“Remember gentlemen,” Winston Churchill once told his cabinet, “it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne.” Though no one may yet have matched Churchill’s enthusiasm for the stuff, Champagne continues to grow in popularity each year. Last summer we added our very first grower Champagne producer, and have since struggled mightily to keep it in stock.
As fashion has changed, dessert wines have faded from collectors’ inventories. But no serious cellar is complete without them. We think everyone — even casual wine enthusiasts — should have at least one dessert wine in their arsenal; and if it’s going to be just one, it should be Sauternes.
Winemakers in Burgundy often struggle with the weather -- between hailstorms, vine maladies, and rain, it’s surprising wine gets made there at all. But two hours south in the Rhône Valley, things are (quite literally) much sunnier. The winemakers of the Rhône are blessed with abundant sun, disease resistant sandy soils, hearty vines, and a healthy north wind called the Mistral.
White Burgundy is a near-perfect food wine. With the possible exception of Riesling, no wine goes so well with so many different dishes. Bottles from famous producers can run well past $100 per bottle, but you don’t have to spend top dollar for delicious, classic white Burgundy.
Careful aging does fascinating things to a bottle of wine. Tannins soften, ripe fruits turn to cooked, and the palate adds fascinating secondary notes: mushrooms, underbrush, nuts, and tobacco. Not all wines require aging to reach their potential, but for those that do, there’s no substitute for time.
If enjoying life were an olympic sport, the French would certainly be on the medal stand. (Italy might well win the gold, but it’d be a photo finish.) Particularly in the south, things seem to move just a bit more leisurely. With warm sun and a cool dry breeze at your back, the bustle of Paris up north seems futile and far away.
Meursault is one of the oldest villages in Burgundy. The monks of Citeaux first planted vineyards here in 1098, and over the last 900 years the wines of Meursault have developed a reputation as some of the finest in the world. They were favorites of Thomas Jefferson, and today grace the wine lists and Instagram feeds of the celebrity sommelier class.
Sparkling wine is one of the culinary world’s most interesting creations. Many compete for the credit: the monks of Limoux in the South of France claim 1531 as the date of genesis; the Champenois, with their stories of widows and Benedictine monks, have certainly won the publicity war; and even the Brits, who invented glass thick enough to contain the pressure, stake a claim in the world of bubbles.
Burgundy isn’t always the most accessible of wines. The classification system is confusing, many bottles need cellaring, food pairing can be tricky, and there’s often a hefty entry fee. So we’re are always on the lookout for entry-level Burgundy — wine that drinks well young and that won’t break the bank.
Beside Chablis, the best secret in a white Burgundy lover’s cellar is his stash of St. Aubin. The village is easy to miss, wedged in a valley between Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet. And though it rightly plays second fiddle to these two giants, it’s still a source for what wine writer Rajat Parr calls “some of the best-value Chardonnays in the world.”
Burgundy is expensive and luxurious by reputation. And with high demand and small supply, the number of Burgundies breaking the $100 per bottle threshold grows every year. We’re always on the hunt for honest, complex red Burgundy that won’t require a second mortgage.
For the careful shopper, the Languedoc can be an abundant resource. Long deserving its reputation for mediocrity, the region has only recently become a source of value. There’s still plenty of bad wine made in the vast region, but if you make good choices, $13 will take you farther here than just about anywhere else.
Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, and Chassagne-Montrachet get most of the white Burgundy press. But surrounding towns can offer excellent value. Many whites from St-Aubin and Santenay punch way above their weight, as does today’s white Burgundy from Auxey Duresses.
The idea of value is extremely subjective when it comes to wine. A $60 bottle of Burgundy might seem a steal to some, an extravagance to others. But nearly everyone agrees that Muscadet is just about the best bargain going.
Wine classification can be confusing — categorization changes dramatically from one region to another. The Old World tends to identify wines by place, while the New World tends to use grape varietal. It seems a minor shift, but it has important implications for the way people perceive wines.