The modern era of organic winemaking dates to the 1970s when winemakers began to realize that over-fertilization of vineyards was resulting in excessive crop production and poor quality. The excessive use of herbicides and pesticides contributed to a monoculture, making vines more vulnerable to disease and insect infestation.
“Puligny-Montrachet is where Burgundian Chardonnay is at its most complete,” writes Clive Coates MW. The tiny town, covering over less than one square mile, has made highly sought-after wine for nearly a thousand years. Today most consider it, as Coates puts it, “the greatest white wine commune on earth.”
Chambolle-Musigny is the essence of Burgundian grace. The wines of the town embody the elegant, silky side of Pinot Noir, a continent away from New World, warm climate versions. Though it’s a village of 320 inhabitants on less than 500 acres, this tiny town produces some of the most ethereal and sought-after red wine in the world.
At the start of every tasting, Rhône winemaker Denis Basset gives us small taste of white. “Just to set the palate,” he explains, before continuing on to his rich, syrah-based reds. The white is always lovely -- floral and fresh, beautifully expressive, and a perfect way to start a tasting. And every year, when we ask how much we can buy, he smiles and shakes his head. (Loyal local restaurants are to blame).
Weather plays an enormous role in shaping a vintage. In Burgundy four of the most recent five vintages were stunted by various meteorological maladies -- hail, rain, unusually warm weather, unusually cool weather, vine disease, and rot, to name a few. Some appellations saw their yields reduced by 85%.
We’ve often written about the value of Gigondas. Located 20 minutes east of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas produces wines of a similarly rich intensity as its more famous neighbor, but usually at far more affordable prices. Our longtime source in Gigondas is the Domaine les Goubert, cited as a “reference point” in the region by Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker.
“Natural wine” is a popular buzzword these days, one with varied definitions and no lack of controversy. Whatever you take it to mean — biodynamic, no sulfites, organic, unfiltered — the goal is the same: to create wine with little intervention between grape and glass.
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.”
The Northern Rhône valley is a dramatic landscape. From a look up the dizzying slopes it seems last place in the world suited for viticulture. So steep are the hillsides that all fieldwork -- planting, pruning, treating, harvesting, etc -- must be done by hand. But winemaking here dates to Greek colonies in the 6th century BCE, several hundred years before even the Romans arrived.
Of the three great white Burgundy villages, Puligny-Montrachet most rewards patience. The other two -- Chassgane-Montrachet and Meursault -- produce wines with a richness that makes many of them drinkable early. But Puligny’s signature minerality makes longevity its strong suit.
Bordeaux is a large, diverse winegrowing region on France’s southwestern coast. Its annual production is nearly ten times that of Burgundy, and its expensive, long-lived red wines from famous chateaux dominate the region’s headlines. (We even have a few in this month’s Futures). But for the careful drinker, Bordeaux’s enormous range of wines offers some affordable, early maturing gems as well.
Most wines taste better with a meal; some really require food food to reach their full potential. But other wines are complete glasses on their own. One of our favorites in this “aperitif” category is the Auxerrois from our friends at the Domaine Mersiol in Alsace. Whether you’re welcoming guests to a dinner party, or looking for something refreshing on a late Saturday afternoon in spring, this is the perfect standalone glass of white.
Most coverage of the wines of Burgundy focuses on premier crus and grand crus, the region’s top two classification levels. But for the savvy Burgundy enthusiast, there’s no shortage of interesting wines at the village level. Often pulling from several plots inside a single town, these wines provide excellent opportunities to appreciate the character of a single village.
Much of New England has slipped behind a veil of rain this week, and the May sun feels a long way off. But the warm weekend weather drove more than a few green shoots from the soggy ground and the air seems to have turned a corner towards spring. It’s not quite rosé season, but it’s not far off either.
A properly aged bottle of wine is one of the great culinary pleasures. As the world moves at a frenetic pace and winemakers adapt to the demand for early-drinking wines, such bottles become increasingly rare. Patience and cellar space are in short supply.