I know, you're saying, 'What kind of red Burgundies can I buy for under $30?' Burgundy's image always has been that it's expensive and rare. That is certainly true for its grand crus and most of its prestigious premier crus, but I found a number of very satisfying red Burgundies from lesser appellations retailing in the $10 to $30 price range in a recent shopping expedition. Admittedly, there are not as many inexpensive Burgundies available as there are moderately priced Bordeaux, but Bordeaux produces about four times as much wine as Burgundy.
One good point about buying inexpensive red Burgundies is that these wines typically don't need any extra aging; they're ready to drink when you buy them. This really comes in handy in restaurants, where most of the wines available are young. Burgundies are great choices in restaurants, as they usually complement most meat and fish entrées, and yet are more restrained and subtle than New World Pinot Noirs, say from California or New Zealand, which can often be too ripe and fruity.
A key to selecting good, reasonably priced red Burgundies is to pay attention to the name of the importer. You usually can't go wrong with reliable Burgundy importers who hand-pick their wines, such as Kermit Lynch, Neal Rosenthal, Louis-Dressner, Robert Chadderdon, or Polaner Selections, or with négociants such as Joseph Drouhin.
Recent vintages have been good for red Burgundy, particularly 2002, with 2004 also fine. Some 2003s show the effects of the torrid weather in that vintage, but they're not as bad as 2003 white Burgundies, which should be avoided. In the hands of the better producers, 2003 red Burgundies can be quite good, at least for the short term. Both 2001 and 2000 are just average, at best. But 1999s, if you can find them, are excellent, the best vintage, along with 2002, for red Burgundy during the past decade.
Generally, those wines that carry the region-wide Bourgogne appellation are the simplest and most affordable red Burgundies. Today some of the big Burgundy négociant houses, such as Louis Jadot, Labouré-Roi, Faiveley, Louis Latour, and Joseph Drouhin, label these wines as 'Pinot Noir' to make them more accessible to U.S. consumers. These wines can come from grapes grown anywhere in the Burgundy region. Suggested retail prices start at $9 a bottle, but can exceed $20 for serious grower-producer Bourgogne Rouge wines, such as Domaine A. & P. De Villaine's, one of the best, by the way.
The sub-district appellations - Côte-de Beaune-Villages, Côte-de-Nuits-Villages, Hautes-Côte-de-Nuits and Hautes-Côte-de Beaune - are one step up from generic Bourgogne. The 'Hautes' appellations cover the outlying districts of the fabled Côte d'Or and have less status than the first two.
The specific-village appellations of the Côte d'Or district and the Côte Chalonnaise district typically are as high as you can reach in sourcing inexpensive Burgundies. And in the Côte d'Or - home of the priciest Burgundies - you usually have to limit yourself to wines from the lesser-known villages, such as (from north to south) Marsannay, Fixin, Ladoix, Pernand-Vergelesses, Chorey-lès-Beaune, Savigny-lès-Beaune, Auxey-Duresses, Monthélie, St.-Romain, St.-Aubin and Maranges. (All of these villages except Marsannay and Fixin are in the southern half of the Côte d'Or - the Côte de Beaune - whose red Burgundies are generally less expensive than those of the northern half - the Côte de Nuits).
Occasionally, red Burgundies under $30 from more prestigious Côte d'Or villages such as Nuits-St.-Georges, Beaune, and Chassagne-Montrachet are available, especially in less-than-great vintages. Even a few premier cru Burgundies can retail for under $30; I found three under $30 premier crus that I include in my reviews below.
Red Burgundies from the fairly obscure Côte Chalonnaise, just south of the Côte d'Or, are generally earthier, less complex, and less delicate than those of the Côte d'Or. But they are great values; almost all of them, even premier crus, retail in the $20 to $30 range. The three Chalonnaise village-appellation reds to look for, roughly in their order of merit, are Mercurey, Givry and Rully.
I recently blind-tasted a group of under $30 red Burgundies; I included one oddball wine, a Bourgogne Passetoutgrains, from a very reputable Burgundy producer, Hubert Lignier. Bourgogne Passetoutgrains is a blend of Pinot Noir - at least one-third - and Gamay. (These wines generally age better than Beaujolais, and in the hands of a capable producer, can be quite good). My estimable impression of this 'lesser' Burgundy (Bourgogne Passetoutgrains) underscores the importance of carefully choosing the producer or importer in selecting Burgundy. The vintage ranks second in importance. The appellation itself is far less critical in determining the quality of the wine than the producer/importer or the vintage.
I list the wines alphabetically by producer, within each appellation. I begin with Bourgogne Passetoutgrains and end with premier crus.
Hubert Lignier, Burgundy (France) Bourgogne Passetoutgrains 2004 ($16, Neal Rosenthal): Lovely, earthy, mushroomy, herbal and spicy aromas, with red fruit flavors, especially raspberries, with a slight candied impression. A delicious wine, vaguely reminiscent of cherry cola. I kept drinking this one with dinner. 89
Domaine Lucien Boillot & Fils, Burgundy (France) Bourgogne 2004 ($22, Kermit Lynch): Vivid, fresh fruit flavors, mainly tart red berries and spice, plus lively acidity, with concentrated fruit on the finish. This wine will improve with a bit of age. A well-balanced, impressive Bourgogne! 91
Joseph Drouhin, Burgundy (France) Bourgogne Pinot Noir, LaForet 2004 ($14, Dreyfus Ashby): Black-fruit and spice aromas and soft, ample palate with fairly low tannin; fresh, round, and upfront. In many respects, a textbook Bourgogne. 87
Joseph Drouhin, Burgundy (France) Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Véro ) 2002 ($22, Dreyfus Ashby): Named after winemaker Veronique Drouhin, this is the firm's upscale Bourgogne. Soft, full and ample, with loosely-knit flavors of red and black fruits. Complete and well balanced, a beautifully integrated Bourgogne. 90
Domaine Lucien Jacob, Burgundy (France) Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune 2003 ($20, Neal Rosenthal): Ripe, black fruit aromas and a significant tannin component, with flavors characteristic of the '03 vintage, but concentrated fruit flavors linger on the palate, suggesting potential to age. 88
Louis Jadot, Burgundy (France) Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2004 ($18, Kobrand Corp.): Tart red fruit (mainly cherry) flavors dominate. Spicy and sassy in personality, with good acidity. Just a bit on the light side; ready to drink now. 87
Louis Jadot, Burgundy (France) Côte de Beaune-Villages 2003 ($20, Kobrand Corp.): Penetrating aromas of spice and red fruits, and then surprisingly soft in the mouth, except for its firm oak tannins. Quite delicious, but showing its 13 percent alcohol. 87
Catherine et Claude Maréchal, Burgundy (France) Bourgogne, Cuvée Gravel 2004 ($23, Louis-Dressner Selections): Similar to the Boillot Bourgogne with its high acidity and rich, red and black berry fruit, but just a tad riper and sweeter. A totally delicious Bourgogne, ready now. 90
Jean-Marc Pillot, Burgundy (France) Bourgogne, Les Grandes Terres 2004 ($22, Neal Rosenthal): Spicy aromas combine with earthy flavors and delicate fruit to make the Pillot Bourgogne just lovely to drink now. Well-balanced, although alcohol (13 percent) is a bit high in the balance. Dry tannins complement the red and black berry fruit flavors. 88
Domaine Jacky Renard, Burgundy (France) Bourgogne 2003 ($10, Bayfield Importing): As ripe and rich as we expect a 2003 to be. Not a 'berry' wine, more like black plums. It lacks the delicacy of some of the more expensive Bourgognes, but a great value! 86
Domaine Jean Chauvenet, Burgundy (France) Nuits-St.-Georges 2001 ($29, Neal Rosenthal): Good producer, mediocre vintage. The one wine I tasted in this group that showed too much oakiness, a cardinal sin for Burgundy. This Nuits-St.-Georges, typical of its commune, is a big wine, but it lacks Burgundy's charm and finesse. More like a New World Pinot Noir. 86
Louis Jadot, Burgundy (France) Fixin 2003 ($21, Kobrand Corp.): Fixin, at the northern end of the Côte de Nuits, is another of the lesser-known Burgundy villages whose wines are well priced. Dark, chunky red berry, spice, and black fruit flavors dominate. Rather big-shouldered for a village Burgundy. More fruity than subtle. 88
Louis Jadot, Burgundy (France) Pernand-Vergelesses 2003 ($24, Kobrand Corp.): More tannic and riper than many of the other wines, a reflection of the 2003 vintage. A bit raw now, but has concentrated black fruit finish suggesting that it needs a little more time. 87
Domaine des Margotières, Burgundy (France) Saint-Romain 'Sous Roche' 2002 ($27, Neal Rosenthal): Who would have thought that a simple village Burgundy from unheralded Saint-Romain would be one of my two highest-rated wines? Ah, but the vintage is 2002 - definitely a factor. This Saint-Romain is a charmer, with exuberant fresh red fruit, spice, herbs, and floral aromas combined with a fabulously delicate, tight expression of red fruit and herbal flavors in the mouth, and a long finish of tart black cherries. An exciting wine, just about as good as village Burgundies get. 93
Catherine et Claude Maréchal, Burgundy (France) Chorey-les-Beaune 2004 ($28, Louis-Dressner Selections): Concentrated aromas and flavors of fresh red fruits and black berries. Solid, yet smooth and supple village-level Burgundy, a real mouthful. Totally delicious right now; well balanced, well made wine. 90
Domaine Prince de Merode , Burgundy (France) Ladoix 'Les Chaillots' 2004 ($24, Polaner Selections): Ladoix, named for a tiny village at the northern end of the Côte de Beaune just north of Corton, practically unknown in the U.S., is invariably well priced. The 2004 Les Chaillots is typical of the style that Prince de Merode (a well-known producer) favors. It is light-bodied and very flavorful, if delicately so, and has lots of finesse and charm. The kind of Burgundy one might make his 'house' wine, perfect for luncheons and light, warm-weather dinners. 89
Henri Prudhon & Fils, Burgundy (France) Chassagne-Montrachet 'Les Chambres' 2001 ($27, Neal Rosenthal): Chassagne-Montrachet is known for its sublime grand cru and premier cru white Burgundies. Its reds tend to be rather ungainly (the Brits would call them 'four-square'). This 2001 is chunky and a bit chewy. With air, it started to fade. And yet its red fruit flavors were not unattractive. 86
Domaine Rollin Père et Fils, Burgundy (France) Pernand-Vergelesses 2001 ($25, Neal Rosenthal): This 2001 village Burgundy proves what a good producer can do in an average vintage. Rollin makes tight, pure wines, with firm acidity and subtle, delicate flavors. Tart red fruits on the palate, with lots of charm and vivacity. Perhaps a touch too much acidity for some, but I love it! 89
Domaine Rollin Père et Fils, Burgundy (France) Savigny-les-Beaune 2001 ($27, Neal Rosenthal): A somewhat bigger, fruitier wine than Rollin's Pernand-Vergelesses, more or less a reflection of the Savigny style. Those who enjoy ripe, black fruit flavors more than delicacy might prefer Rollin's Savigny. Given a choice, I'd take his Pernand-Vergelesses. 88
Louis Jadot, Burgundy (France) Beaune 1er Cru 2003 ($29, Kobrand Corp.): Jadot invariably produces fine Burgundies from the Beaune commune. The only issue with this premier cru is the hot 2003 vintage, which tipped wines toward ripeness, heaviness, high alcohol and underripe tannins. With 13.5 percent alcohol, this wine has lots of black fruit flavors, but only a bit of the raciness and delicacy typically found in Beaune wines from cooler vintages. 88
Paul Pernot, Burgundy (France) Beaune 1er Cru, 'Reversées' 2004 ($30, USA Wine Imports): Ripe, slightly candied fruit aromas, concentrated tart red cherry flavors and spiciness. Acidity is actually a bit too high, even for acid freaks like me, in that it's the dominating impression left on the palate. 87
Hugues et Yves de Suremain, Burgundy (France) Mercurey 1er Cru, 'La Bondue' 1999 ($30, Robert Chadderdon Selections): A classic Burgundy, and yet from a village in the Côte Chalonnais rather than the Côte d'Or! Validates my belief that the producer and/or importer and the vintage are far more important than the appellation in Burgundy. This '99 Mercurey premier cru is perfectly balanced, and at its peak. Fully developed earthy and herbal aromas combine with complex mushroomy, earthy flavors and a lingering finish. Enjoy this one now. 93
I was quite surprised by the quality that I found in this price category of red Burgundies. I think that, first, you must seek out the better producers, and this task is made easier if you stick to well-regarded quality Burgundy importers such as Neal Rosenthal, Louis-Dressner, Kermit Lynch, Robert Chadderdon and Polaner Selections, or reputable négociant firms such as Joseph Drouhin and Louis Jadot. Secondarily, the vintage is extremely important for Burgundy: it's no accident that my two highest-rated wines were a 2002 and a 1999, two excellent Burgundy vintages.