What is wonderful about wine from Burgundy is the same thing that makes life worth living: unpredictability. Not knowing what you’ll get is the thrill, even if adventures can be expensive… sometimes.
Burgundy whites are the original expression of the famous Chardonnay grape. But these classic wines also seem, for those of us fully subject to their charms, to capture the contradictions in nature itself. They are delicate yet powerful wines, fresh yet mouth-filling and deep. The fruit can seem simple, almost ‘pretty’ in one moment, but the next sniff reveals unbounded complexity and nuance. Burgundy is commonly described by two words – ‘ethereal’ and ‘earthy’ – and the puzzle of this great region is how such contrary terms come to belong together so well.
And there is paradox too in the unpredictability. Because of all regions, Burgundy is where every inch of the landscape is codified, researched, and steeped in wine folklore. This is the very place where one row of vines makes these flavours – according to locals and experts – while the next rows are known, since time immemorial, to make others.
So predictability and constant variation also make sense together, somehow, in Burgundy. Maybe it’s a case of the more we know about a place and style, the more we come to expect… and the more the differences from producer to producer, vintage to vintage, become interesting.
But being a marginal climate susceptible to hail and disease – with prices steadily going through the roof – the charm of variation is becoming too hazardous for many people’s tastes – and budgets. How do we secure that lovely Burgundy experience without spending a fortune? The answer is simple and – as in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – it is a number: 2014.
Reviewer Antonio Galloni had ringside seats to this wonderful vintage: “Two thousand fourteen appears to be a very good, classic crop of concentrated, fleshy wines that will offer good early appeal and age well. In my cellar visits in late spring, a few growers compared the 2014s to their 2010s in tautness, noting that the 2014s can possess even purer fruit.
Galloni compares 2014 favourably to the great 2010 – the last vintage Burgundy-lovers can rave about. Our 2010’s are highly rated, with legends as well as entry and mid-level wines drinking superbly (if only we had lots left to sell). But with the 2014s offering even “purer fruit”, this promises to add clarity of expression to an already extremely fine, refreshing, age-worthy and mineral-rich style.
While reds in 2014 have promise too – from expert producers – the whites are consistently stellar. Ordinary Burgundy lovers will note with pleasure what Allen Meadows had to say: “One of the other major attributes of the 2014 white burgundy vintage is that it is excellent from top to bottom. As such there are lower level wines that would make fine, and relatively inexpensive choices.”
Jancis Robinson is even more enthusiastic: “The lesser 2014 white burgundies are just starting to show well, and this was a superb vintage for them – generally more exciting for whites than the riper 2015 vintage that resulted in fatter wines.”
So in this beautiful year, the full experience is captured by even modest-priced examples. And the vintage style makes them approachable early. Like now.
The delicious conditions of 2014 are on show across an impressive range, starting with a real staff favourite. For only $33.99 the Rully Blanc from Bouchard offers lovely body and brightness along with a slightly steely mineral freshness. This is a classic Burgundy in style, but under a humble village label – and price – it is exceptional value.
Likewise the vibrant Chardonnays from the Macon in the South. The Bouchard Saint-Veran is a beautiful village wine for only $33.99. In nearby Pouilly-Fuisse the glory goes to the remarkable wines of Ferret, with vineyards near the limestone escarpment of Solutré – where soils are very much like Burgundy’s most legendary sites. Their range includes single vineyard bottlings, naturally, but it begins at only $49.99 with an ‘estate’ Pouilly-Fuisse in which taught green apple and bright citrus are currently deciding whether their lives would be better spent offering intense refreshment now, or fattening out with age – like most of us. This delicious debate is framed by notions of nutty cedar, as the local tradition for using oak expresses itself in a suitably classy way.
In the very north of Burgundy – a few miles above Gevrey-Chambertin – is an area called Marsannay where the offerings include plump, floral Chardonnays. Jadot’s is a fine example ($44.99) and is sourced in fact from special fruit, with the clonal mutation in this vineyard giving extra body.
Bouchard’s Beaune du Chateau is a proper Premier Cru wine, from an area synonymous with Chardonnay and home to the most famous Grand Crus. The ripe fruit is added to here by a fine, herbal, mineral structure which recommends cellaring.
Finally, also from the Cotes de Beaune, the amazing Saint-Aubin from Bouchard sits at the high end of the ‘inexpensive’ category – at $59.99. Yet it is really a super-cheap outcrop of the region’s very finest. You see, the village of Saint-Aubin is literally next door to the most sought-after Chardonnay vineyards in the world – those of Puligny and Chassagne-Montrachet, with Meursault just a little farther down the road. Yet the wine potential in Saint-Aubin is just beginning to be exploited, despite the fact that most of its vineyards are Premier Cru rated – like this Bouchard.
And according to experts like Jancis Robinson, Saint-Aubin is not only making nice wines but – get this – rising to the very highest echelon. This is partly thanks to the new ripeness made possible by global warming. In her own words: “St-Aubin, once regarded as definitively inferior to the most famous white-wine villages Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet, should now be regarded as virtually their equal. Many is the fine white from St-Aubin nowadays but prices have yet to catch up.”
The equal of Puligny-Montrachet for only $50 something? Well, let’s just say that Saint-Aubin is a white Burgundy to know about. And to collect now, before prices rise…
Between this developing legend and our cheap staff favourite from Rully – and all the others in between – the whites of 2014 offer to transport you to Burgundy for a very pleasant price. Broad and ripe, yet refined and fresh, these classic whites convey the paradox and perfection of a timeless style.
As serious aperitif or accompaniment to some proper fish, poultry or pork, a Burgundy Chardonnay is worth waiting decades for. But how nice if you don’t have to? In the approachable whites of Burgundy 2014, the answer to the universe is made clear. Don’t delay – dive in. Everything you’ve been waiting for is right here, right now.