If you were allowed only one last glass of wine in this life, what would be your choice? Mine would be Puligny-Montrachet, the expensive and famous white Burgundy. The high price tag would not be an issue if it’s the last pleasure, however on a regular weekday evening? Yep, that could become a problem! “But is it possible to buy good value White Burgundy?” asked a friend. I surprised him when I answered “yes”.
Before we dig out the good value bottles, for comparison its worth taking a quick look at Burgundy’s amazing whites, the wines that hail from the world famous vineyards of Meursault, Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet, in the illustrious Cotes de Beaune, (hills of Beaune).
If anybody tells you that they’re an expert on Burgundy’s Cote D’Or, (the ‘golden slopes’ of the Cotes de Beaune and Cotes de Nuits vineyards), don’t believe them. I know but a handful for this thin strip of some of the world’s most expensive real estate holds mysteries that pass mere mortal’s understanding. Its myriad villages, Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards set your head spinning. The crazy thing is, a Grand Cru vineyard and a ‘village’ vineyard can be only meters apart – one produces a $155 bottle, the other a $30 bottle! And, yes, you can taste the difference; terroir has a lot to answer for. The crazy thing is that the monks in the 14th century knew the best plots way back then…incredible!
Driving south from Beaune, the quiet village of Meursault soon greets you with its attractive square and 15th century church tower. The vineyards, located around the village on the limestone escarpment have their principal Premier Cru parcels on the beneficial south easterly slopes. The wines ooze subtle yet rich, crisp lemon, honey aromas and flavors and a balanced toasty sheen, the result of cool, slow maturation in French oak barrels.
Just along the road from Meursault, you come to the hallowed ground of Puligny-Montrachet, vineyard plots globally accepted to be some of the world’s finest. The vineyards lie on the gentle slopes above the sleepy village.
It may share a name with its neighbor but Chassagne-Montrachet should not be confused even though it too produces some of the world’s finest whites. If you win the lottery you can celebrate with the Grand Cru’s of Batard-Montrachet and Le Montrachet, the magical postage stamp plots that straddle both Chassagne and Puligny-Montrachet.
A couple of years ago, tasting these fabulous white Burgundies in Joseph Drouhin’s ancient cellars deep under the cobbled streets of Beaune, I was in heaven…without taking to my deathbed! The group of bankers I was accompanying are still talking about it in Moscow, Geneva, Paris and London.
So, thanks to these amazing wines the mere mention of white Burgundy brings a big fat French price tag to mind. To chop the price the first thing you need to do is slide down to the lesser known vineyards south of Beaune. Pulling a bottle from the Chalonnais, (around the town of Chalon), and the Maconnais, (surprise, surprise, around Macon) regions off the shelf you’ll find yourself in the smiley $20-30 price bracket. In case you’re wondering, like the rest of Burgundy the white grape is still Chardonnay.
Look out for the villages of Montagny, Rully, Mercurey and Givry in the Chalonnais and what I call the ‘Pouilly’ villages in the Maconnais. The apple citrus aromas and flavors, with a touch of honey topped with a light toasty finish will bring a smile to your face and, you don’t have to take out a second mortgage!
The most famous ‘Pouilly’ village is Fuisse but just up the road, nestling amongst the rolling limestone-rich vineyards, the neighboring picturesque villages of Vire, Clesse, Vinzelles and Loche are all well worth checking out. Just for the record, Vinzelles and Loche are allowed to put ‘Pouilly’ in front of their name on the label whilst Vire and Clesse come together as Vire-Clesse having once paraded individually as Macon-Vire and Macon-Clesse.
Whilst we’re talking about this neck of the Burgundian woods, don’t forget Saint-Veran from the commune of Saint-Verand for value; Saint-Veran 2013, carries a reasonable $20 tag in my local wine shop. And of course, just up the road, the village vineyards of Lugny produce the popular wines of Macon-Lugny.
As you can see, the wines of the Chalonnais and Maconnais will save you a packet on a famed Cote de Beaune VIN Blanc. Okay, they may not have the ump or complexity of these great wines but they rarely let your taste buds down.
If you’re still feeling flush in these challenging, cash-strapped times, splash out on a bottle of Meursault, Chassagne-Montrachet or Puligny-Montachet, and compare it to one of the Southern Belles; you may be surprised. Drinking white Burgundy with friends and saving a few pounds, dollars or euros at the same time, not a bad way of spending a Monday evening!
By John Downes, Snooth