The Mysteries of Burgundy

From Chablis to the Côte d'Or to Beaujolais, Finding the Best Wines of this Fabled Region is Always a Challenge

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In a world that fervently pursues convenience and easy understanding, Burgundy is an anachronism. Nobody today would fashion a wine area with hundreds of named vineyards tilled by thousands of growers. It doesn't make marketing sense. But Burgundy achieves something that is literally irreproducible. Its wines, red and white, retain such a distinction of place that even Burgundians themselves can't fully explain how one neighbor manages to reap grand cru on a slice of land contiguous to property that overachieves at premier cru.
Skeptics submit that it's all a matter of winemaking. But honest tasting and the perspective of history tell us otherwise. The earth speaks to us in Burgundy as it does nowhere else. And that voice has never disappeared, even though wine-making technology over the centuries has changed dramatically. The same Burgundies that captivated wine lovers centuries ago still awe us today: Chambertin, La Tâche, Montrachet, Volnay, Meursault and many more. They do this not by technique, but by terroir. And that is immutable. Great Burgundy, like a great diamond, is forever.
Matt Kramer is a columnist for Wine Spectator and the author of Making Sense of Burgundy (1990), William Morrow, 528 pages, $24.95).
The Guide to Shippers
Two shippers today stand out: Leroy and Louis Jadot. Leroy has a collection of fabulous older Burgundies. The Leroy cellar is vast and its wines exceptional, and since 1988 director and co-owner Lalou Bize-Leroy has added attention and resources to a new, extraordinary estate called Domaine Leroy.
Louis Jadot remains a shipper--yet not quite. The reason its wines are exceptional is that it, too, has moved to purchase vineyards as well as enter into long-term contracts with growers. Its best wines (both red and white) come from grapes Jadot owns or controls. Overall, its standard is exemplary, equal to the best growers.
Other shippers have varying strengths. Joseph Drouhin is very good, even though many of its wines are intentionally made to be drunk young. Labouré-Roi is an up-and-comer. It has redefined the role of the shipper (which traditionally put only its own name on the label) by arranging at least 60 estates to bottle their wines--under the grower's own label. Labouré-Roi's own wines are usually very good value. The shipper Louis Latour does an especially good job with white wines, not so with reds. In comparison, the shipper Faiveley is a better performer with reds than whites.
The Guide to Growers
The topic of growers gets too complicated for the space available. The really good Burgundy growers number between 100 and 200, depending upon who's doing the counting. New ones keep cropping up all the time, as brothers (and, increasingly, sisters) divide family inheritances and create their own labels.
The following producers are personal favorites. I'll stick to Chablis, Côte d'Or and Côte Chalonnaise because that's where the best wines are found. Precisely because they are per-sonal favorites, the lists are far from comprehensive. Someone else could as easily create an entirely different roster--and be just as correct. But I'll say this much: if you start with these producers, you'll get a terrific idea of how good a Burgundy can be.
Chardonnay yields in Chablis are excessive, and prices have never been higher. The producers I look for are depressingly few. The best are Domaine Raveneau, René & Vincent Dauvissat and Domaine Louis Michel. Other good producers include Domaine Jean Collet, Domaine Guy Robin, Domaine de la Maladière/William Fèvre and Domaine Robert Vocoret.
It's almost overwhelming to start listing by village; there are so many villages and so many good producers in each one. Better, if only for reasons of space, to divide into producers of great red Burgundies and great white ones. The villages or single vineyards of their best wines are in parentheses.
Domaine Marquis d'Angerville
(Volnay; silky, refined, superb)
Domaine Simon Bize & Fils
(Savigny-lès-Beaune; elegant, supple, good buys)
Robert Chevillon
(Nuits-St.- Georges; concentrated, refined)
Domaine Yvon Clerget
(Volnay; beautifully defined wines, fragrant)
Domaine Georges Deléger
(Chevalier-Montrachet; superb, intense, rare)
Domaine Dujac
(Morey-St.-Denis, Bonnes Mares; Gevrey-Chambertin; silky, concentrated, expensive)
Domaine Maurice Ecard
(Savigny-lès-Beaune; intense, beautifully defined, great buy)
Domaine René Engel
(Vosne-Romanée; famous name, returning to top form)
Domaine Frédéric Esmonin
(Gevrey-Chambertin; rich, intense, structured)
Domaine Michel Esmonin
(Gevrey-Chambertin "Clos St.-Jacques"; great single-vineyard wine)
Domaine Jacques Germain
(Beaune; pure, elegant, beautifully defined)
Domaine Michel Lafarge
(Volnay; rich, concentrated, superb, expensive)
Domaine Lafouge
(Auxey-Duresses; polished, intense, great buy)
Domaine Philippe Leclerc
(Gevrey-Chambertin; very concentrated, oaky, striking)
Domaine René Leclerc
(Gevrey-Chambertin; very concentrated, no obvious oak, striking)
Domaine François Legros
(Nuits-St.-Georges; a new rising star, polished, refined)
Domaine Leroy
(Vosne-Romanée, Chambertin, many others; simply the best grower in Burgundy today, very expensive)
Domaine Hubert de Montille
(Volnay, Pommard; elegant, refined, long-lived, expensive)
Domaine Charles/Denis Mortet
(Gevrey-Chambertin; concentrated, rich, superb)
Domaine Georges Mugneret/Mugneret-Gibourg
(Gevrey-Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée; intense, defined, expensive, rare)
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