, in comparison, is an orderly little wine kindergarten. Every vineyard has an assigned position in the ranking hierarchy. Most of the wines are made in more or less similar fashion. The only thing you really need to do is learn the names of good producers and keep an eye on vintage differences.

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.

Lawrence Newcombe
bay City , MI —  November 18, 2014 11:25am ET
Really enjoyed this article, now if WS would enable us to click on the wines being written/spoke of within the article and view them that would be great. Is it possible to see the label. All to often labels are a land of collage confusion on wine store shelves.
Robert Taylor
New York —  November 18, 2014 12:42pm ET
Lawrence,

Thanks for the suggestion. We've added links to the most relevant wine reviews wherever possible.

Cheers!

Robert Taylor
Associate Editor
Steve Order
Mass —  November 18, 2014 2:04pm ET
excellent article! When I started in to the world of wine in 1971, I couldn't afford most red burgundy on a high school/college budget so I drank Volnay and Santenay which, were affordable compared to most. In today's world of higher quality wines, you can do very well in a good vintage with Bourgogne rouge and Bourgogne blancs. Yes, I thought Burgundy was so confusing until I just finished a book on Barolo. Talk about confusing.
Christine Humphrey
Thousand Oaks, Ca.  —  November 18, 2014 7:04pm ET
I've had some excellent Hautes-Côtes de Beaune and Nuits from Mongeard-Mugneret that were priced under $25. Nice wines, great value.
Robert Williams
St. Paul, MN —  November 28, 2014 11:51am ET
The best Bourgogne I've ever had is the 2005 Domaine de Montmeix. It has complexity, depth, red and dark fruit, a bit of forest floor, and great balance of fruit, tannins, and acid. It was a steal!

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