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What I've Been Drinking Lately: Best Burgundy Alternatives for Hard Times
By John Anderson
Apr 6, 2022
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As many of you know by now, the news out of Burgundy isn’t good.  Killer frosts and short harvests are the order of the day.  Two Thousand Twenty-One was, in the words of a noted burgundy specialist, “an absolute disaster.” And due to the threat of frost, 2022 isn’t looking so good at the moment either.  It’s early days, but still….

On verra!

Meanwhile, prices, for wines from top estates, and, especially at the level of top grand crus and premier crus, have gone through the roof thanks to the after-effects of the 2021 shortfall coupled with ever-rising world demand for big-name Burgundy.

The picture is not pretty.

So what then are our alternatives?  And what’s our buying strategy?

My counterintuitive answer:  Buy Burgundies.  But carefully, and from among the last remaining bargains in the region:  Chablis and its neighbors to the north, and the less greedy, good small growers of the Côte d’Or who turn out high quality estate-bottled Bourgogne Blanc.  On the red side, I’d look to small grower Beaujolais (and, especially, cru Beaujolais).  But I’d also keep my eyes open for well-made whites from the Mâconnais region as well as the Côte Chalonnaise for both reasonably  priced whites (Montagny and Rully, especially) and reds (Mercurey and Givry in particular).

And what, you may ask, do I consider a “reasonable price” in today’s market?  In general, I think, the sweet spot lies somewhere between $15-$25 per bottle, though $20-$25 is more like what it takes to get a really good small grower Chablis or Beaujolais Cru (say, Côte de Brouilly) these days.  I’d keep my eyes open for sales and for retailers who offer stated discounts on mixed and solid cases.  Better, much better, to buy when you’re getting 10%, 15% or even 20% off, no?

Above all, I’d pay careful attention to the name on the back of the label:  That of the importer.  While some of the names of the growers I’ll be recommending to you may be familiar, most probably won’t be.  The simple fact is that the market for high-grade small-grower Chablis,  Mâconnais, Côte Chalonnaise and Beaujolais crus is dominated by a handful of long-established and very dependable importers.  These are, in general, the people who got there first:  Frederick Wildman, Kermit Lynch, Neal Rosenthal, Vineyard Brands, Vintus, Louis/Dressner, Weygandt-Metzler, David Bowler, and Vintage ’59, among others.  A bottle carrying any of these names is a virtual guarantee of quality.  

A few of the top négociants also own important properties and associated concerns in these areas:  Jadot (for its Moulin-à-Vent and Morgon from the famous Château des Jacques); Latour (for its Chablis and related wines from sister-company Simonnet-Febvre); Drouhin (for its Domaine in Chablis); Bouchard (for Domaine William Fèvre in Chablis as well as the Château de Poncié in Fleurie); Faiveley (for its eponymous domaine holdings in Mercurey), and Château de Chamirey, also in Mercurey.  These are more than just dependable sources.  They are all consistently among the best, whether it be Chablis, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, or Mercurey.  And while the Drouhin and Fèvre Premier and Grand Cru Chablis are out of our price range, their basic Chablis are consistently well made and affordable.  

But among the small growers there is also much to choose from.  You just need to be informed about what you’re doing, and, as I say, when in doubt, look at the back label.  

I’ll return to the names of some growers that I trust and admire in a minute, but first a word or two about vintages.  Two Thousand Fifteen was a first-rate vintage in reds and whites throughout Burgundy.  And it was that rara avis, a large vintage that was also a great vintage.  Just what the trade needed at the time.  The ’16 and ’17 vintages got somewhat lost in train of the ‘15s.  These should not be dismissed, especially on the white side, for these have nice acidity and aren’t “hot vintages.”  I’ve also had any number of ’16 and, especially, ’17 Beaujolais crus that I admired.  The former have the advantage of being charming and not overwhelmed by overripe fruit, while the latter have acidity, “cut” and purity.  The ‘18s and ‘19s are more marked by the heat of the vintage and are, in general, less interesting on the white side of things.  There are lots of good reds—just so long as they’re not overwhelmed with hot, ripe fruit.  Fifteen percent alcohol was not unusual in either vintage—or in 2020, at least among the reds.  But it’s also the Two Thousand Twenty vintage where the whites really take off, for they are decidedly less overripe and more acidic and thus taste fresher and keener than many 2020 reds.

The 2020s are just coming on into the American pipeline, so most of what you see in retail wine stores today is 2018 and 2019, red and white.  For value, I’m really keen on the basic Bourgogne Blancs from Domaine Alain Chavy in Puligny and the young M. Pernot of Domaine Pernot-Bélicard in Meursault.  They both come from famous Puligny-based families.  (The latter is the grandson of the great Paul Pernot, with whom he also works.)  I particularly liked the Pernot-Bélicard ’17, which has just enough extra acidity (the vintage talking there) to make it shine.  That said, I’ve tasted—and bought—the ‘18s and ‘19s from both Chavy and Pernot-Bélicard and gotten great pleasure from them.  They’re all $25 or so per bottle wines.  Great value.  

On the Chablis front, I’ve had good basics from Domaines Barat, Jolly, Daniel Dampt, and Gilbert Picq, whose ’19 Chablis “Dessus La Carrière” I especially liked.  (I confess:  My old friend Eric Asimov of the New York Times did too—I followed his recommendation in this case—with pleasure.)  The Picq wine will cost you $28-$30, but it’s worth it.  But to be fair, there are just so many good, often undiscovered, small growers in Chablis that I consider it a treasure trove for serious bargain hunters.  And, of course, the Co-Op (“La Chablisienne”) is famous for its high value wines.  

But Beaujolais is today a treasure trove of bargains as well.  The famous Château des Jacques’ prices have edged up—especially for their individual vineyard wines (Think $40+ a bottle)—but the basic sells for around $30.  I loved the ’17.  Equally, the ’17 Fleurie “Les Moriers” from Domaine Chignard absolutely thrilled.  And so, truly, did the ’15 from Madame Nicolle Chanrion’s always wonderful “Domaine de la Vôute des Crozes” from Côte-de-Brouilly.  

Re-reading what I’ve written here reminds me again that there is just so much love to be shared tasting and enjoying these great value wines…from Burgundy!

I will return to the subject in my next column.  


Read more wine columns:    John Anderson