First-Class White Burgundy at a Second-Class Price

"Why bother? It's only white wine."

With those unfortunate words uttered in 1939, a Burgundian vigneron, poor Jules Morey, tossed away, for himself, his children, his grandchildren, and who knows how many future generations, tens of millions of euros.

The problem lies in the arcane Burgundian system of classifying wines, and nowhere in the world is the difference in price between the wine from one vineyard and its next door neighbor greater than here.

An unofficial hierarchy of quality evolved in the region over centuries, but in the 1930s the government authorities decided to codify the system officially.

Hence the great white wine vineyard of Le Montrachet was awarded Grand Cru status, the apex—and, of course, the more expensive. The unfortunate Monsieur Mornay owned a large part of the small, adjacent vineyard Les Blanchots Dessus, which was initially granted 1er Cru rank—prestigious but not quite a Grand Cru. There was an appeal process in place but when he was urged to ask for Les Blanchots to be upgraded he uttered his fateful and costly words. You see, in those days, white wine was just not considered important, the real money was in red.

How things have changed. Today the real money, lots and lots of money, is in Grand Crus, whether white or red. So, while an acre of land in Les Blanchots Dessus is worth a respectable €1.5 million ($1.9 million), in a neighboring Grand Cru vineyard such as Bâtard Montrachet it would be four or five times that.

And a similar differential applies to the price per bottle. Les Blanchots fetches €45 ($58) ex cellar—a term to describe when wine is purchased directly from the winemaker—while the best Bâtards easily soar to €100 ($129), and Le Montrachets to €200 ($259). Poor M. Morey indeed.

However, such discrepancy in price is an arbitrage opportunity for the savvy Burgundy fan.

I recently had lunch with a group of Burgundy producers including Julie Daviot, Jules Morey's great-granddaughter—clearly the family isn't doing too badly despite their ancestor's faux pas—who told this story as we tasted some of her wines, and the Chassagne Montrachet, Les Blanchots Dessus Premier Cru 2005 ($75) really is a standout. Perhaps it lacks the overwhelming sense of power of a Le Montrachet, but it shows a wonderful delicacy and finesse that reminds me more of the feminine charms of Meursault. There's a pretty, floral quality that emerged after an hour or so, along with a subtle minerality that lingered in the glass, and on the palate, for a long, long finish.

So take advantage on Morey's costly mistake, and enjoy the wonderful Les Blanchots at a 1er Cru price.

When to Drink: Now, and for the next few years.Breathing/Decanting: A few minutes' breathing helps.Food Pairing: Fine white fish, and anything in a cream sauce.Grapes: 100% chardonnay.Appellation: Chassagne Montrachet, Les Blanchots Dessus Premier CruRegion: BurgundyCountry: FrancePrice: $75Availability: Very limited.

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