Drinks Editor James Viner heads to eastern France to recommend three fine, yet more-affordable, white and red wines that exemplify why Burgundy is so fêted by diehard wine enthusiasts. A votre santé!
Renowned for its distinctive, terroirdriven wines produced mostly from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes respectively, Burgundy is a fairly small, landlocked wine region in eastern France that makes some of the planet’s most sought-after, high-priced wines. It’s Europe’s northernmost fine red wine district where the vineyards – and not the producers – are classified.
Given ever-more stratospheric prices, Burgundy is glaringly not the most obvious option when searching for inexpensive bottles, but wines that are both characterful and (pretty) reasonably priced aren’t impossible to find. Select Burgundy first by the grower and then appellation, seeking bottles from producers you like in the less prominent, more generic, regional appellations such as Bourgogne, or for Village wines rather than those from more exorbitantly priced Premier/ Grand Cru vineyards.
- TOP-VALUE RED BURGUNDY:
2019 ‘Escargot’ Bourgogne Rouge, Domaine Damien Martin (£14.50-£15.95, Lea & Sandeman)
Early-ripening, aromatic, Pinot Noir is rightly dubbed the ‘heartbreak grape’ because of its sensitivity to imperfect growing conditions. Burgundy is where it reaches its finest, most dreamy expression but yields need to be kept in check and vines need to be sympathetically sited to help protect them from westerly winds, to shield from frosts and to capture the optimum amount of sunlight (typically favouring east- and southeast facing slopes).
Enter Damien Martin’s delightful appellation Bourgogne snail – check the label – an exquisitely perfumed, fruit-forward (think silken cherries, ripe damsons, bramble and forest fruits), unoaked red ‘bargain-dy’ with soft, graceful tannins, refreshing acidity and silky texture. The fruit exhibits a lovely depth through the lingering finish. The word charming, if not seductive, comes to mind. Give it a whirl and see what the fuss is all about. One for roast beef or a roasted whole duck. The price/quality ratio is exceptional. Great value, and ready now. Serve cool to the touch in a large glass just a third full to enjoy its beautiful perfume.
- SAVOURY COTE D’OR RED FROM A CENTRAL VILLAGE NEXT TO BEAUNE:
2017 Jean-Jacques Girard Savigny-lès-Beaune (£20, Co-op)
Such is the undeniable finesse and sheer drinkability of this wellpriced, mid-weight Pinot that once I reached it towards the end-point of a memorable Co-op tasting at the WSET’s school in Bermondsey last week, I committed the mortal tasting evil of swallowing a soupçon. The 48km (30mi)-long, 305- metre (1000ft)-high escarpment known as the Côte d’Or (a contraction of “Côte d’Orient,” meaning oriented eastwards) is Burgundy’s most celebrated wine region. Jean Girard tended these vineyards from 1529, and now Jean-Jacques maintains the family’s patrimony. The wine matured for 15 months in barrels around two to three years old, adding a supple structure and creamy component to the lush, ripe red fruit. Just when you think you have finished tasting the wine, it stays some more. An intellectually intriguing and sensual wine, with a haunting bouquet, that will evolve in the glass (like both wines above). Pour from the bottle (not the decanter) and drink within a day. Young roast game birds would be a delicious match. It’s a cracker! Outstanding value from the Co-op.
- WHITE ‘BARGAIN-DY’:
2020 Edouard Delaunay ‘Septembre’ Chardonnay, (£12.99 mix six, Majestic)
Burgundy’s top white wines are among the most imitated in the world. Great value for money, this has a classic Burgundian nose with hints of orange blossom, white peach, barley sugar, hazelnut and citrus. Grapes from the Côte d’Or are supplemented by an assortment from the heights of the Mâconnais, enhancing the wine’s roundness and fruitiness. Barrel fermentation coupled with extended lees stirring has worked well to provide the wine with some complexity; there are layers of almost thick and chewy, ripe stone fruit, even hints of frangipane, melted butter and nougat. This has a great mouthfeel, with the flavours reaching a crescendo on the lengthy finish and aftertaste. Impressive offering with no lack of acidity. Hello roast chicken, scallops with chorizo, eggs Benedict and Dover/lemon sole fried with butter. A fantastic bargain regional blend from a revived old Burgundian name.
FOUR OTHER (COMPARATIVELY) AFFORDABLE BURGUNDIAN BOTTLES:
‘Good value’ is not an expression that is much used with reference to fine Burgundy, but there are still options, if you know which producer and appellation to look for. Bear in mind that superior Pinot Noir is never cheap as it’s very difficult to get right, partly because – unlike chardonnay – this capricious, thin-skinned black grape cannot be successfully made from high yields lest it will be unappealingly light and lean (especially in cooler vintages).
- Two lower-cost whites:
2019 Definition Pouilly-Fuissé (£18.99 mix six, Majestic) – Superior chardonnay from altitudinous south-east facing slopes in the best AC of Mâcon way down south, almost on the border with Beaujolais, where the wines and land are much more affordable. Will be nectar of the gods in five years…
2019 Jean-Marc Brocard, Sainte-Claire Chablis (£15.50, The Wine Society) – Tense, stony, filigreed, mouth-watering & limpid. Cheers, it’s oyster o’clock!
- Two ‘budget’ reds:
2018 Domaine Tollot-Beaut Bourgogne Rouge (£25, Berry Bros & Rudd) – Racy red ‘bargain-dy’ from Pinot vineyards previously classified as a village wine from Chorey-lès-Beaune. One of the Côte de Beaune’s top, and most consistent, growers.
2019 Benjamin Leroux Bourgogne Rouge (£25, Berry Bros & Rudd) – Another winner from a brilliant young micro-négociant. Also seek out Leroux’s nutty & toasty 2018 Bourgogne Blanc, also £25 at Berry’s. Don’t miss out.
Did you know? Chardonnay is a place too
Chardonnay is one of the historic, petite villages in Burgundy’s dynamic, warmer, southern Mâconnais district. The name comes from the Latin Cardonnacum, which derives from Carduus meaning “a place with thistles”