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December 1, 2011

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Budget Burgundy whites

BUDGET Burgundies is considered by many an oxymoron. The beauty and style of the best Burgundy wines from the distinguished villages of the Cote d'Or make them some of the best and most prized wines in the world. Many wine lovers consider the Grand and Premier Cru white wines of Cote de Beaune, the area that comprises the southern half of Cots d'Or, to be the finest of all white wines. They also command great prices. But are all good white Burgundies costly?

While in Burgundy last month I tasted some wonderful inexpensive white Burgundies but, alas, many of these wines are not available in China. The good news is that a few can be found in this market. My mission this week is to disprove the pervasive concept that all good Burgundy whites will leave you in the poor house.

In fact, finding reasonably priced, good quality whites from Burgundy is easier than finding good value reds. When beginning your quest for good value white Burgundies there are two words you should remember, Bourgogne and Macon.

Bourgogne AC

When you see the French word for Burgundy, Bourgogne, on the label it means the grapes can be sourced from anywhere within the Burgundy AC. Bourgogne AC wines account for over 50 percent of all the wines made in the region. Often the label will have the words Bourgogne Chardonnay if it's a white and Pinot Noir if it's a red. In this basic classification of Burgundy wines the quality of wines ranges from undistinguished to charming. The key is to pick a good producer.

Some of my favorite Bourgogne Chardonnay from large producers are Louis Jadot, Joseph Drouhin and Louis Latour. Smaller producers with very good Bourgogne Chardonnay wines are Domaine de Montille, Domaine Rougeot and Pierre Andre. The Domaine Rougeot Bourgogne Les Grandes Gouttes in particular stands out. I enjoyed a 2010 vintage of this wine with friends at the Spanish Restaurant Martins last week and everyone including our sommelier was amazed how such a reasonably priced Burgundy white could offer so much elegant fresh fruit and persistence on the palate. If you still think all Bourgogne Chardonnays will disappoint, this wine will prove you wrong.

Another white wine in the Bourgogne category is Bourgogne Aligote. The Aligote grape is a more humble grape than the noble Chardonnay but in the right hands it can make very fresh and clean wines that are perfect by themselves as an aperitif or paired with light dishes. The bracing acidity of Aligote wines makes them special while a lack of fruit can make them ordinary. The best producers of Aligote wines achieve a good balance between fruit and acidity. Some of my favorite producers of Aligote wines that are available in Shanghai are Roux Pere et Fils and Faiveley.

AOC Bourgogne wines may also have a sub-regional designation, for instance Bourgogne Hauts-Cotes-de-Beaune, Bourgogne Hauts-Cotes-de-Nuits or Bourgogne Macon Villages meaning that fruit was sourced from these areas of Burgundy. In general, the quality level of these wines are between Bourgogne AC and Village AC wines.

Macon ACs

Located in southern Burgundy between Cote Chalonnaise to the north and Beaujolais to the south, Macon is a large area with some notable villages and regional AC wines. For many years the wines of Macon were best avoided as unscrupulous producers used high yields and even less ethical methods to turn out pretty awful wines. The past 10 to 15 years has seen improvement in quality. In increasing levels of quality the appellations of this region are Macon AC, Macon Superieur AC and Macon-Villages AC. Macon also has several villages that make notable wines. The most famous, and expensive, come from Pouilly-Fuisse but the villages of Pouilly-Loche, Pouilly-Vinzelles and Vire-Clesse also often make good wines. But for budget shoppers it's best to seek out the wines of the three Macon AC appellations.

Be selective with the basic Macon AC wines as some producers still have excessively high yields that result in insipid and dull wines. The Macon Superieur AC denotes wines with at least 11 percent alcohol compared to the 10 percent minimum requirement for Macon AC wines. There are 43 villages in Macon that are allowed to use Macon-Villages on the label and these wines are the most reliable of the three Macon AC usually offering very good price-quality ratios.

Aperitif & Food Friendly

By nature the Bourgogne Chardonnay, Bourgogne Aligote and Macon whites are fresh, clean in the mouth and not overly sophisticated, making them perfect for a before dinner drink. The Bourgogne Aligote is the classic white wine used to make the famous Kir cocktail as its rather lean qualities are perfectly complemented by the sweet and fruity cassis liquor. A properly made Kir is one of the best ways to prepare your palate for a good meal with serious wines to follow.

The good acidity in the aforementioned styles of Burgundy whites also makes them very versatile in food pairing. This versatility in matching foods ranges from light appetizers and salads to more substantial seafood and white meat dishes.

Three dishes that are perfect with these wines are Taiwanese-style mullet roe, Mediterranean squid with garlic and parsley and Sicilian tuna steak with tomato sauce. In all three cases the acidity of the wines awakens the freshness of the seafood while emphasizing the finest taste and texture attributes.

When buying budget-beating Burgundy whites it's important to select a recent vintage. These wines are best enjoyed young when they still retain all their freshness and fruity exuberance. Don't buy anything older than the 2008 vintage and remember to serve the wines well-chilled, about 8 Celsius.

Joseph Drouhin Macon-Villages, 2010
Region: Macon, Burgundy
Variety: Chardonnay
Aging method/Potential: 6-8 months in stainless steel vats/drink now or within 2 years
Serving & food pairing: serve at 8-10°C; lovely as an aperitif or with salads or seafood
Price/Importer: 182 yuan / Torres
Body: Dry/Sweet:

well-made Macon-Village white wine with bright golden yellow color, aromas and flavors of citrus fruit, peaches and flowers and a palate-pleasing lean acidity that evolves into a nicely persistent clean finish

Roux Pere & Fils Bourgogne Aligote, 2010
Region: Burgundy
Variety: Aligoté
Aging Method/Potential: no oak/drink now or within 5 years
Serving & food pairing: serve at 8°C; great by itself before dinner or used to made a Kir cocktail, this wine is also very good with raw seafood and salads
Price/Importer: 247yuan / EMW

fresh and lively wine made of the distinctive Aligote variety, this wine has a pale yellow color, expressive nose of white flowers and citrus fruit and bracingly dry and stimulating white and yellow fruit flavors with mineral notes

Louis Jadot Macon-Villages Blanc, 2009
Region: Macon , Burgundy
Variety: Chardonnay
Aging method/Potential: no oak/drink now or within 2-3 years
Serving & food pairing: serve at 8 °C; match with many styles of seafood including richly sauced Shanghai-style stewed fish
Price/Importer: 230 yuan / ASC
Body: Dry/Sweet:

good example of a balanced Macon-Village wine with pale golden yellow color, yellow fruit and floral nose and pleasant lemon and other citrus flavors and nice clean finish

Domaine Rougeot Bourgogne "Les Grandes Gouttes", 2009
Region: Cote de Beaune, Burgundy
Variety: Chardonnay
Aging method/Potential: maturation in oak barrels for 12 month with 10% new oak/enjoy now or over the next 4-5 years
Serving & food pairing: Serve at 8-10°C; fine match with many types of shellfish, fish and white meats
Price/Importer: 249 yuan / Altavis

one of the best Bourgogne level whites available in China, this wine features pale yellow color with green hints, a lively nose of citrus fruit and white flowers and beautifully balanced fresh white and yellow fruit flavors and fresh acidity


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