I wish I had bought more red Burgundies when their prices were not in the stratosphere--which means over twenty years ago. I still have a varied collection of wines, and so I shouldn’t complain. But it seems that my Burgundies have disappeared the fastest. I do love red Burgundies (also, white Burgundies, for that matter). The last vintage that I bought any Domaine de la Romanée Conti (aka, DRC) wines was 1984--not a very good vintage, and reasonably priced. The 1984 DRC Richebourg was quite good. After all, it was a DRC Burgundy, which along with Domaine Leroy, is the royalty of Burgundy.
The last bottle of Romanée Conti itself I purchased was the 1980 (priced at $4,000 today; I bought it 29 years ago for less than $100), a good but not great vintage in Burgundy, but better than the 1984. We’re talking Romanée Conti here, folks, and this wine is always at least very good. I recall the 1966 Romanée Conti; it was one of the greatest wines I’ve ever tasted. A group of us were talking and sipping away in a friend’s living room--it was around 1976, because I remember that the wine was ten years old--when all of a sudden we stopped talking. The host had just opened and poured the ’66 Romanée Conti in his dining room, and this incredibly fragrant aroma drifted into the living room. Its taste proved the old adage in the wine world: if the wine’s aroma is incredible, so will its taste be.
But that was then; this is now. The last three vintages available of the world’s most expensive wine, Romanée Conti--the 2006, ’07, and ’08--will cost you $10,000 or more--a bottle that is. Now you know why I haven’t purchased it in the last 29 years. It is the ultimate trophy wine, not meant to be consumed--just kept and shown off, or sold at auctions for a profit.
Does this mean that I have stopped buying red Burgundies? Not at all. I do not deprive myself or my family of one of the great gastronomic experiences that I know. I must admit that I do hoard the handful of top red Burgundies that I have left, opening them for special occasions, and even giving them as gifts to my daughter and her husband (a Burgundy fanatic) on birthdays--but I try to be there when they open them.
Like Bordeaux wines, there are plenty of red Burgundies available at moderate prices ($20 to $40). But not as many Burgundy wines are around as Bordeaux, because Bordeaux produces at least four times as much wine as Burgundy. You do have to hunt the good inexpensive Burgundies out, in the better wine shops, or online. But one big advantage Burgundy has over Bordeaux: you don’t have to wait forever to drink them. Even the great red Burgundies can be enjoyed in ten years, while the simpler, inexpensive Burgundies are palatable within a few years.
I have enjoyed many young “Village level” Burgundies (most Premier Crus and all Grand Crus are priced beyond what I want to spend). I don’t have as much luck finding really good, inexpensive white Burgundies from the Côte de Beaune or Côte Chalonnaise in Burgundy (the main districts for these wines), but I do love Chablis (technically a part of Burgundy). And so my white Burgundy cravings are taken care of with good Chablis, even Premier Crus, in the $25 to $50 price range. But I’ll save Chablis for another column, and stick to recommending some moderately priced red Burgundies here.
The largest appellations for red Burgundy are the regional AOC wines, labeled Bourgogne Rouge--which can be sourced from vineyards throughout Burgundy, and, one level up, District-wide AOCs--such as Côte de Nuits-Villages, Côte de Beaune, Hautes Côte de Nuits, and Hautes Côte de Beaune. District-wide Burgundies, which come from their quite large, designated districts, are in the $22 to $33 range.
Regional and District Burgundies make up about 55 percent of all Burgundies. Bourgogne Rouge wines range in price from $15 for the simplest Bourgogne Rouge on up to $35 or more for Bourgogne Rouge from the great producers, such as A. & P. De Villaine (owners of DRC), Leroy, and Anne Gros.
I tasted a Leroy Bourgogne Rouge recently; unlike lesser Bourgogne Rouge wines, the Leroy was a very serious, well-structured Burgundy that actually needed at least five years to mature. (Most Bourgogne Rouge wines are ready to drink as soon as they are released.)
To get into the proper mood for writing this column, I sipped a 2008 Bourgogne Hautes Côte de Nuits (priced at $24), made by Olivier Rion, son of the renowned Burgundy winemaker, Daniel Rion. While the wine was lively, pleasant and easy-drinking, I think that spending a few dollars more for a Bourgogne Rouge from an outstanding red Burgundy producer, such as Leroy, A. & P. De Villaine, Anne Gros, Domaine Ponsot, Méo-Camuzet, Hubert Lignier, Domaine Henri Gouges, Domaine Ramonet, or Coche-Dury would have been a more rewarding tasting experience. The last two on my list of exceptional Bourgogne Rouge producers, Domaine Ramonet and Coche-Dury, are famous white Burgundy winemakers who also happen to make a little bit of red wine. While Ramonet’s Bourgogne Rouge is a very reasonable $25, Coche-Dury’s is in the $70 to $90 price range! I list it just for your information. I really don’t expect many people to spend $80 or more for a Bourgogne Rouge!
The next level up the Burgundy Appellation ladder is the Commune or Village level, such as Vosne-Romanée or Chambolle-Musigny--these are two of my very favorite communes, but also two whose wines can be expensive. From the northernmost part of the Côte d’Or (northern Côte de Nuits) down to the southern end of the Côte de Beaune, I list the names of the villages and some red wines from the village, including a few well-priced Premier Crus:
Marsannay: Best known for its delicate, dry rosés, but 2/3 of its wines are red. Look for Domaine Bruno Clair’s Marsannay or Marsannay rosé.
Fixin: Full-bodied, sturdy, earthy red Burgundies. Try Méo-Camuzet’s or Mongeard-Mugneret’s Fixin or Pierre Gelin’s Fixin Premier Cru, Clos Napolean. Fixin’s wines are excellent values.
Gevrey-Chambertin: Because this commune’s Grand Crus (Chambertin, etc.) are so renowned, you won’t find many bargains here. Its wines are generally the most full-bodied of all red Burgundies. Drouhin’s or Jadot’s Gevrey-Chambertin is reasonably priced ($37- $39).
Morey-St.-Denis: Big, sturdy wines emphasizing power more than elegance. Its Grand Crus dominate. Try Drouhin’s Morey-St.-Denis ($35).
Chambolle-Musigny: Perhaps the most elegant, finesseful Burgundies of them all come from Chambolle-Musigny. But they are expensive. A lower-priced one is Patrice Rion’s Chambolle Musigny ($55).
Vosne-Romanée: Home of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and other great Burgundies, Vosne-Romanée’s wines are rich, velvety, and elegant--for me, the quintessential red Burgundies. Most wines with Vosne-Romanée in their name are very expensive. Try Robert Arnoux’s 2008 or 2009 Vosne-Romanée ($55 to $57).
Nuits-St.-Georges: Sturdy, earthy wines from this commune. Most of the better vineyards are Premier Crus. Much of the wines from non-Premier Cru vineyards and nearby villages are designated as Côte de Nuits-Villages Burgundies.
Ladoix: This little known village (a.k.a. Ladoix-Serrigny) is the first commune entering the Côte de Beaune. Part of the Grand Cru Corton vineyard is in Ladoix. Look for the renowned Prince de Merode’s Ladoix, priced in the low $20s. Ladoix’s wines are elegant, and good values.
Pernand-Vergelesses: Both red and white Burgundies produced here, although the whites from vineyards near the superb Grand Cru, Corton-Charlemagne, are better. One great red Premier Cru, Ile des Vergelesses, worth trying. Look for Chandon de Brialles’ 2009 ($42).
Aloxe-Corton: The Corton Grand Cru vineyards and Corton-Charlemagne dominate this commune. Full-bodied, sturdy wines. Try Domaine Pavelot’s Aloxe-Corton ($38 to $47).
Chorey-lès-Beaune: Always one of my favorite village wines. Elegant, easy-drinking and a great value. Look for Tollot-Beaut’s wonderful Chorey-lès-Beaune ($27 to $29). Also available in half-bottles. When Burgundy wines skyrocketed in price, this wine became my house red.
Savigny-lès-Beaune: Like its neighbor, Chorey-lès-Beaune, this commune has good value wines, both red and white, but more wines and easier to find. Look for the village wines of Savigny-lès-Beaune from Simon Bize, Jean-Marc Pavelot, and Bouchard Pere et Fils, all in the $30 to $40 range.
Beaune: The largest town and the commercial center of the Côte d’Or produces a number of fine, elegant Premier Crus. Much of the rest goes into Côte-de-Beaune and Côte-de-Beaune-Villages district wines. Jadot makes a number of Beaune Premier Crus (about $25).
Auxey-Duresses: One of several small villages in the particularly hilly heart of the Côte-de-Beaune producing inexpensive Premier Crus. Try Michel Prunier’s Auxey-Duresses Premier Cru.
Monthélie: Another little-known village close to Auxey-Duresses with bargain-priced Premier Crus. Look for Bouchard Pere et Fils’ Monthélie Premier Cru Les Duresses ($26 to $29).
St.-Romain: Alain Gras is the best producer in this small village. Try his Village St.-Romain ($26 to $30). Gras makes a good white St.-Romain as well, at the same price.
St.Aubin: Better whites than red wines in St.-Aubin. Well-regarded producers include Marc Colin and Francois & Denis Clair.
Chassagne-Montrachet: Far more renowned for its superb white Grand Crus, and yet half of the production of Chassagne-Montrachet is red. Its reds are bargain-priced, as well. Try Blain-Gagnard’s Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru Rouge at $27 to $29. A steal!
Santenay: At the southern end of the Côte-de-Beaune. Remarkable values here for red Burgundies. Vincent Girardin is the producer to seek out. Try any of Girardin’s Santenay Premier Crus ($25 to $28).
Just south of the Côte-de-Beaune lies the Côte Chalonnaise, a lesser-known sub-region of Burgundy. Three villages produce value-priced red Burgundies here, Mercurey, Rully, and Givry, with the wines of Mercurey regarded as the best.
In Mercurey, look for the wines of J. Faiveley or Antonin Rodet; or treat yourself to Aubert de Villaine’s Mercurey at a bit higher ($42-$44) price. In Rully, where the whites trump the reds, stick to Antonin Rodet’s wines. Red wines dominate in Givry. Domaine Joblot ($35) is the one to buy.
Whenever you buy Burgundy, the producer’s reputation is of the upmost importance. Check what critics say about a producer’s recent wines.
The second-most important criterion is the quality of the vintage year. The best recent vintages for red Burgundy have been 2009, 2005, 2002, and 1999. Of the four, 2005 is the best and will be the longest-lived. For current consumption, 2002 and 1999 are the vintages to drink.
Red Burgundy has a big advantage over Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignons, and Syrah-based wines at the dinner table. It is far more versatile. It can complement so many different foods. For beef and game, drink a full-bodied Burgundy. For poultry and meaty fish, such as salmon, a lighter Burgundy is ideal.
If you who have been avoiding Burgundy because it’s too expensive, it’s time to come back. I hope you will try some of the moderately priced wines I’ve recommended in this column. And if you really haven’t tried much Burgundy yet, what are you waiting for?