Sommeliers love burgundy. they love its finesse and elegance, the depth and complexity of its aromas and flavors; they love how transparently it expresses the place where it was grown, and how effortlessly it pairs with food. In fact, some sommeliers love Burgundy so much that they’re making wine there (albeit in partnership with investors—not surprising, considering that a single acre of a premier cru Burgundy vineyard might run $800,000).
This wine that inspires so much passion comes from a single strip of land that lies between Lyon and Dijon in France. The heart of the region, the appropriately named Côte d’Or (Golden Slope), is a narrow, 30-mile-long sliver with the pretty town of Beaune as its center. The vineyards here—Chardonnay for white Burgundy, Pinot Noir for red—rise in a gentle slope from the RN 74 highway to the eastern edge of the Morvan hills.
Great Burgundies are among the world’s most complex wines, so their attributes are difficult to sum up. But to generalize a little, fruit character runs from raspberries to black cherries in reds, and from green apples to pears to white peaches in whites. Red or white, delicate or robust, Burgundies typically have brighter acidity than American Chardonnays or Pinot Noirs, and less overt ripeness.
Because of its reputation and relative scarcity, Burgundy is expensive. Basic bottlings rarely cost less than $20 or so; at the top of the scale, a single bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti might set you back about $5,000. This is why a terrific premier cru for $70 may actually be a very good value. Also, Burgundy prices fluctuate with the reputation of the vintage. In terms of shopping now, wines from the amazing 2005 vintage are currently mostly in stores (some premier and grand cru reds will arrive this fall). But don’t forget 2004—it offers particularly lovely whites, at lower prices overall.
2005 Jean-Marc Millot Côte de Nuits-Villages Clos des Faulques ($22)
This generous, kirsch-scented, succulent red comes from the small Clos des Faulques vineyard, named for the beech trees believed to have grown here centuries ago.
2004 Louis Jadot Santenay Clos de Malte Blanc ($25)
The wall-encircled Clos de Malte vineyard (clos means enclosed), owned by Jadot since 1993, produces this broad, rich white that recalls pears and honeysuckle.
2005 Paul Pernot Bourgogne Blanc ($21)
Paul Pernot is renowned for his premier cru Puligny whites; this lime-scented Bourgogne Blanc is largely sourced from the sections of his Puligny vineyards that lie along the Meursault border.
2005 Bouchard Père & Fils Aloxe-Corton ($50)
Bouchard Père & Fils is best known for its fine domaine bottlings, like Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus, but it also makes superb village wines, like this brawny, black raspberry-flavored red.