EXTREME WEATHER CONDITIONS happens so frequently these days that when a vintage is called ‘dramatic’ it almost seems trivial. Fortunately, in the case of the 2019 Burgundy vintage, the word “dramatic” is coupled with the word “great”.
The weather in Burgundy that year ranged from frost and rain to intense sunshine and prolonged dry spells. But everything was fine in the end. Indeed, the Burgundy Wine Committee used the word ‘magic’ to describe 2019 – although the same press release noted that the winemakers were stressed and tense. This struggle made the 12 bottles of Bourgogne Blanc 2019 that I bought to taste even more impressive.
While Burgundy’s four-figure grands crus could represent the pinnacle of winemaking success each year, they are only accessible to the truly wealthy. I chose the region’s simplest wine – the “basic” white Burgundy – on the assumption that it could offer a taste of a great vintage at a reasonable price. Every bottle I bought – save one – costs $ 40 or less.
“This Bourgogne Blanc is “the cheapest good wine you can buy”.“
Wines labeled Bourgogne Blanc can come from white grapes grown anywhere within the 74,260 acres of Burgundy vineyards. It can be good or bad: good because producers have a wide range of options for sourcing fruit; bad because some of these sources might be irrelevant or worse.
The Burgundy classification system is built on a hierarchy of vineyards classified at several different levels. At the top are the wines from one of the 33 grands crus. Then come the wines of the Premier Crus, much more numerous (662) and more varied too. Then come the village wines, made in a specific municipality or village. Then regional wines, such as Bourgogne Côte d’Or or simply Burgundy.
The quality of a Burgundy depends entirely on the talent of the winegrower and the quality of its original vineyard. Certain origins of the vineyard can be located in prestigious appellations such as Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault, or just outside a great appellation but still worthy of mention. For example, the famous Chablis winemaker Patrick Piuze discovered a vineyard east of Chablis named Les Boutots which he liked so much that he made it the source of his formidable 2019 Patrick Piuze “Les Boutots” Bourgogne Tonnerre ($ 26), an impressive full-bodied white with hints of citrus and stone fruit.
Winemaker Henri Boillot sources his Burgundy Blanc from vineyards “almost all at village level,” according to his Boston-based importer Robert Hurley, president of Cynthia Hurley French Wines. Burgundy Henri Boillot 2019 ($ 39) comes mainly from the vineyards of Meursault as well as Puligny-Montrachet, Saint-Romain and Auxey-Duresses. It’s a rich and beautifully balanced white with a touch of toasted oak. Another talented young producer, Joseph Colin gets his supplies in Burgundy from a vineyard in Puligny-Montrachet whose vines are almost 50 years old. His formidable Joseph Colin La Combe Bourgogne 2019 (40 $) was therefore very puligny-montrachet: intensely mineral with lively acidity and a saline note on the finish.
The 2019 Domaine Ballot Millot Bourgogne Chardonnay ($ 33) was another fine wine from a talented young producer, Charles Ballot, whose incredibly racy white also comes from the vineyards of Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet. The energetic but supple 2019 Domaine Bzikot Bourgogne Côte d’Or Chardonnay ($ 39) comes mainly from a village vineyard in Puligny-Montrachet “less than five meters” from the vineyard where the famous Domaine Leflaive sources its fruit for its Bourgogne Blanc, according to Bzikot importer Juan Prieto. Mr Prieto added that this Bourgogne Blanc is one of the most sought after wines that it matters. “The price has remained fair and it is excellent value for money,” he said.
At $ 100 a bottle, Domaine Leflaive Bourgogne 2019 was by far the most expensive wine of my tasting. And yet, for the co-owner and general manager of Domaine Leflaive, Brice de La Morandière, it is “the cheapest good wine you can buy”.
Leflaive Bourgogne was a beautiful, lush wine, but a bit dominated at the moment by (new) oak. This wine receives the same attention as the four-figure grands crus of the cellar. “We don’t do anything different in the cellar,” explains Mr. de La Morandière.
And yet buyers of Domaine Leflaive’s grands crus like Le Montrachet aren’t necessarily looking for a good, inexpensive wine, according to Geoffrey Troy, Burgundy expert and owner of the New York Wine Warehouse in Long Island City. “Our ultra-rich buyers are not buying Bourgogne Blanc,” he wrote in an email. “It’s below them.” He added that he found it sad. The buyers of Domaine Leflaive Bourgogne at Wine Warehouse are “low budget” wine drinkers who cannot afford the wines of Leflaive village, which cost hundreds of dollars. As one of those budget buyers, I admit the $ 100 price tag got me thinking. But if I were to spend three figures on a Burgundy, I would spend it on the Leflaive.
A few of the other wines on the tasting weren’t quite up to the mark, including a bottling from Olivier Leflaive, who left Domaine Leflaive in 1994 to start his own eponymous cellar. The Bourgogne Blanc Olivier Leflaive Les Sétilles 2019 ($ 22) was a Bourgogne Blanc different from the others: simple and pleasant and perfectly pleasant but a bit of a footnote.
This is the biggest challenge in buying a wine labeled Bourgogne Blanc: The wines are so different from one producer to another. The best wines in my tasting were an ideal combination of talent and source, and I would recommend buying as many bottles of these 2019 Bourgogne Blancs as possible. This is all the more important since there is perhaps a lot less Burgundy: as I finished reporting this column, I learned that the 2021 Burgundy harvest had been even more difficult than 2019, but without also positive results. It is perhaps one of the smallest Burgundy harvests ever recorded. How much wine is made – and how much it will cost – has not yet been known. A $ 100 Burgundy may seem cheap in retrospect.
OENOFILE / Best Values in White Burgundy
1. 2019 Patrick Piuze ‘Les Boutots’ Bourgogne Tonnerre $ 26
Montreal sommelier turned winemaker Patrick Piuze makes highly sought-after Chablis. He also produces this delicious, full-bodied and resolutely mineral white Burgundy from a vineyard located outside the enclosure of Chablis.
2. 2019 Domaine Bzikot Bourgogne Côte d’Or Chardonnay $ 39
Sylvain Bzikot’s wines are wonderfully easy to drink. This supple and mineral copy comes mainly from a vineyard called Les Houlières, near the famous Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc vineyard in Puligny-Montrachet.
3. 2019 Domaine Ballot Millot Bourgogne Chardonnay $ 33
Charles Ballot owns farms in several key vineyards in Meursault. It draws its Burgundy, a lively and balanced wine, from both Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet. It is excellent value for money.
4. 2019 Henri Boillot Burgundy $ 39
Meursault winemaker Henri Boillot sources fruit for this rich and full-bodied wine mainly in Meursault as well as in Puligny-Montrachet, Saint-Romain and Auxey-Duresses. It’s a lush, flavorful white made in a powerful style.
5. 2019 Joseph Colin La Combe Burgundy 40 $
Joseph Colin worked with his father, Marc Colin, on his estate before going on his own five years ago. This wine, made using certain biodynamic techniques, is very energetic, pure and precise.
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