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2015 White Burgundies: Marvelous for Current Drinking
By Michael Apstein
Apr 24, 2018
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Having tasted the 2015 Burgundies now that they have been bottled and are on retailers’ shelves, I can confirm my initial impression of the vintage --sensational for both reds and whites.  Importantly, though, the character of the wines is very different depending on the color.  I wrote about the reds last March (link below) so this column focuses on the whites.  But, before I delve into the wines, let me address an increasingly common complaint about Burgundy’s wines, namely, their prices.

The image of Burgundy is rapidly approaching that of Bordeaux--a luxury product for the “one percenters” as world-wide demand pushes prices into the stratosphere.  To be sure, the prices of many Burgundies put them out of reach for most people.  But, like so many stereotypes, the images are incorrect, especially for the 2015 Burgundies of both colors.  Just over half (52%) of all Burgundy is sold under regional appellations, those down-market, low prestige areas that do not carry even the name of a village on the label, such Bourgogne Blanc or Macon-Villages.  Here the lack of cachet--but no lack of pleasure--translates into affordability. 

Moreover, there are wines from less renowned villages (such as Rully and Montagny in the Côte Chalonnaise, or Viré-Clessé and St. Véran, in the Mâconnais) that offer exceptional value, especially in a year like 2015. The extra warmth of the vintage had a bigger impact here in the Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais than in the more revered appellations where grapes achieve adequate ripeness almost regardless of the weather. Thus, there are sometimes spectacular achievements in Rully, Montagny, Viré-Clessé and St. Véran in 2015--a year truly where the lesser stars shined.
 
The 2015 white Burgundies, in contrast to the whites from 2014, are great for drinking now and over the next couple of years.  By and large, they are not for laying down because, while they have adequate acidity, they lack the exhilarating tension of the 2014 whites.  This pair of vintages--2014/2015--in white is reminiscent of previous pairs, 2008/2009 and 2004/2005, with the former of each pair being more tightly wound while the latter being more opulent and forward.  The 2015 white Burgundies, then, have the added advantage of providing immediate satisfaction, while consumers wait for the their 2014s to develop.

The weather explains the character of the wines.  The 2015 growing season was warm, imparting slightly more ripeness to the grapes.  Typically, as grapes ripen, like all fruit, their levels of acidity fall.  This was especially true for Chardonnay, the major grape for all white Burgundy.  Hence, the 2015 white Burgundies are a touch richer than usual with slightly lower levels of acidity, but fortunately, not in the same blousy character of the 2003s, an extremely hot vintage.  The combination of succulence with off-setting, but not puckering, acidity equals enjoyment now. 

Let’s start in the north of Burgundy, Chablis, where a little extra warmth is always welcome.  Though certainly not a regional appellation or an unknown village, Chablis remains woefully underpriced for what the wines deliver.  The highly-regarded Beaune-based house, Maison Joseph Drouhin, owns considerable acreage throughout Chablis and has a winery there, Domaine Vaudon, whose name on a bottle is a reliable indicator of quality.  Their 2015 Chablis “Réserve de Vaudon,” ($26, 89 points) made entirely from their vines in the Vauvillien Valley, which sits between two premier cru vineyards, Mont de Milieu and Montée de Tonnerre, delivers more complexity than many producers’ premier cru.  It’s a great value so grab it when you see it.  A step up, and also an excellent buy, is Drouhin’s Domaine Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Montmains ($35, 92 points), which is more persistent and delivers alluring complexity. 

Simonnet-Febvre is a name to remember for cutting, edgy Chablis.  Their laser-focused style harmonizes beautifully with the ripeness of the vintage.  Simonnet-Febvre’s 2015 Vaillons ($28, 92) has a captivating floral quality atop its usual flintiness, while their Mont de Milieu is zesty, stony and persistent ($30, 94). It’s hard to find the quality and distinctiveness these wines provide for the price anywhere else in the world.

Neighboring Chablis is a currently obscure--and hence, underpriced--appellation, Bourgogne Côte d’Auxerre, where, as in the rest of Burgundy, white wines are typically made from Chardonnay.  Here, Domaine Goisot consistently makes sensational wines.  Look for their invigorating and mineral-y 2015 Gueules de Loup ($34, 94) from this appellation.  Another nearby and rather obscure appellation, Saint Bris, features the same unique Kimmeridgian limestone as Chablis itself, and, indeed was once included in that appellation.  Today it has to strand on its own feet as its own appellation and is the only one in Burgundy where Sauvignon Blanc is the primary grape.  Goisot made a penetrating and exhilarating 2015 Sauvignon de Saint Bris “Exogyra Virgula” ($20, 92) whose pleasant bite and weight will deliver enormous pleasure when the weather turns warmer. It’s an extraordinary value.  These wines will astound you and imprint Goisot’s name and the appellations in your brain.

Jumping over the Côte d’Or for the moment, there are plenty of superb producers further south in the Mâconnais who turned out superb whites in 2015.  Names to remember here are Auvigue, Bret Brothers, Château de Pierreclos, Domaine Roger Lassarat, and La Soufrandière (the Bret Brothers’ personal domaine), and Domaine Saumaize to name just a few.  The Mâcon wines from any of these producers will re-define the appellation for you.  And most will set you back less than $25.

The most well-known name in the Mâconnais, of course, is Pouilly-Fuissé.  Consumers can expect prices of those wines to increase over the next couple of years because the appellation is poised, after more than a decade of negotiations, to have a substantial part re-classified as premier cru (more on that in a future column).  The neighboring appellation of St. Veran offers nearly the same quality as Pouilly-Fuissé at a lower price.  The creamy mineral-infused 2015 St. Véran “Cuvée Plaisir” from Domaine Roger Lassarat ($18, 92) or the edgy richness of Château de Pierreclos’ 2015 Saint-Véran ($17, 91) will make you a fan of this appellation.
   
Despite its deserved reputation for high prices, the Côte d’Or can provide well-priced white Burgundies.  The trick is to look for Bourgogne Blanc from well-regarded producers, such as Alex Gambal, Pierre Morey, or Paul Pernot, to name just a few.  Although the grapes for these wines come from vineyards that lie just outside the limits of prestigious villages, such as Meursault or Puligny-Montrachet, the top producers take as much care with these wines as they do with those carrying more up-scale labels.  Gambal wisely opted to harvest a bit earlier in 2015 to capture acidity in the grapes. His 2015 Bourgogne Blanc ($28, 90) is a sensational buy.

Another trick to finding value in the Côte d’Or is to explore less well-known villages.  Take the hard-to-pronounce village of Pernand-Vergelesses.  Although a substantial portion of the grand cru vineyard of Corton Charlemagne lies within its boundaries, many of its other vineyards are over-looked, which explains why you can find wines that deliver more than the price suggests.  A case in point is Maison Louis Latour’s 2015 Premier Cru “En Caradeaux” ($35, 93), which displays a lush sophistication coupled with good acidity that amplifies its finish.  It would be an excellent way to celebrate the arrival of summer.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Burgundy in general or the 2015 white Burgundies in particular at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein


To see my overview of 2015 vintage red Burgundies, go to:

http://winereviewonline.com/Apstein_on_Twenty_Fifteen_Red_Burgs.cfm


April 25, 2018