Burgundy Wines: Demystified and Affordable

published Mar 4, 2010
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When it comes to wine, for many people Burgundy represents the ‘Holy Grail’. Elegance, pristine fruit and perhaps some of the greatest terroir expression in the wine world. But isn’t Burgundy horribly expensive and very complicated? Read on to find out more about the myths, the realities and some wonderful affordable wines.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

The reality is that high-end Burgundy wines, such as Grand Cru or Premier Cru wines, are very expensive. However, together these wines only account for less than 14% of the wine produced. The remaining and important 86% comprises a wide variety of regional and communal wines, many of which sell for less than $25.

Regions of Burgundy

To put it into context Burgundy is much smaller, yet much more complex than Bordeaux. While it has only about half the vineyard area of Bordeaux (a little over 113,000 acres compared to Bordeaux’s 227,000 acres), it has 669 official appellations compared to 57 or so in Bordeaux. The reason being is that in Burgundy it is the actual vineyard that is classified, rather than the Domaine or Chateau, as is the case in Bordeaux. In Burgundy the top vineyard sites are classified Grand Cru, the next best sites as Premier Cru, followed by village (or communal) sites and lastly regional vineyard sites.

Burgundy is made up of five flagship regions, stretching from Chablis in the north, through the Côte d’Or (Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune) down to the Côte Chalonnaise, then further south to the Mâconnais and finally ending in Beaujolais. However for the purpose of this post, I am leaving out Chablis (on which I have a separate upcoming post) as well as Beaujolais.

Grapes of Burgundy

While the geography may be more complex, the grape varieties are easy to understand. Essentially, it is Chardonnay for white wines and Pinot Noir for reds, with some Aligoté (white), and Gamay, as we move south into the Mâcon and Beaujolais.

Regional wines are typically what we see labeled Bourgogne Blanc for whites and Bourgogne Rouge for reds as well as Hautes Côtes de Bourgogne. Great value can be found in this category.

Next up the ladder are the village wines. Some villages are classified only for white wine, some only for red wines and others for both. Top Côte d’Or Villages include Gevrey Chambertin, Chambolle Musigny, Vosne Romanée, Nuits Saint George, Pommard and Volnay, for red wines and Meursault, Puligny Montrachet and Chassagne Montrachet for Whites. Wines from these top communes tend to be reflected in their prices.

Affordable Burgundy Wines

For affordability it is best to look at the lesser villages of the Côte d’Or such as Auxey Duresses or St. Aubin for whites and Marsanny oFixin for reds, as well as in the Mâcon and Côte Chalonnaise.

In the Mâcon familiar village appellations are Pouilly Fuissé (not to be confused with Pouilly Fumé in the Loire) and St. Véran, and in the Côte Chalonnaise, Rully, Mercurey and Montagny can also provide excellent value. And remember wines labeled Mâcon Rouge are made from Gamay and not Pinot Noir.

Vineyard holdings in Burgundy are very fragmented, with many vineyards divided between several owners. For example Grand Cru site Clos de Vougeot is 80 hectares, but is split between 50 different owners. Some owners make better wines than others, which means that when buying Burgundy it is often more important to know the producer, rather than the site.

Given, that I can’t afford to drink top Burgundy every week, I am always on the look out for affordable gems, that both meet my budget as well as tasting good. A good tip is to seek out the lesser wines from the top producers, rather then a higher classified wine from a large, high volume négociant.

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Favorite Burgundy Wines

Below I have listed a number of my favorites. As ever, it is not an exhaustive list, so if your local wine store does not carry these exact wines, ask a knowledgeable sales assistant for help.

White wines

2007 Michel Bouzereau Bourgogne Blanc, $20 – Really liked this wine. Lots of vibrant flavors – crisp apples, pears, clementines, creamy texture and earthy minerality.

2006 Domaine Jean-Marie Bouzereau Bourgogne Blanc, $23 – From a Meursault based producer, this wine is creamy, buttery, vanilla with lots of ripe pear, apple and grapefruit flavors

2007 Gabriel d’Ardhuy, Bourgogne Blanc, $19.95 – Really excellent value. This is an unoaked, crisp wine with flavors of quince, pear, grapefruit and a hint of green apple.

2007 Jean-Claude Thevenet & fils Mâcon Pierreclos $17 – Jean-Claude Thevenet, an excellent producer in the Mâconnais. This wine is vibrant, crisp, with lots of ripe apples and pears with some citrus notes on the finish.

2008 Domaine des Valanges, Mâcon-Davayé, $16 – Easy drinking, with generous amount of ripe fruit – cox’s pippin apples, ruby grapefruit, red pears. Unoaked.

2006 Domaine La Source des Fées, ‘Innocence Sauvage’ AC Macon Véran, $23 – Earthy, baked pears and apples, creamy buttery notes with decent concentration. A little one-dimensional but correct.

2005 Jean-Yves Devevey Bourgogne Blanc Chardonnay – Out of stock (about $25) – I used to buy this a lot, but could not find a stockist when buying for this post – so if you find it in your local store snap it up.

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Red wines

2005 Digioa Royer Bourgogne Rouge, $20 – Really good color intensity for a Bourgogne Rouge. Nicely layered nose of dark cherry, earthy forest floor and hints of mushroom. Firm, ripe tannins provide enough grip. Ripe plummy, cherry, peppery flavors. One of my favorites

2005 Chorey Les Beaune Domaine Michel Gay, $25 – Another great value wine, from a highly regarded commune in the Côte de Nuits. Nicely layered nose and palate with ripe black fruit, earthy, forest notes. Silky smooth tannins.

2006 Domaine Parent Bourgogne Rouge, $20 – From a very reputable producer from Pommard. This was our house red for a while last year. Medium bodied, lots of cherry and black berry fruit. Quite a traditional style, and a very honest earthy wine.

2006 Olivier Merlin Bourgogne Rouge, $20 – Merlin is considered to be one of the finest producers in the Mâconnais producer, who branched into red wine production. This Bourgogne Rouge is really delightful, and with a few years in the bottle perfect to drink now.

Despite the Sideways hype and effect, there is something eternally elegant and ethereal about Burgundy. And while we all can’t indulge in the top wines, there are many wonderful gems to be found in the $20 to $25 price range. Enjoy!

Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She holds the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.

(Images: Mary Gorman)