White Burgundy (Bourgogne, to the French) is a classic for a reason. Actually, for many reasons. It’s more than Chardonnay — it’s an icon of finesse, heritage, and quality. From the limestone soils of the climats (the term Burgundians use to describe specific vineyard sites) come some of the world’s most valuable wines.
A Lay of The Land
But that’s not to say that they are all out of reach. White wines make up about 60% of the production of the overall Burgundy landscape. Most of this is Chardonnay. A touch of other varieties (mainly Aligoté) are cultivated in certain plots, but by and large white Burgundy is synonymous with Chardonnay.
Appreciating wine from the region includes an understanding of the appellation pyramid. At the top are the Grand Cru, which represent just a touch of what’s made, about 1%. In the middle there are the village appellations coming in at about half of the production. Village is split between simply village (37%) and Premier Cru (10%). Building the base for the system are the regional appellations, which make up the other almost half of the output.
Burgundy is an area that’s super rich with tradition. Wine from this region tends to be identified first by where it was grown. This is important for several reasons, and you’ll often find Burgundy aficionados consulting a map with reading glasses on, feverishly following the lines that define the appellations.
Here’s what we know about a white Burgundy, when we know where it was grown. First the terroir, the growing conditions that impact the vines. Also, in order for a wine to use the name of the appellation, the farming and production methods must meet the requirements of the appellation, such as limits on yield or harvest methods. Lastly, there is the “savoir faire” at the heart of each spot — traditions, generational wisdom, and the embrace of innovation at a certain pace.
On the High End
Let’s look at a couple of bottles to flesh out this concept. Domaine Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2013 is priced at over $3,700. This is no doubt a truly expensive wine, but it has all the things that make it worth the investment. It’s the product of one of Burgundy’s top names, and has Grand Cru status from an exceptional growing site — the holy trifecta of the Cote d’Or.
Even if money was no object, this isn’t the type of wine one buys or drinks regularly, there just isn’t enough of it. But if it fits your tastes, there are other bottles that will be very appealing. These are also classic white Burgundies, but with their own pedigrees.
Approachable Classic White Burgundy To Try
Saint-Aubin, an appellation village in the Côte de Beaune neighboring Montrachet, is home to dozens of climats that are classified as Premier Cru. We love the white wines from this spot because the breeding indicates quality. Beautiful aromatics, elegant freshness, and a balanced flesh in the mouth make these wines excellent with seafood, shellfish, and poultry.
Domaine Larue’s St-Aubin releases are an excellent example of this purity. You’ll find the vineyards just behind the famed Montrachet and Chevalier-Montrachet slope, and the Larue family is known for wines that can age and improve in the bottle, yet with a minerality and freshness that can be enjoyed young.
Chassagne-Montrachet s another place we turn to for exquisite white Burgundy at a getable price. Also in the Côte de Beaune with a more-than-fair share of Premier Cru sites, this region is responsible for bottles of stellar minerality. Aged bottles possess an opulence that persists. Salmon, stir fry, Asian foods, and poultry are all excellent pairing options.
Domaine Paul Pillot, run by 4th generation Thierry Pillot, is a great example of exceptional Chassagne-Montrachet. Known to have an eye for energy and quality, his wines have finesse, purity, and texture. His non-interventionist approach and tendency toward sustainability make this a pure option for getting to know the character of the site.
It’s worth exploring this category with an open mind. While the wine world is full of unexpected projects, the classics remain valid and open to exploration as well. A discovery approach leads to interesting producers from world-class sites, at a price that means you can bring this experience to your home.