White Burgundy: Finding the value outside the C么te d鈥橭r

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 拢50.

It is when I start to look further afield that I find the most excitement. North and south of the C么te d鈥橭r 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 C么te d鈥橭r.

Domaine Moreau-Naudet | Chablis

Domaine Moreau-Naudet was thrust into the spotlight when St茅phane Moreau inherited the family Domaine in the late 1990鈥檚. Taking influence from the wines of Vincent Dauvissat (who introduced St茅phane to Charles Lea) he realised that with a more artisanal approach he could craft wines with more depth and texture. Although St茅phane 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鈥檚 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鈥檚 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鈥檚 gentle barrel regimen. Just 10% of this cuv茅e 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 | C么te Chalonnaise

Heading south from the tail end of the C么te de Beaune we arrive in perhaps the most interesting Burgundian sub-region of present day; the C么te Chalonnaise. The South, south-east facing slopes that produce the top wines of the C么te 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鈥檚 this small, but key difference that delivers the value. The added warmth results in wines that are more accessible in their youth and don鈥檛 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鈥檙e onto a winner. That鈥檚 not to say there isn鈥檛 longevity here, the best can comfortably age for a decade. The region is gathering great interest thanks to top C么te de Beaune producers adding wines from this region to their portfolios, but it鈥檚 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鈥檚 presence in Rully can be traced back to the eighteenth century. Rully is at northernmost limit of the C么te 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 茅levage 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鈥檚 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鈥檚 prices escalate like those neighbouring to the north?

Frantz Chagnoleau | M芒connais

Heading further south we reach what is probably the most overlooked subregion of Burgundy, the M芒connais. Known for relatively cheap 鈥淢芒con-Villages鈥 (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 M芒connais.

One such winemaker is Frantz Chagnoleau, who crafts beautifully balanced, focused and poised wines; qualities that are not usually associated with the M芒connais. Frantz works alongside his wife Caroline Gon, who also heads-up Comte Lafon鈥檚 M芒con winemaking operation. In particular, the wines they produce from the appellation of Saint V茅ran 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-V茅ran 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 | M芒connais

Arguably the finest wines in the M芒connais come from the appellation of Pouilly-Fuiss茅, which is made up of four communes: Fuiss茅, Solutr茅-Pouilly, Vergisson and Chaintr茅. Solutr茅 and Vergisson also give their names to two large escarpments of limestone that dominate the聽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-Fuiss茅 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鈥檚 son, Julien has pioneered since joining the family business in 2006. Today he is also the cellar master and builds on the family鈥檚 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 cuv茅e is the alliance of four different parcels, one from Fuiss茅 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 Fuiss茅. 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鈥檚 true identity.