Wine Column: Getting The Most Out Of Burgundy

My love affair with Burgundy dates back a long time, but it wasn’t until a trip to the region in 2000 that I became somewhat obsessed. My fascination began with the trophy Pinot Noirs of the Cote de Nuits. Some of these wines can bring you to your knees because they are so delicious and magical. They can also put a major dent in your wallet because prices of the marquee wines have skyrocketed and are now unapproachable for most people.

In the past 10 years alone, I have travelled back to Burgundy (“Bourgogne”) about 20 times to purchase wine and meet with suppliers. And my focus is now on the value wines in the Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune, and the beyond incredible value in southern Burgundy. I have learned so much about this region in the past 16 years and have to thank a good friend, Robert Denby, who has a vast knowledge of everything and everyone in Bourgogne.

In the Cote de Beaune and Cote de Nuits (the Cote d’Or), the most prestigious (and expensive) wines are the Grand Crus that comprise 2% of production and include communes like Grand Echezeaux and Chambertin. Premier Crus (“1er Crus”) comprise less than 15% of production, and are far more approachable in price and can be quite remarkable.  Try the delicious Vosne Romanees of Robert Arnoux or the Gevrey Chambertins from Phillippe LeClerc.

The next rung down is Village wines that comprise 30% of total production and can be quite hit or miss.  My favorite value regions are Saint Aubin and Saint Romain for Chardonnay and Aloxe-Corton and Pernand Vergelesses for Pinot Noir. Below these wines, 53% of wines are classified generically as Bourgogne, and while there are some standouts, many of these wines can be rather generic.

As Chairman of the PLCB and the CEO of my own wine business, my mission has been to seek out value.  I have focused on the quality-to-price ratio for consumers. So how do you find value in the most prestigious wine region in the world where a single bottle can sell for thousands of dollars?

Burgundy is all about the P.O. Box, with some regions like the famed Cote de Nuit’s Vosne-Romanee capturing a lot of high end excitement, but there are some delicious wines from the Maconnais that present rather incredible value.

The southernmost region of Burgundy is the Maconnais, where well-made Chardonnays (in particular) have a charming minerality and expressive fruit. Some of my favorite villages include Milly Lamartine, St. Veran and Chardonnay (the town where the varietal got its name).

iStock_000058257398_LargePerhaps the most prestigious region in the Maconnais is Pouilly-Fuisse, and these wines can be quite stunning. Some of my favorite producers in this region include Domaine Carrette, Domaine Dutron, Trenel and Ernest Meurgey-Perron (from Pierre Meurgey, who formerly ran Domaine Champy). If you want to splurge, try the wines of Domaine des Heritiers du Comtes Lafon that make pricier but delicious wines in this region.

There are some nice values in other regions like the southern Cote Chalonnaise, including Pinot Noir from Givry and Chardonnay from Rully. In the northern region of Burgundy, the Premier Crus of Chablis are generally worth the extra money over the more ordinary village wines. These Chardonnays are dry and have exceptional flavor with good complexity.

You might ask on those special occasions when I splurge for a special wine from Burgundy, what do I drink? My son’s birthday is coming up and I have a 1999 Joseph Drouhin 1er Cru Clos des Mouches from Beaune ready. These wines are not nearly as expensive as Grand Crus, but from the right vintages are quite remarkable. But after this splurge, I will look forward to my Domaine Chene Milly Lamartine Chardonnay from the rather pedestrian Macon region as a winner on my dinner table. BD

Jonathan Newman is widely recognized as a leader in the wine industry. As chairman of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, he was the nation’s largest wine buyer and brought a number of popular innovations to bear, including the Chairman’s Selection program and opening of local stores for Sunday sales. Jonathan has received significant industry accolades during his career. Follow him on Twitter at @NewmanWine and visit his website: www.newmanwine.com.

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