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Where are the Bargains in Burgundy?

Where are the Bargains in Burgundy?

This might sound a bit like searching for unicorns and while this famous northern French region is famed for its eye-wateringly expensive and exclusive Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, it is still possible to find relatively good value if you know where to look.

Where are the Bargains in Burgundy?

 

A quick geography lesson on Burgundy

Before we can start looking for these relative bargains, it’s useful to know a little about the lie of the land. Burgundy is divided into four distinctive sub-regions. Running from north to south, these are Chablis, the Côte d’Or, the Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais.

The Côte d’Or is actually further split in half with the Côte de Nuits to the north and the Côte de Beaune to the south.

We’re going to be focusing on the Mâconnais and the Côte de Beaune for now but that doesn’t mean to say that there are no other affordable wines in the other sub-regions.

Burgundy, unlike most other French wine-producing regions, is very fragmented and there are very few large landowners so it is quite difficult to find economies of scale and produce inexpensive wines.

It’s made even more difficult because climatically, the region sits right on the cusp of where grapes can be grown and ripened successfully, meaning there is a huge amount of vintage variation which impacts further on production and livelihood costs.

 

Where are the Bargains in Burgundy? Vineyard

 Why Mâconnais is a good source for value

Until 2020, the Mâconnais was the only major region in Burgundy to have no legally recognised hierarchy system, so no premier cru or grand cru wines. However this wasn’t for want of trying. Following a 13 year application, the government finally granted a re-classification of the region in 2020, the first since 1942, but this only affects the best Chardonnays under the Pouilly-Fuissé appellation so less relevant but it does mean that further changes could be made in the future.

Another reason why the Mâconnais represents such good value is that it’s largely home to Chardonnay and, to a lesser extent, Gamay – both of which consistently produce higher yields than Pinot Noir, especially as it tends to be slightly warmer here than the other regions further north.

With land prices still relatively low here and the possibility to use machine harvesting as well as manual picking, due to the gentler gradient of the vineyards, it keeps wine prices much more affordable too.

 

 

Some prime examples worth tasting

As over 90% of the wines labelled Mâcon are white, therefore Chardonnay, there’s plenty of choice to consider. There are three regional appellations specific to Mâcon, as a generic ‘catch-all’ wine, meaning it can be cross blended from across the region, as a ‘Mâcon-Villages’ or as a Mâcon with a specific named village appended to it, so long as all the grapes used come from that village only. There are 27 villages that are authorised to be made either as Mâcon-Villages or Mâcon + the name of the village.

GENETIE Mâcon-Charnay-lès-Mâcon ‘Les Piliers’ 2019Domaine de Fussiacus, St Veran

We love the Mâcon-Charnay-lès-Mâcon ‘Les Piliers’ for its texture and its finesse. This is a well-made wine by accomplished English winemaker Samantha Bailey, and combines three key elements. Floral notes, exotic notes and mineral notes. Try with grilled fish or an asparagus and mushroom risotto to get the optimal experience.

The next tier up from Mâcon are the specific village appellations like Pouilly-Fuissé and Saint-Véran. We’ve already discounted Pouilly-Fuissé as they tend to be well northwards of £20 per bottle these days but Saint-Véran is still on the right side. This village lies at the southern end of the region in a belt surrounding Pouilly-Fuissé and whilst the wines don’t achieve the same level of greatness, they’re an ideal stepping-stone in terms of price and quality between Mâcon and Pouilly-Fuissé.

The Saint-Véran Domaine de Fussiacus is made by Jean-Paul Paquet and his son Yannick from a relatively small vineyard of just 1.5 hectares. They follow organic farming principles and manage everything by hand, keeping yields low and therefore the quality is high. The wine spends between 6 and 8 months on the lees, which adds a textural richness and gives volume in the mouth as well as emphasising the wine’s fruitiness. This is as equally delicious with a warming Sunday roast chicken as it is with a summery goat’s cheese salad.

As for red wines, look to Bourgogne Rouge or Bourgogne Pinot Noir but beware as there are very good producers, average producers and distinctly below-average producers! It’s always worth doing your research first. While most Pinot Noir is grown in the Côte d’Or and Côte Chalonnaise, one producer that stands out from the crowd is Domaine Fichet in the heart of the Mâconnais.

After pulling away from supplying the local village co-operative in 1976, Francis Fichet became one of the first to plant Pinot Noir in this Chardonnay dominant region. By 1990, both his sons had joined him and encouraged an increase in plantings of Pinot Noir shortly after. Today, their Bourgogne Pinot Noir comes from 4 different sites in their vicinity and is made in a fresh and vibrant style in order to accentuate the tangy red berry fruits while the tannins are soft and round. For under £15 a bottle, this is an ideal introduction to red burgundy. Best enjoyed within 5 years of the vintage either by itself or with a light meal.

Savigny les Beaune ‘Les Gollardes’ Domaine du PrieureDomaine Fichet, Pinot Noir

If you already like red burgundy and are willing to take a step up, let us take you to the Côte de Beaune or more specifically, the village appellation of Savigny-lès-Beaune. Pinot Noir is the dominant grape grown here making up over 85% of the village’s wines. There are around 148 different growers who all produce wines from this village so you can now see the importance of doing your research.

Domaine du Prieuré was created in 1966 by the Maurice family when Henry Maurice bought the Cistercian priory in the village. It became the new centre for his expanding winemaking business. Today Henry’s grandson Stephen is taking this quality domain forward and the wines are now being made in a purpose-built cellar at the entrance to the village that Stephen’s parents built in the early 1990s.

Their Savigny-lès-Beaune ‘Les Gollardes’ is made from 40 year old vines on a 0.8 hectare vineyard which is managed in an environmentally-friendly way. After a lengthy elaboration process which includes 12 months maturation in oak and around 6 months in stainless steel for added refinement, the wines are bottled. This is a rich and elegant expression of Pinot Noir with subtle mineral notes that give it allure and poise. Pair this with a good quality piece of red meat like a fillet of beef or slow-cooked shoulder of lamb for a truly memorable experience.

If, like me, you enjoy these wines and become bitten by the Burgundy bug there are plenty more in our cellars to tempt you further! Just get in touch james@wharfsidewines.com

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