Burgundy can be expensive but when it's good it can be worth every penny, writes Christine Austin

There are several things wrong with Burgundy.  It is very complicated, very expensive and sometimes it can be a bit of a gamble. Only last week when I opened a rather good bottle of red Burgundy at the York Food and Drink Festival, to compare against Pinot Noir wines from around the world, the wine sat in the glass sulking for a while.  Then, when it had time to open up and breathe it begin to smile, but only in a slightly half-hearted way.  In comparison, the Pinots from New Zealand, Chile and South Africa bounced out of their bottles ready to charm and delight.  Awkward at first, the Burgundy first showed its structure and precision, and only after half an hour in the glass did it drop its guard and allow the fruit and complexity to appear.  The following day, the remaining dregs were magnificent – but you can’t plan a dinner party around that kind of schedule unless you know what to expect.

So when you can get perfectly good Pinot and Chardonnay from around the world, probably for a lot less money, why would anyone bother with this long hillside of land that has been producing expensive wines for over a thousand years?

The answer has to be the sheer joy in tasting and drinking good Burgundy.  It is a wine that doesn’t just delight the tastebuds; it has another layer of interaction that in some odd way it engages with the heart and with emotions.  I have avoided getting involved with Burgundy for years, but after several visits over the summer I feel that I have fallen in love with it all over again.

Instead of wading through soil structures of the region, appellations and boundaries, aspects to the sun and the way wines can change on each hillside, even from one side of the road to another, I am just going to dive in and talk about some of my favourite producers, and where you can start your own love affair with this region.  Much as I love good white Burgundy, this is all about the reds.

Louis Jadot

Jadot is a big producer in Burgundy.  The company owns 220 hectares of vines, spread across the whole region, even extending into Beaujolais.  They also buy in grapes from other growers and so act as negotiant, making certain wines in sufficient quantity to get them out into the market, worldwide. They own several monopoles, which means that they exclusively own whole vineyards and so own the name.  They operate out of a magnificent, no-expense-spared winery that has the flexibility to keep parcels of grapes from different vineyards separate, and their temperature controlled ageing cellars are a joy, with rows of barrels gently ageing the wine.  They also own a tonnellerie where their barrels are made so they have total control over quality there.

Expect to find their wines from Waitrose to top wine merchants.  Bon Coeur in Melsonby has a fine range including the soft, silky, elegant Côtes de Beaune Villages 2014 (ready now, but will keep for a couple of years) at £24.19. Step up to the glorious 2008 Volnay (£32.99) for luscious fruit and depth of flavour, but allow the wine some time in the glass or a decanter before sipping it.

Bouchard Père et Fils

Another grand name of Burgundy, Bouchard Père et Fils was established in 1731, and over the centuries they have acquired significant vineyards throughout the region.  They also act as negotiant, and so some of their wines can be found in reasonable quantities.   Owned by Champagne house Henriot for the last 20 years the wines have stepped up in quality and now exhibit style, personality and generosity of fruit.

Head to Penistone Wine Cellars where there is a terrific selection including 2014 Côte de Beaune Villages at £19.68, or Hoults in Huddersfield where the gorgeous flavours of 2014 Gevrey-Chambertin are available at £39.

Domaine Maillard Père et Fils, Chorey-les-Beaune

With just 19 hectares of vineyard, and no buying in or selling of grapes, this domaine produces just 100,000 bottles of wine, which sounds like a lot until you realise that the world clamours for good grower’s Burgundy.  Run by two brothers, who do all the winemaking themselves, these wines are made in a simple, old-style way.  Handpicked grapes, natural yeasts and wines aged in their own cellar under the winery.  They have a range that goes up to a magnificent Corton Renardes, but Waitrose have the first step on the ladder – Domaine Maillard Chorey-lès-Beaune 2016 (£18.99) which has dark red-berried fruit with an edge of spice that lingers on the palate.  The 2016 vintage is still a little young, so buy some now and maybe pull the cork sometime in 2019.

Domaine Liger-Belair, Nuits St Georges

‘The moon changes tomorrow and so the weather will change.’  Thibault Liger-Belair is a young man who sounds like someone much, much older, until you look around his modern wine cellar on the edge of an industrial estate.  There are no quaint cellars here.  It is concrete all the way, designed with energy efficiency in mind.  Solar panels, heat pumps and natural cooling from air flow have all been built into the winery, while in the vineyard he operates not just as organic but biodynamic, hence the interest in the phases of the moon.  This is an old family business from the 18thcentury that went away from the vineyards and now Thibault has come back, making exceptional wine in a wholly integrated way.

He makes small amounts of excellent wine and so there is not enough to ship to shops around the country. If you want some you need to contact Berry Bros in London.  The 2014 Nuits St Georges, la Charmottes 2014 (£49 Berry Bros) is still developing in bottle, but will be fabulous.  Made with 30% whole cluster bunches which adds juiciness to the overall balance of the wine, this has serious dark red fruits, a layer of earthy spice and the tannic structure to evolve over the next 5 years.




About The Author

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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