When tasting director Hervé Bianchi of Beaune’s Centre Interprofessionnel Techniques des Vins de Bourgogne welcomed me, it was a pleasure to assess nearly 30 white Côte de Beaune Burgundies from 13 producers -- both premiers and villages crus -- from the somewhat under-the-radar appellation of Pernand Vergelesses.
Situated among the hills of Côte de Beaune, Pernand-Vergelesses straddles the famous Hill of Corton and the villages Aloxe-Corton and Ladoix-Serrigny, harboring prestigious Grands Crus of Corton in red and Corton-Charlemangne in white.
After the tasting, Bourgogne Wine representative Cécile Mathiaud drove me to the 385-meter high Frétille Hill, overlooking the premier cru Pernand-Vergelesses vineyards of Sous Frétille (officially recognized as such in 2000). The gorgeous autumn day proved perfect for photos, and the high vantage point reveals sloping sites of the appellation, with various exposures from south/southeast to north, the latter proving to be favorable in hotter vintages coming more often with climate change.
Lower slopes feature clay-limestone soils mixed with “chaillots” (flinty residues from silcaceous limestones). These soils are easily worked and rich in potassium and phosphoric acid. Mid-slope, the pebbly limestone soils suit the Pinot Noir, and higher up, brown or yellowish marly soil harbors Chardonnay, which as the tasting showed, can do very well in a good vintage like 2017.
Over lunch at the excellent Ermitage de Corton, vintners Rémi Rollin (of the excellent Domaine Rollin) and Françoise Jeanniard of the eponymous vineyard told me that Pernand Vergelesses soils are not quite as impressive as the best of the grand cru Corton vineyards, which have more limestone, Rollin said. Indeed, Bianchi refers to Pernand Vergelesses as the “child” of Corton Charlemagne. Could well be, but the tasting proved that among these “children” one finds wines worthy of their “parents” -- and for less money.
As Jasper Morris pointed out in his 2010 book Inside Burgundy, some recently named premiers crus vineyards -- including Sous Frétille and Clos du Village -- are particularly fine for white wines.
Indeed, I have tasted Corton Charlemagne wines that are superior to any of the Pernand Vergelesses that I tasted during my October visit here, but prices of this latter appellation have remained reasonable: “We have not seen the price hikes in this appellation as compared to ones from more famous appellations in Bourgogne,” Bianchi said. Could that also have something to do with the fact that two syllable appellations like Corton and Meursault are easier to pronounce, I half joked….
At the famous Fomagerie Alain Hess shop in Beaune – which also sells wines and organizes wine and cheese sessions -- it was revealing to see one of my favorite Pernand Vergelesses whites that I tasted – the Rollin Père & Fils Les Cloux -- displayed next to a Corton Charlemagne from the same 2017 vintage. The latter cost nearly four times as much, but I would bet that amount of money (if not more) that the qualitative difference between the two is not four times different. In short, you can actually find excellent white Burgundy that could retail in the U.S. for as little as $40 a bottle.
Highlights from the full tasting of 2017 whites -- which can be accessed on my website (wine-chronicles.com) include an excellent Domaine Denis Père & Fils with a balanced aromatic profile of cooler fruit. Maybe a tad steely at this youthful state, it has bright lemon and could go well with shellfish. “This is a typical Pernand Vergelesses, Bianchi said. For him, an example to have tasted by students! The average age of vines is 35 years old, with a yield of 55 hectoliters per hectare from vines grown on mainly limestone soils. Aged in 15% new oak. Only 8,000 bottles. This is quite a bargain, at least in Europe, for it costs about $20 in Paris, and €16.50 from the winery (I am buying some). I found the 2015 vintage for under $40 at Chain Bridge Cellars in northern Virginia, so maybe friends from my hometown have experience with this wine? In any case, a decent price. 91 Points
Even better is Domaine Rapet Père & Fils village level, which is also somewhat steely at first, but time in glass reveals that “Chardonnay-of-terroir” aspect: Wet stone notes and lovely acidity. I like this more and more as it sat in glass, with briskness to the palate. Bianchi found “chèvrefeuille” (honeysuckle). A rather serious wine, albeit €25 ex-cellar. Although I prefer the Premier Cru Clos du Village from this producer, this is a very nice village level wine, coming from 21-year old by average vines and only 6,000 bottles. Distributed in the U.S. by Peter Weygandt. 92
Also worth your while is Domaine Jean Chartron, whose village level wine exudes a lovely, balanced nose, with poise and “suggested” opulence. There is some baked stone fruit, lemon and mandarin orange in its profile. It has depth on the palate. Give it time in glass please, if you open today. Imported to the U.S. by Winebow, this estate is reasonably priced at under €26 ex cellar. Although I could not locate any vintage on Wine Searcher, it was apparently listed on that platform for about $31 recently. 92
All four of the wines tasted from Domaine Rollin Père & Fils were at least excellent. Their basic village level is top notch, with a medium lemon color and wet stone aspects on the nose. This has a brisk attack with substance and density on the mid palate and very nice lime like freshness on the finish. A clean expression of fruit, which Bianchi found more “gourmand” than I did. The price is higher as it is available in the U.S. on Wine Searcher for about $40+, which remains an excellent price for the quality nonetheless. A Weygandt Wines selection. 92
My favorite of the tasting was the Domaine Rollin Père & Fils Sous Frétille. Talk about savory richness? This has it on the palate and there is a pleasing richness combined with verve that makes me think roasted poulet à l’orange. Or grilled pork in mango sauce. It has richness and acidity to stand up to both. Indeed, this wine seems to realize the best the potential of the Sous Frétille terroir. It is pricey however. Although I could not find the 2017, the 2016 fetches $60+ a bottle. Still, it could put a Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru to shame. 94
Not all the wines I tried are available in the U.S. market. But many should be! Take for example the Domaine Jeanniard Françoise Cuvée Alexandra le Devant des Clous. What lovely wet stone on the nose! Initial reduction gives way with time in glass to creamier texture and richness on the palate that is happily balanced by its brisk and bright aspects. “Coquille de huître”, commented Bianchi, who gave it 17 points out of 20. How can one resist that iodine freshness! A serious wine, too, that requires cellaring. Fermented at low temperatures to maintain freshness, only 1,400 bottles produced after having aged in 20% new oak. If you go to Burgundy, seek out this producer. 92
I came away from this tasting with the happy feeling that the whites of Pernand Vergelesses convey excellent quality for fair pricing, even today as Burgundy wine prices scrape ever higher skies. The overall flavor profile combines the crisp precision of Chablis with a bit of the richness of Meursault, often with notes of white flower or acacia. The most successful wines are age worthy and when young would benefit from some aeration before serving.