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Top-notch white Burgundies are a relative bargain in Pa.

| Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 8:48 p.m.
JCS chisler
wine for column 5/15/13

Chardonnay, the most popular white-skinned grape, attains its zenith in a narrow sliver of land around the Burgundy villages of Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet.

There, limestone-rich soils combine with hundreds of years of collective winemaking savoir-faire to render exquisitely balanced white wines.

Always-elevated white Burgundy prices in the United States have spiked in recent years with a weak dollar and growing Asian demand. So with acclaimed white vintages such as 2010, what should Pennsylvania consumers passionate about white Burgundy do?

Thanks to savvy dealing on the part of the PLCB's French specialty buyer, Jennifer Brown, Pennsylvanians enjoy the nation's lowest prices on wines from some of white Burgundy's top producers.

A comparison usi ng www.winesearcher.com show s Pennsylvania bottle prices coming in $5 to $15 lower than prices at leading retailers such as Zachy's in New York and MacArthur Beverages in Washington, D.C.

How does the PLCB do it?

In a word, leverage. The PLCB buys more wine than any other retailer. Why not negotiate with importers to give aggressive pricing on top-end wines?

It makes perfect sense, while running counter to the current push for privatization as a means to advancing Pennsylvania consumers' interests. Eliminating the PLCB might actually result in higher white Burgundy prices. But let's not digress.

The producers available in Pennsylvania include Domaine Pierre Matrot, Domaine Ramonet and Domaine Michel Niellon.

“It represents an all-star line of white Burgundy makers,” says Don Dombrosky, a Pittsburgh-based sommelier and bartender who spent 10 years selling top wines at New York City's The River Café.

So what makes white Burgundy so irresistible?

“The best examples are complex and rich without being forceful,” Dombrosky says. “They are just so delicious and great with food.”

The village of Meursault unfurls around a small hill crowned by a bustling, well-kept central square bracketed by City Hall, various shops and restaurants and the village church. While ambassador to France, Thomas Jefferson visited and fell head over heels for the now-famous Meursault “Goutte D'Or” Premier Cru white.

Today, winegrower Thierry Matrot works as a third-generation producer out of a snug home and wine cellar down the hill from the church. He tends just over 40 acres of vineyards spread throughout Meursault and neighboring terroirs.

As a traditionalist, Matrot works to express each vineyard's distinct subtle traits and differences. As such, he eschews finishing the wines with excessive oak-barrel aging prior to bottling.

For example, the 2010 Pierre Matrot Meursault, France (Luxury 31490; $40.99) unfolds without a hint of new oak. As a blend of fruit from 11 distinct vineyards, it offers an affordable introduction to Meursault's classic charms.

The golden color offers complex baked-apple, citrus and honey aromas. Ripe citrus, pear and pineapple flavors layer with zesty, refreshing acidity and mineral notes. The finish — at once ripe and round, yet dry — lingers beautifully. Highly recommended.

Just down the road in the village of Chassagne-Montrachet, winegrower Noël Ramonet carries on traditions of excellence handed down by his legendary grandfather, the late Pierre Ramonet.

The excellent 2010 Domaine Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet, France (Luxury 31176; $48.99, available at the Penn Circle store) bears Noël's exuberant stamp. Fresh, bursting citrus aromas and pleasant vanilla notes open into succulent fruity flavors. Razor-sharp acidity frames the fruity, yet elegantly dry, finish. Highly Recommended.

Finally, the immensely talented and engaging Michel Niellon drives a World War II-vintage jeep while producing miniscule amounts of exquisitely rich and complex Chassagne-Montrachet. His delicious 2010 Domaine Michel Niellon Chassagne-Montrachet “Champsgain” Premier Cru, France (Luxury 31134; $74.99, available at Penn Circle and Wexford stores) illustrates perfectly with ample flavors and seamless balance. Recommended.

Dave DeSimone is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at ddesimone@tribweb.com.

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