There are only two kinds of Burgundy, so the saying goes among wine aficionados: The big names and everyone else.
The big names: Rousseau, Roumier, DRC and a few others that you might see “in just a handful of restaurants, such as Restaurant Daniel in New York City, and only if you are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a bottle,” writes Lettie Teague in the WSJ.
Everyone else? “Young growers producing excellent, affordable wines in less fashionable appellations such as Santenay and Marsannay provide excellent value for money, as do the ‘entry level’ wines from négociants like Drouhin and Jadot.”
The power of the region’s “brand” has been building for thousands of years, since the Romans planted the first vines. Medieval monks created many of the vineyards still celebrated today. After the French Revolution, vineyards that belonged to the church or the nobility were broken up and sold to individuals, begetting the shape of modern-day Burgundy, a land of relatively small, privately held domaines versus the large estates found in Bordeaux
Burgundy’s singular classification system focuses not on individual estates but on geography, with vineyards classed in a hierarchy of four levels: regional, village, premier cru and grand cru. This system also demarcates five sub-regions: the Côte-d’Or, where (nearly) all the famous grand cru wines are produced; Chablis in the north; and Mâconnais, Côte Chalonnaise and Beaujolais in the south. (See Tabulating Terroir below)
The recent purchase of Clos de Tart, a winery in Morey-Saint-Denis with grand cru vineyards, gained a great deal of attention. François Pinault, who paid a reported $230 million-plus for a mere 18.5 acres.
Why are these people willing to pay so much for such small parcels of land? An economist might answer: supply and demand. Because the number of grand cru vineyards in Burgundy is limited, the number of grand cru wines is highly circumscribed as well. Collectors are willing to pay incredible prices to get their hands on ultra-limited-production bottles from the so-called “big five”: Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Domaine Leroy, Domaine Armand Rousseau, Domaine Georges Roumier and Domaine Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier
For those prepared to look beyond the trophy wines, some very good Burgundies are hiding in plain sight. Jason Jacobeit, wine director at New York’s Bâtard, believes the average quality of Burgundy has “never been higher” thanks to a talented young generation of winemakers.
Just in time for Christmas, Ms. Teague gives readers a list of winemakers to watch: Well-made and well–priced Burgundy from “lesser” precincts.
- 2014 Domaine Denis Berthaut Fixin Les Crais ($46) Only a few years ago, Amélie Berthaut took over her father’s domaine in Fixin, but she has already made her mark with this beautifully delineated red from a small parcel first planted in 1946.
- 2015 Didier Fornerol Côte de Nuits-Villages ($35) After a stint as vineyard manager at the famed Domaine de l’Arlot, Didier Fornerol took over his family’s domaine, where he crafts wines like this very pretty, rather light bodied red.
- 2015 Chanterêves Bourgogne Pinot Noir ($30) The talented young husband-wife team of Guillaume Bott and Tomoko Kuriyama created this ripe, juicy and irresistibly drinkable Bourgogne rouge from a few different vineyard sources in the Côte de Beaune.
- 2015 Domaine Y. Clerget Volnay ($55) Thibaud Clerget is the 28th-generation winemaker at his family’s domaine, and 2015 is his very first vintage. His rich, concentrated Volnay will benefit from decanting or cellaring a few years—and signals a very promising start.
- 2014 Domaine Raphaël Chopin Morgon Les Charmes ($24) Raphaël Chopin founded his domaine in 2009, after buying his grandfather’s, and now makes wine in several Beaujolais appellations including Morgan. His Les Charmes is aptly named—it’s an aromatically beguiling, supple take on the Gamay grape.
- 2015 David Moreau Santenay Cuvée ’S’ ($30) After stints at various wineries including Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, David Moreau took over his grandfather’s estate and began making well-made wines like this lush Pinot Noir from an old-vine vineyard in Santenay.