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updated: 3/26/2014 7:45 AM

Good wine: Exploring white Burgundy

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  • Corton Charlemagne, Grand Cru is made from 100 percent Chardonnay in Burgundy, France

    Corton Charlemagne, Grand Cru is made from 100 percent Chardonnay in Burgundy, France


Among a certain set of wine lovers, Burgundy is Burgundy for Burgundy's sake, a be-all and end-all unto itself.

At any given tasting of Burgundy's whites, you can overhear:

"Have you seen these prices? Incroyable!" And with a shrug, a smile and a clink of glasses, the response, "Yes, that's Burgundy."

"How many cases have been allocated to Chicago, like two?" And again, "Yes, that's Burgundy."

And on a particular day in February, outside was cold as the surface of Mars, but inside all was well, because I was drinking Burgundy.

Burgundy lies in west-central France. The entire region stretches south of Paris to Lyons, but its heart -- the Cote d'Or (Golden Slope) -- is a mere two miles wide and as long as a daily commute from Arlington Heights to the Loop, about 30 miles.

Vineyards are tiny too, averaging 12 acres but subdivided over centuries by marriage, political favors and debt-settlement into backyard-sized parcels farmed by individual growers, measured not in acres but rows of vines. When asked, "How do you distinguish your vines from your neighbor's?" the vigneron replies, "Can a mother pick out her child in a crowded nursery?"

The vignerons and their charges face Chicago-like frost, hail, violent wind and burning sun, but extreme weather doesn't dampen the cost of real estate, currently about $2 million per acre.

The cost of land, labor and threat of vintage disaster (in 2012, reducing crop by 20 percent to 50 percent) make white Burgundy some of the most valuable flavors on earth, tallying to mid-$30s per bottle on up. Way up.

Sticker shock doesn't deter those who hanker for Burgundy, if only of just a sip of this 100 percent Chardonnay as Nature and French wine law intend it to be: green apple and exotic spice flavors accented by generous minerality. But flavor is only part of white Burgundy's allure. Her hallmark is texture, a tensile strength of firm acidity that both enhances and defines flavors as they expand and complex on the palate.

Here are a few favorites from my tasting of 2012 white Burgundy (including Vincent Pouilly-Fuisse, our previous Ross' Choice), hosted by Frederick Wildman & Sons, Ltd., an importer to rely upon when purchasing the world's finest wines:

Rully "Les Cloux", Olivier Leflaive Freres: An introduction to white Burgundy, Rully is located south of the Cote d'Or. Olivier LeFlaive lavishes attention on these relatively affordable wines, aging new wine on lees (spent yeast cells) for six months, followed by time in barrel and additional nine month rest in stainless steel, resulting in just-ripe yellow apple and lemon curd flavors and mouthwatering acidity. (About $30)

Chablis "Valmur" Grand Cru, Domaine Christian Moreau Pere et Fils: Located 60 miles north of the Cote d'Or, Chablis is characterized by the steely acidity of cold climate vineyards and minerality, attributed to fossilized oyster shells which dominate the soil. Moreau's "Valmur" (Grand Cru or top-ranked vineyard) balances acid and pronounced minerality with lemony flavor, power with appeal. (About $70)

Domaine Jacques Prieur, Beaune "Greves" 1er Cru: Peppermint and white flower aromas introduce full-bodied flavors akin to green and yellow apples, discreetly enriched by vanillin oak and balanced by lean acidity. (About $85) Note that this commune produces both red and white wine.

Pair white Burgundy with dishes associated with butter, mushrooms and truffles, including rich poultry (chicken roasted with morels and white truffle paste), seafood (especially shellfish), white meats and delicate red meats (filet). While lighter white Burgundy (Rully, Pouilly-Fuisse) refreshes Epoisse and other "stinky" cheese; pair more complex wines with milder (but finely-aged) brie. Avoid hot spice, sweetness and "fishy" fish such as mussels. Serve white Burgundy just-cool on the palate, not hard cold, to savor enveloping texture and developing flavor.

But before you join this set, you may want to check with your accountant.

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