Part 1: Finding Value in White Burgundy

Part 1: Finding Value in White Burgundy

No, not click bait. There is value to be found in Burgundy.
Here are a couple of tips on where to look.

By Tom Prior.

I had my first trip to Burgundy last year as part of the Radford Dale Imports team, and with Alex Dale as our guide. Alex grew up and worked in Burgundy ahead of relocating to SA in the mid90s. Since moving to the Cape, he has imported the wines of the region to our shores and spends a couple of months there each year to sample wines before curating each intake.

If it all sounds like fun, it is, as numerous visits see us catching up with his old mates. Familiar banter fills the cool of the cellar walls, the samples flow at pace, and the occasional unlabelled and heavily patinaed bottle from decades back are popped and shared. 

It’s a real treat to be a part of it.

But feet back on the ground, these trips also represent a significant time and financial commitment into ensuring the selections are on point. They are always evolving as the pace of Burgundy demands.

That selection process is worth reflecting on. Producers have never been sought for their trophy cabinets and hype from elsewhere. These are on-the-ground curations, often ahead of the press and centred around Alex’s 40 odd years love affair with the region. He’s witnessed first-hand the transformation of a region’s wines that once represented a cheap alternative to claret, to one that represents some of most aspirational buys in the world of wine today.

The most aspirational wines of Burgundy do not form part of this feature. Whilst visiting the famous vineyards and sampling rare and out of reach wines from Le Montrachet, Musigny and the like will live long in the memory (aided by plenty of selfies), these are wines I will unlikely form a relationship with. By that, I mean to put a case away and revisit periodically over years to come.

For this trip, I was equally keen to get under the skin of what Alex refers to as ‘the wines the locals drink’. Outside of the cellars, touring the bars and eateries of Burgundy with the local vigneron provided great insight. 

Here are my tips for finding value in Burgundy. 

Part 1: White Burgundy, or Chardonnay… mostly. 

Look to the Côte Chalonnaise

To the south of the infamous Côte d’Or (‘golden slopes’), lies the Côte Chalonnaise, named for the main town of Chalon-sur-Saône. The landscape here feels more rural than the Côte d’Or. More crops and grazing on show. 

It’s clearly far removed from the tourist hot spots of the Côte d’Or and in chatting among buyers of Burgundy, few seem to have heard, certainly not explored, wines from the likes of Rully and Mercurey. Importers around the world too, have largely overlooked the region. 

Away from the hype epicentre, the wines here currently represent some of the finest style to value to be found in all Burgundy.

Why? As Jancis Robinson MW notes, the reasons are shaped more by history and politics than geography. Yet the potential in the vineyard exists. 

“…their wines are generally much, much less expensive than those of the Côte d’Or but the soils and elevation are very similar, and many vineyards enjoy the same sort of aspect, facing the rising sun, as most of those on the Côte d’Or.”

Over the 19th and 20th century, the region was home to a thriving coal mining district, whose workers provided a keen and willing local market, albeit for straightforward and affordable wine. Viticulture practices prioritised tonnage over quality. Still, with an eager market on their doorstep the local vignerons were happy to oblige. But everything changed.

The full, ‘free to all’ article is available at here. 

A renaissance in the vineyards and quality of wine in the Côte Chalonnaise, has been ongoing since the 1980s and has been gathering pace. 

“...with prices rising elsewhere in the region, there’s an incentive for winegrowers to start making more ambitious wines.” Jamie Goode, Wine Anorak (writing in 2021).

In his book, Inside Burgundy: Second Edition, Jasper Morris MW suggests that the region needs a ‘locomotive’ producer or two to elevate the reputation and bring it to attention. Producers like Sadie and Mullineux come to mind in the context of the Swartland renaissance.

Now in 2020, there is a small grouping of ten domaines that are beginning to drive more interest in the region.” Among which, “Jacqueson from Rully; de Suremain and Chamirey of Mercurey… de la Ferté from Givry.”

These are names and wines you can check out at via the Radford Dale Imports website.


A Rully renaissance

Rully is top of the list and happens to sit to the very north of the Côte Chalonnaise, just 10km south from Puligny-Montrachet. For a long time, in addition to supplying the coal miners, it has been the go-to source of Chardonnay in the production of Crémant de Bourgogne, the traditional method sparkling wine of the region. Invariably, for this purpose again, tonnage typically holding priority over quality.

Today, there are independent domaine ambitious to promote the Rully AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) to the best of its potential, whilst top names up in the Côte d’Or are also investing and farming vineyard here, upholding the same virtues as in their most prized vineyard wines. 

Around two thirds of the vineyard in Rully is planted to Chardonnay, with 23 climats (vineyard) under premier cru classification. For fans of quality White Burgundy, Rully represents an oasis.


Marie & Pierre Jacqueson


Domaine P&M Jacqueson Rully 2020 (Chardonnay)

Rully based Domaine Jacqueson are a vital producer in shaping the renaissance of Rully and have long sat among the benchmark of the AOC. This was a terrific visit, an extensive tasting of barrel and bottled wines from a mosaic of domaine holdings across some 18ha, largely in Rully but also nearby Mercurey and Bouzeron. 

The domaine was founded by Henri Jacqueson in 1946, soon after Rully had received AOC designation (1939). Today, the domaine is farmed and managed by siblings Pierre and Marie.

The Rully Blanc 2020 is a blend from three village classified plots under Jacqueson. As typical of the 2020 vintage, it’s a little extrovert today, bristling with ripe green apple, lemon and quince fruit, and lashings of rocky mineral scents and subtle oak derived spice. The palate is fleshy on entry, persistent and framed by a good acid line. A brilliant entry into the Jacqueson line-up.


Jean-Michel & Anne-Laure Chartron


Domaine Jean Chartron Rully ‘Montmorin’ 2020

Domaine Jean Chartron own and farm some of the most prized vineyards of the Puligny-Montrachet AOC of the Côte de Beaune, their base, alongside Grand Cru bottlings of Bâtard-Montrachet, Corton-Charlemagne, Le Montrachet and Chevaliers-Montrachet. Curiously, they’re one of just a handful of producing domaine based in Puligny-Montrachet, a result of the high-water table necessitating the need for an above ground winery. They have produced the ‘Montmorin’ since the 1980s and hold the Rully AOC in high favour.

Flinty, with refreshing green apple, white fruit and lemon, whilst the palate is taut, textural and fine. As with the Jacqueson, there’s the sense on drinking it that you’ve arrived at Burgundy’s point of difference in Chardonnay. Real class.


Sabine Mollard, Domaine Marc Morey


Domaine Marc Morey Rully Blanc 2020

We’ve long imported the wines of Domaine Marc Morey in Chassagne-Montrachet. Owner and vigneron Sabine Mollard, quietly goes about producing some of the most exhilarating Chassagne-Montrachet vineyard bottlings to be found, while their Rully bottling from old Chardonnay vines has been a favourite among our industry peers year on year.

There’s a winning stylistic thread running through the wines of Marc Morey. Crystaline, ripe yellow fruit with lime, a twist of orange pith and white flowers. The palate is both generous and tense, supported by attractive and deftly judged oak. It would embarrass many a Burgundy commanding twice the price. A case of buy the producer.


Amaury Devillard, Chateau de Chamirey & Alex Dale


Mercurey, the ‘Golden Valley’

We’ll touch more on Mercurey based Château de Chamirey when discussing value in red Burgundy. Here, Pinot Noir contributes around 80% of wine production in Mercurey. It is by far the largest AOC of the Côte Chalonnaise, and the region was once referred to as the ‘Région de Mercurey. So named for the Roman messenger deity of trade. 

Whilst Chardonnay accounts for just 10% of wine production in Mercurey, they are hard to ignore. The current intake from Chamirey sees the arrival of the 2021 vintage, which was a disaster for yield across Burgundy, owing to Spring frost and disease pressure building up to harvest. For quality wine, extensive grape sorting also required. Reports of a drop in yield of 50-70% crop were commonplace, and the cellars of the 2021 vintage saw filled barrels scarce and often stacked to a lowly single level in the cellar. Such a low crop sees notable price hikes for 2021, so the challenge to find value is further heightened. Fortunately, those percentage increases are less apparent here in the Côte Chalonnaise.

The resulting wines from 2021 will be a welcome stylistic return to those enjoying restraint, a degree or two less alcohol, and a coolness of fruit in the wines of Burgundy, following a trio of warm vintages in 2018, 2019 and 2020. 


Château de Chamirey Mercurey Blanc 2021 

Château de Chamirey Mercurey En Pierrelet 2021 

For the whites, malic acid levels in the grapes were the highest since 2014, contributing freshness and vitality. On the part of Chamirey, they adapted brilliantly to the conditions, taking the decision to employ natural ferments across the board, vigorous grape sorting and opting for less use of new oak in the maturation of the wines. The Chardonnays have a clarity, transparency of place and pitch perfect mid palate weight.

The Mercurey Blanc 2021 comes in from seven plots across the AOC, expressive and characterful in peach and green apple, whilst the ‘En Pierrelet’ is sourced from a 1ha plot directly behind the Château. There’s a higher concentration of limestone in the soils of the ‘En Pierrelet’, with the surface covered in small white stones. Similarly expressive, carried by citrus and a little more chiselled in texture.

The other white of Burgundy!

Domaine P&M Jacqueson Bouzeron ‘Les Cordères’ 2022 

I finished my intro with ‘Chardonnay… mostly’ and if I have held your attention this far, this is why. The ‘Les Cordères’ is a bottling from that other white Burgundy varietal, Aligoté. I’m always keen on an underdog story, and this fits the bill nicely. 

It’s a varietal increasingly popular with the younger vigneron of Burgundy, with fruit particularly sought-after from very old vineyards. However, for the most part it is classified as humble ‘Bourgogne’, as the best terroirs in Burgundy give overwhelming priority to Chardonnay vines.

Here in Bouzeron however, Aligoté rules supreme, occupying the favoured slopes of the AOC, where the grapes ripen to a golden hued berry. As a result, Bouzeron is the only recognised AOC for Aligoté, so village distinction features on the label.

It will be fascinating to see in years to come, whether the varietal will see favour elsewhere in Burgundy. Aligoté has a naturally higher acidity to Chardonnay, and as the climate warms, it is increasingly presenting a case for more of the spotlight.

On flavour profile, there are some similarities between Aligoté and Chardonnay, with the former usually a little more tart in fruit expression. However, the Bouzeron ‘Les Cordères’ by Jacqueson is restrained in the best sense, with a coolness fruit and freshness that conceal the heat of 2022. It’s a convincing expression, with a thrilling acid line and hard to put down. The wine is sourced from a parcel of old vines planted in 1937. Serious Aligoté with excellent potential.

“The 2022 Bouzeron Les Cordères has a brisk and breezy bouquet with light Granny Smith apple and limestone scents. The palate is well balanced with a light, sour-lemon- and ginger-tinged entry, modest weight and a lively but approachable finish. Delightful.” Neal Martin, Vinous


Camille Paquet, Domaine Famille Paquet


Dig deeper into the Mâconnais

It’s a bit of a drive (some 80km) on from the north of the Côte Chalonnaise south to Davayé, the home of Domaine Famille Paquet. Here, you are now far closer to the Crus of northern Beaujolais than the Côte d’Or. It’s notably warmer, with Chardonnay fruit expression (as a sweeping statement), showing more open knit stone fruit character and florals.

Chardonnay in the Mâconnais can conjure up a reputation for fairly simple, blousy wines, tropical in fruit and short on length. However, there are some excellent wines and terroirs here to discover, and a top tip is to seek out local, specialist and independent producers who hang their hat on the quality of wine here.

A reference point example of this can be found in Domaine Famille Paquet. The domaine was founded in 1980 by Jocelyne and Michel Paquet under the name Domaine des Valanges. Today it is run by their three sons, Jean-Baptiste, Mathieu and Camille.

Smart, conscientious and ambitious, the Paquet bros, since 2014, have implemented a programme of improvements in their viticultural and cellar practices to such an extent, that that they felt a change of name was necessary to represent the elevation in the wines. Hence, from 2019 the Domaine is renamed to Famille-Paquet.

Farming is in conversion to organic, and their approach in the cellar has become less interventionist. They work with low additions, and no longer move grapes and juice via pumps, but gently via gravity. The winery has also seen a significant investment. Each plot is worked by hand and the fermentations carried out with indigenous yeasts.

It's a region in ascendance, with the headline coming with the 2020 vintage, and the first premier cru classifications awarded to the Mâconnais coming to market. They total 22 climats, all located in Pouilly-Fuissé, with the ‘Au Vignerais’ 1er Cru 2020 by Famille-Paquet a top example.

“.. the Mâconnais is one of my favorite assignments, one I always look forward to, perhaps now more than ever... Conferred status by the Premier Cru classification, it has the bit between its teeth, though I hope it doesn’t persuade wine-lovers to focus solely on this top tier without venturing into other appellations, not least Viré-Clessé and Saint-Véran, which both offer tremendous value-for-money.” Neal Martin, Vinous: “Moving on up: Maconnais 2021 & 2022”


Famille Paquet Saint-Véran ‘Les Cras’ 2020 

The Paquet bros produce a set of smart wines from some of the top sites in Saint-Véran. This one, ‘Les Cras’ was planted in 1987, with the site notable for the rich concentration of limestone in the soil. A total of 1.13ha and in conversion to organic certification.

It’s a beauty. Inviting aromas of lemon, orange skinned fruit, drenched in citrus and gently spiced herbs. The palate is direct, layered and with bags of energy and a little saline grip on the finish. 


Famille Paquet Pouilly-Fuissé 2020 

The Pouilly-Fuissé 2020 from Paquet, sees the inclusion of 7 domaine parcels with the commune of Solutré-Pouilly, to the west of Davayé and north and west of the Pouilly-Fuissé AOC. The vineyards were planted between 1958 and 1980, on soils ranging from clay and limestone, and loam rich in iron. 

A nose of ripe white and yellow fruit from the Mâconnais’s most recognised AOC, with a flinty minerality, a little honeysuckle and inviting oak derived spice. On the palate, it’s silky and almost full bodied on entry, and persistent. Taut and energetic on the finish, something of a hallmark in the wines of Paquet. 


See you in Part 2: Finding Value in Red Burgundy.

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