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Burgundy Is a World Apart

Two weeks ago, we wrote about the joy of drinking the red wines from Bordeaux during colder months. As promised, this week we’ll address the value of the red wines – older and current release – from Burgundy.

Burgundy is a world apart from Bordeaux, not just in distance but culturally as well. Bordeaux, which favors cabernet sauvignon and merlot in its blends, is a warmer growing region with the cool, maritime influence of the Atlantic Ocean. Burgundy to the east is much farther inland and is more influenced by mountains.

The unblended chardonnay and pinot noir, which prefer cool climates, dominate viticulture in this region except for gamay in the southern most appellation of Beaujolais.

Burgundy’s grape growing area, dominated by small growers, is only 25 percent of Bordeaux’s viticulture area. However, Burgundy hosts 100 appellations compared to Bordeaux’s 57. Complicating things further, many vineyards in Burgundy have multiple owners with some owning only a few rows of vines, especially in some of the more prestigious vineyards.

Burgundy is also known for producing the most expensive wines in the world. A recent tally shows Burgundy wines occupying 7 out of the top 10 most expensive wines in the world. A bottle of red Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Romanee-Conti Grand Cru recently sold at auction for more than $500,000; a bottle of the white Domaine Romanee-Conti Montrachet clocked in at $108,000.

While eye-popping prices are common in Burgundy, there is still a good amount of value-priced red and white wines from this region. We reviewed many of these wines in a recent column. Today we will make some recommendations on some older red vintages as well as comment on some of the more recent releases as well.

Aged red Burgundy is tough to find on retail shelves but occasionally older vintages show up as current releases in finer wine shops. Notifying your local wine emporium of your interest can potentially ease your search.

Older burgundies take on a complex ethereal mélange of cherries, mushrooms, leather, and truffles that in our experience is unique to this region. We have found excellent examples in the past year or so and at prices that surprised us. Domaine Menard Mercurey 1er Cru 2005, and Pierre Bouree Fils Santenay 1er Cru Les Gravieres 2001, are two examples of older vintages that we stumbled on. Both were priced around $50 -- not bad for premier cru burgundy that is more than 15 years old.

We also opened several 2004 selections from Bernard Dugat-Py Gevrey Chambertin that offered a terrific, aged burgundy experience, albeit at higher prices. In general, look for red burgundy from the 2001- 2005 vintages for mature wine.

We also enjoyed a 2016 Bouchard Beaune Du Chateau Premier Cru Cote de Beaune ($45). This is a very well-balanced red Burgundy. Medium bodied with perfect balancing acidity, and ample fruit leaning toward a cherry and plum nose and palate.

As we have pointed out in the past, red burgundy from some of the less celebrated appellations can provide terrific drinking often at reasonable prices. Marsannay, Givry, Mercurey, Santenay, Montagny, Rully, Maconnais and Maranges are worth seeking out for the budget-conscious burgundy aficionados.

Like Bordeaux, Burgundy is on a hot streak for the past five vintages (2012-2016) with only the Cotes de Beaune reds from 2013 slightly failing to excel. Some recent wines that we have enjoyed are P&M Jacqueson Rully Les Chaponnieres 2015 ($39), Domaine Maurice Protheau Chateau D’Etroyes Mercurey 1er Cru Les Clos l’Eveque 2015 ($40), Phillipe Milan & Fils Maranges 2017 ($25), as well as any Domaine Maurice Charleux & Fils 1er Cru Maranges from either 2015 or 2016 ($30-40).

Another option for consumers wishing to explore Burgundy is to start with a wine simply labeled “Bourgogne,” which will feature pinot noir grapes from anywhere in Burgundy. Find a burgundy expert in a fine wine store and consider his or her recommendations. Bourgogne is a great introduction to Burgundy and many producers offer examples in the $25 and up range that will give you an introductory experience of what all the excitement in Burgundy is all about.

Virtual wine tastings

More and more wineries and clubs are getting into the virtual wine tastings as we hunker down in our homes with a nice bottle of wine. Sales of online alcohol have more than doubled and even the higher-priced wines are showing better numbers. Here are a few wine experiences we just learned about:

  • Segura Viudas is offering a bottle of its cava to enjoy while taking a virtual tour of The Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid. Order the wine through

  • Oceano recommends its pinot noir and chardonnay while live streaming performances from The Metropolitan Opera. Its owners Rachel Martin and Kurt Deutsch are as passionate about opera as they are about wine.

  • Far Niente and Nickel & Nickel are using Zoom to set up private or group virtual tastings for those who ship their wines to homes.

  • Hamel Family Wines are selling “At Home with Hamel Family Wines,” a virtual tasting experience led by a professional via Zoom or FaceTime. Several packages of wine ranging from $200 to $375 are being offered at its web site.

  • JUSTIN and Landmark Vineyards are also offering virtual tastings with sommelier Jim Gerakaris.

  • St. Supery Winery is offering online classes with a focus on merlot.

  • Gary Farrell is focusing on its terrific Russian River Valley pinot noir. You need to make a reservation at its web site.

Wine picks

  • Ryder Estate Sauvignon Blanc Central Coast 2018 ($17). A softer, consumer-friendly style of California sauvignon blanc offering tropical fruit elements, particularly pineapple, with just a hint of citrus and mild acidity. Sort of the opposite of the very popular New Zealand take on sauvignon blanc.

  • Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard Elder Hill Grenache McLaren Vale 2016 ($95). Harvested from a bush vine grenache vineyard planted in 1962. Very deep and intense nose and flavors of black raspberry with some black pepper notes. Very long in the mouth this is delicious grenache experience.

  • Chalk Hill Estate Chardonnay Chalk Hill Sonoma County 2016 ($42). Classic full-bore Sonoma County chardonnay. Beautiful notes of ripe tropical fruit and apples with an elegant toasty oak robe. Try with boldly flavored chicken in a cream sauce.

  • Anaba Wines Bismark Vineyard Syrah 2016 ($48). From the Moon Mountain district of Sonoma County, this lush syrah has black berries, black cherries and chocolate notes.

  • Public Radio Paso Robles Red Wine 2016 ($30). Grounded Wine Company has a winner with this luxuriously rich blend of grenache, syrah and petite sirah. Bold plum and cherry flavors with a dash of cinnamon.

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