• Alexander Smith

Does Burgundy really produce the worlds greatest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir?

Bourgogne still king and queen of the hill?
Bourgogne still king and queen of the hill?

So I have been trying more Burgundy wines in recent weeks. I love Burgundy, and if I was told I would have to drink only one region for the rest of my life, Burgundy, you have my heart. Burgundy just beats my other top regions of Bordeaux and California, by a whisker. The wines of Burgundy have a special ingredient, which no other wine region can reproduce.

OK, so you like Burgundy, what is the point of this post, I hear you say!

Well in the last few years I have had the chance to visit Chile, Argentina, California (3 times!), Australia, New Zealand, the list goes on. What I have learnt from these trips is that, these New World countries are starting to produce the same style of wines found in Burgundy.

But you just said Burgundy has a special ingredient?

This is true, but I have an issue with Burgundy which is not going away. The price of these wines have become more and more unreachable in recent years. Don't blame Burgundy for this. This is business, pure supply and demand. Clos de Vougeot is half the size of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, yet it has over 100 owners. The owners are producing such small quantities, some as few as one or two barrels, that the demand forces the prices up to crazy levels $400-600+.

So should we stop buying Burgundy then?

Well that would be nice, then hopefully the prices will drop! But I doubt that will happen. With such limited supply coming out of the cellars, the demand not the owners dictate the price. Looking at just the Côte-d'Or, so Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune, a main village wine will set you back close to $100 and the 1er cru start around $150-400, then Grand Crus are anything from $350 - $6000. These prices make no sense, there are similar comparisons in Bordeaux, however these are limited to the first growths. You can easily find a Bordeaux second growth wine for below $150. Do not get me wrong, this is still expensive but not Burgundy expensive.

So you love Burgundy, but it's getting too expensive, but I love Chardonnay and Pinot, there must be another way?

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have been doing a lot of head scratching, is Burgundy really worth the premium? This is not an easy answer. There are those, who will only drink Burgundy, if you are one of these people then skip the next few paragraphs. However for those who are open to try other regions. I have been tasting more and more wines from New World countries which are able to produce 1er cru level of wine for less than $100! At this price, I am asking myself, do I really want to drink Burgundy? This is not an easy answer. Would I prefer one bottle of Meursault Premier Cru Clos des Perrières at $150 or two bottles of New World Chardonnay at $75? hmmm

Well if the Meursault is twice as good as the New World Chardonnay I would take the Meursault any day of the week.

Agreed, but that is just no longer the case. New World Chardonnays and Pinots are just getting better and better. I am even tempted to say that certain New World producers have equaled many 1er Cru Côte-d'Or wines.

OK, so no more Burgundy wines then?

Not so fast.... there are still some excellent value wines in Burgundy, you just need to know where to find them. You can forget drinking Volnay, Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet, Vosne-Romanée and the others, there is no 'value' in these regional appellations anymore. For those who cannot live without Burgundy, but don't want to break the bank. I believe one of the best expressions of Chardonnay come from Chablis. Chablis 1er Cru and Grand Cru can be found for under $100 and usually offer the complexity you would often find in it's southern neighbours at a fraction of the price. Within the Côte-d'Or, there is value in the appellations of Marsannay, Fixin, Auxery-Duresses, Saint-Romain, Saint-Aubin and Santenay. Further south and there are other hidden treasures. Mercurey in Chalonnaise have some fantastic 1er Cru level Pinots, which can be found for around $70. Montagny, Chalonnaise and the Macon-Village appellations have some excellent Chardonnays around $50.

But the above being said, most of these value finds in Burgundy will disappoint those who are use to a more complex style of wine offered at 1er Cru level (Chablis an exception). So the alternative is the New World. I have been very impressed with Chardonnays and Pinots coming out of California, Oregon, Australia, Chile and New Zealand. Certain offerings can easily be compared to 1er Cru level at a fraction of the price.

So back to the original question. Does Burgundy really produce the worlds greatest Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs? There is no easy answer, but Burgundy is getting more expensive vintage by vintage, and I believe the average wine amateur will stray away from Burgundy in the search of more reasonable representations of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. In terms of expressions of these grapes, is Burgundy still delivering? Absolutely! But I believe others are catching up fast, and some are already at the same level.

Burgundy will always be in my heart, but I am finding more and more great value wines from elsewhere, which is catching my attention. Burgundy still has the title for now, however the others are not far behind.

A follow up post will be available in a few weeks with my top 'Burgundy 1er Cru value wines', also value wines which exist in Burgundy, even if not at 1er Cru level.

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