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Missing affordable Burgundies? Give Bourgogne a try

Dave DeSimone
| Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

After more than a decade of a persistently weak American greenback and growing Asian demand, the notion of “Bargain Burgundies” might seem destined for the oxymoron scrapheap. Even village-level white and red wines from Burgundy's top producers routinely exceed $75 per bottle. Premier Cru and Grand Cru bottles typically surpass $125.

Just to complete the picture, the lowest — yes, lowest — advertised price for the 2010 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche Grand Cru Monopole clocks in at a staggering $2,499. Am I the only one perplexed that the retailer just couldn't take the price to an even $2,500?

At such prices, Burgundies cease being mere bottles of fermented chardonnay and pinot noir grape juice meant for enjoyment with meals and sharing with friends. Instead, they become the currency of conspicuous consumption in an insane world besotted with using wine to convey status and prestige.

For the rest of us pining for “Bargain Burgundies,” take heart by focusing on Bourgogne-designated wines. To make Bourgogne, reliable estate producers and négociants, that is, merchants who buy, ferment and finish other growers' crops, use grapes from vineyards immediately next to, but not actually in, the most prestigious appellations.

Consequently, Bourgogne wines typically lack the depth of flavor and rich, complex layers of top crus. But at their best, they offer an authentic, albeit general, reflection of Burgundy's exhilarating terroir seen through the prism of each vintage's unique personality. It adds up to sheer pleasure and tremendous food compatibility, typically for less than $25 per bottle.

The 2011 Maison Louis Jadot Bourgogne Chardonnay, France (6406; $17.99) comes from a leading négociant renowned for delivering consistently well-made wines year in and out. Their Bourgogne chardonnay blends grapes coming from the Côte d'Or and Mâconnais regions. Aging before bottling occurs in both stainless steel and oak barrels to create a lovely harmony of freshness and textures.

Apple and honey aromas mix with light earthy notes. Ripe apple and citrus flavors balance with crisp acidity, refreshing mineral notes and a dry, yet fruity finish. Pair it with chicken breast cooked in butter, white wine and minced shallot sauce. Highly recommended.

The 2010 Maison Roche de Bellene Bourgogne Chardonnay, France (Luxury 48062; $18.99) come from Nicky Potel, an omnipresent Burgundy character. He named his négociant firm Bellene after Belenos, an ancient French god of sun and beauty similar to the Greeks' Apollo.

According to Potel, modern-day Beaune, Burgundy's wine capital, took its first name during the Roman era as Belena. During the Middle Ages, it became Bellene and then Baulne until eventually its current name of “Beaune” came in to wide use.

For this wine, Potel purchases hand-picked grapes from vines averaging 65 years old. The vines grow in classic limestone and clay soils in the Côte de Beaune and Côte Chalonnaise.

After a long fermentation, the wine goes through malolactic fermentation to promote creaminess. Aging for 15 months before bottling occurs in large French-oak barrels of which only 10 percent are new wood.

Apple and honeysuckle aromas with light toasty notes unfold in the glass. Fresh citrus and apple flavors balance with light oak notes and taut acidity through the dry, elegant finish. Pair it with grilled fish steaks with a citrus sauce. Recommended.

Turning to red Burgundy, the Drouhin family offers another highly reliable and accomplished négociant wine portfolio. It includes everything from marvelous Grand Cru such as Griotte-Chambertin and Corton to more modest, yet excellent regional wines such as the 2011 Joseph Drouhin Laforêt Bourgogne Pinot Noir, France (4546; On sale: $11.49).

Véronique Drouhin, a fourth-generation family member overseeing winemaking, uses grapes taken from 12 sites spread over the Côte de Nuits and the Côte Chalonnaise. The classic clay-and-limestone soils and cool climate render delicate, aromatic fruit that Drouhin captures beautifully.

As only a portion of the wine ages in French barrels used either once or twice previously, oak influences remain well integrated in the background. Black-cherry and spicy, earthy aromas unfold to fresh raspberry and black-currant flavors. Fresh acidity and smooth tannins frame the fruity, elegant finish. Highly recommended.

Dave DeSimone writes about wine for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at ddesimone@tribweb.com.

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