Bargain Burgundies Lurk in Region’s ’Outer Boroughs’

Burgundy bash La Paulee de New York kicked off this year with something new: affordable wines.

The annual three-day weekend, which alternates between New York and San Francisco, is famous for its $1500-a-seat finale, a bacchanal where deep-pocketed collectors splash out on rare vintages of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti while singing Burgundian drinking songs off-key.

So why open the lavish event with a $75 tasting of wines under $35?

“I’m worried people are starting to think about Burgundy as only expensive wines, the way they regard Bordeaux,” says Daniel Johnnes, La Paulee’s organizer and host and wine director of Daniel Boulud’s restaurant group. “The region is about more than $1,000 bottles.”

Considering today’s prices, that’s hard to remember. As world demand for Burgundy hits an all-time high and investment funds stockpile the best bottles, the drumbeat of escalating prices sounds ever louder. In Hong Kong at Christie’s all-Burgundy sale of Henry Tang’s collection in mid-March, even wines from lesser-known domaines that I used to buy sold way above high pre-sale estimates.

Which is why this opening seminar is packed with Burgundy lovers who want to drink the region’s reds and whites every day without breaking the bank. Three young New York sommeliers showcase the quality and terroir lurking in the region’s undiscovered ‘outer boroughs.’ Among their picks I find several stellar buys.

Lightning Bolt

“These are the wines we drink when we’re the ones paying,” says Michael Madrigale, head sommelier of Bar Boulud, Boulud Sud, and Epicerie Boulud, as he introduces his choices. He likes to say that the sip of Burgundy he took when he was 24 struck his brain like a bolt of lightning. He still seems to be under its influence.

The pricy Burgundies wine lovers lust for come from premier cru and grand cru vineyards in the Cote d’Or, a 50-kilometer-long, limestone-rich sliver of land where an acre of vines can cost two million euros.

For his bargain choices, Madrigale looked north to cool Chablis, surely the world’s most underrated great wine region. Its crisp, tangy whites made from chardonnay have a laser-like intensity and purity, and age brilliantly.

Fred Astaire

Petit Chablis is the entry-level category, and the 2011 Domaine Agnes et Didier Dauvissat ($22) is lemony, citrusy, fresh, with a flinty finish and Fred Astaire-like flair.

Still, you can find delicious 2010 and 2011 village level Chablis, the next quality step up, from excellent producers like Christian Moreau and William Fevre at under $25. Wines from the 2011 vintage, says owner Christian Moreau, show more minerality, while those from the outstanding 2010 are richer and more complex.

Saint-Bris, a few kilometers southwest of Chablis, is the only appellation in Burgundy where the white grape is sauvignon blanc. One of my top discoveries at the seminar was the 2011 Domaine Goisot Exogrya Virgula Saint-Bris ($19), which tastes of minerals, warm stones, grass, and a hint of pepper, and is amazingly complex for the price.

Global warming and ambitious producers have vastly improved wines from nearby Irancy, which was once synonymous with pinot noir plonk. The light, pretty 2010 David Renaud Irancy ($22), with rose petal aromas, bright red fruit and an iron tang, shows just how good it can be.

Stunning Pinot

“Stigma is great for good pricing, though,” comments sommelier Levi Dalton, at now-closed Convivio restaurant, who touts a red from the Cote Chalonnaise, a rustic-cousin area just south of the Cote d’Or. The 2010 Michel Juillot Mercurey Premier Cru Clos Tonnerre rouge is a $35 stunner. It has the pure spicy pinot fruit, earthy minerality, and seductive texture that Burgundy lovers like me crave.

The wine director at NoMad Hotel, Thomas Pastuszak, looked even further south to the Maconnais, a low-glamor area with chalky soil once known for pretty hum-drum chardonnay. It’s experiencing a gold rush as Cote d’Or powerhouses like Domaine des Comtes Lafon have snapped up land. The rich, intense 2010 Olivier Merlin Macon La Roche Vineuse Vieilles Vignes ($25) resembles whites from the Cote d’Or that cost $15 more.

Don’t completely shun the region’s gateway pinot, generic Bourgogne rouge, which can use grapes grown anywhere in Burgundy. The 2010 Domaine Roblet-Monnot Pere et Fils Bourgogne Rouge Vieilles Vignes ($25) is a serious red from old vines grown bio-dynamically in the Cote d’Or appellation of Volnay.


Of course none of these outer borough bottles can compete with the eight 2010 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti wines I sip at a pre-release tasting at A Voce the following day. All exhibit the vintage’s elegance and precision, though silky-textured Romanee-St.-Vivant, deep, profound Romanee-Conti, and sleek, vibrant Montrachet capture my top marks. (Prices? Don’t ask.)

Nor do the reds rival one of my favorite wines, the Georges Roumier Chambolle Musigny Les Amoureuses 1999, which sold on March 7 at the Zachys annual La Paulee auction for $1,225 a bottle), a huge jump from the $230 it cost in a 2006 London sale.

But I console myself with the knowledge I can afford to drink outer borough Burgundy every day - and I don’t have to worry they may be counterfeits.

(Elin McCoy writes on wine and spirits for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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