White Burgundy: Finding the value outside the Côte d’Or

by Alex Beaumont

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I am a particular lover of White Burgundy and like all discerning fanatics, covet the wines of Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault, however I find it increasingly difficult to find good village level whites under £50.

It is when I start to look further afield that I find the most excitement. North and south of the Côte d’Or there are a veritable treasure of beautiful Chardonnays to discover and whilst I will always love the classics, I find myself reaching for these jewels to deliver that richness and complexity that I crave, but at a much more favourable price point.

Charles Lea is an incredibly intuitive Burgundy buyer and has built up an incredible portfolio of producers. Here are my five top value picks for White Burgundy from outside the Côte d’Or.

Domaine Moreau-Naudet | Chablis

Domaine Moreau-Naudet was thrust into the spotlight when Stéphane Moreau inherited the family Domaine in the late 1990’s. Taking influence from the wines of Vincent Dauvissat (who introduced Stéphane to Charles Lea) he realised that with a more artisanal approach he could craft wines with more depth and texture. Although Stéphane sadly passed away in 2016, his legacy lives on with his wife, Virginie, firmly at the reins. Today, as before, all harvesting is done by hand, allowing this Domaine to use the full extent of the growing period to achieve not only optimum sugar ripeness, but that all important phenolic ripeness for flavour development.

The results are no more evident than in the Chablis Vieilles Vignes Les Pargues, with Moreau-Naudet’s generous style in perfect synergy with the opulence of the vintage. The vineyard of Les Pargues offers some of the best value in Chablis. Nestled between the Premier Cru’s of Montmains and Vaillons, it was itself a Premier Cru but lost the designation when it was abandoned during World War I. The 70-year-old vines yield intense juice with an exotic flair that is beautifully complimented by Moreau-Naudet’s gentle barrel regimen. Just 10% of this cuvée sees oak, which is steamed rather than toasted to build texture and mouthfeel in the resulting wine without masking the natural structure of the palate.

Domaine Dureuil-Janthial | Côte Chalonnaise

Heading south from the tail end of the Côte de Beaune we arrive in perhaps the most interesting Burgundian sub-region of present day; the Côte Chalonnaise. The South, south-east facing slopes that produce the top wines of the Côte de Beaune are evident here, albeit more fragmented with side valleys and interior basins. Taking the trip south benefits in slightly warmer climes and it’s this small, but key difference that delivers the value. The added warmth results in wines that are more accessible in their youth and don’t require quite as much financial investment to get them market ready. Add to that reduced cost of cellaring your wines until their drinking window and you’re onto a winner. That’s not to say there isn’t longevity here, the best can comfortably age for a decade. The region is gathering great interest thanks to top Côte de Beaune producers adding wines from this region to their portfolios, but it’s the local family Domaines that are most able to expertly translate the appeal of the Chalonnaise.

Domaine Dureuil-Janthial is undoubtedly the leading producer of the region. Vincent Dureuil inherited the estate in 1994 from the Janthial side of his family, who’s presence in Rully can be traced back to the eighteenth century. Rully is at northernmost limit of the Côte Chalonnaise, just 5 miles south of Chassagne-Montrachet and benefits from the same clay and limestone soil, perfect for growing top quality Chardonnay. Vincent has made a lot of changes in his tenure, most importantly converting to organic viticulture and employing longer élevage in the cellar that have helped elevate the wines. For the village level Rully the fruit was pressed hard, which can only be achieved with perfectly ripe fruit so as to avoid any bitterness or astringency. The hard, slow pressing of ripe fruit matured by the extra heat in the Chalonnaise results in flavours of juicy peach and mandarin that are complimented and rounded out by 12 months in French oak (only 20% new). There’s still a strong backbone of acidity that will keep this drinking beautifully for the next 10 years, by which point could we have seen this grower’s prices escalate like those neighbouring to the north?

Frantz Chagnoleau | Mâconnais

Heading further south we reach what is probably the most overlooked subregion of Burgundy, the Mâconnais. Known for relatively cheap “Mâcon-Villages” (85% of total production), the majority of Chardonnay produced here is raised in stainless steel only and destined for immediate drinking. The style of such wine is uncomplicated and straightforward, perfect for mid-week quaffing, but there are a number of producers raising the bar in the Mâconnais.

One such winemaker is Frantz Chagnoleau, who crafts beautifully balanced, focused and poised wines; qualities that are not usually associated with the Mâconnais. Frantz works alongside his wife Caroline Gon, who also heads-up Comte Lafon’s Mâcon winemaking operation. In particular, the wines they produce from the appellation of Saint Véran are the most surprising. This AOC is the largest in the region and features some of the most southernly vineyards in Burgundy, so it is a rarity to find wines here with such elegance. The Saint-Véran Fournaise comes from a tiny plot comprising just 0.21 hectares. The soil here is the whitest and most limestone packed that they work with, translating into real tension in the wine. In the cellar a hands-off approach lets the fruit speak for itself. The juice happily ferments with its native yeast in old 600 litre French oak barrels, which add texture rather than flavour. The wine exudes a brightness that reflects the star power and energy of the winemakers themselves.

Domaine Daniel Barraud | Mâconnais

Arguably the finest wines in the Mâconnais come from the appellation of Pouilly-Fuissé, which is made up of four communes: Fuissé, Solutré-Pouilly, Vergisson and Chaintré. Solutré and Vergisson also give their names to two large escarpments of limestone that dominate the landscape. Under these large rocks are well exposed, amphitheatre like vineyards with a south early aspect, the perfect sun trap for ripening Chardonnay.

If you are looking for a great representation of the appellation as a whole, then the Pouilly-Fuissé Alliance from Domaine Daniel Barraud is a great place to start. Daniel is the fourth generation of the Barraud family and heads up the estate that began with his great-grandfather in 1912. The knowledge passed down through generations has led to the importance of biodynamic farming, something that Daniel’s son, Julien has pioneered since joining the family business in 2006. Today he is also the cellar master and builds on the family’s minimal interventionalist ethos with native yeast ferments and even choosing to always bottle their wines under a waning moon. Whilst there is no evidence to support that biodynamics has a profound effect on the quality of the wine, I am strongly of the belief that anyone who is dedicated to such a level of care and precision has to be producing the best wine that they possibly can.

The Alliance cuvée is the alliance of four different parcels, one from Fuissé with clay dominant soils and four under the dramatic cliff of Vergisson. The parcels from the latter are of higher altitude and with a higher rock content in the soil than those in Fuissé. Consequently, they are later ripening and contribute lots of structure in the final blend. This wine is fleshy and complex with layers of citrus, green apple and tropical pineapple. There is a hint of toast thanks to a multitude of different sized oak barrels. Only 10% is new each year, just a kiss to add complexity but not mask the wine’s true identity.