For one of the most prestigious wine producing regions of the world, Burgundy is a bit of a quandary. Yes, we’ve all heard of it but do we really have very much ‘in-depth’ knowledge? The answer is often, sadly, no. Now more commonly referred to internationally as ‘Bourgogne’, the historic names on a top restaurant menu are very recognisable: Gevrey-Chambertin, Meursault, Nuits-Saint-Georges and the somewhat detached Chablis (well, it is about 100 miles north-west of the true Côte d’Or, the heart of the whole Bourgogne Region). However, mainly due to rocketing prices in recent years, these names are now found mostly at the expensive end of the list, sometimes with an extra nought on the end to surprise or dismay you.
At Tanners we have an extensive list of Bourgogne wines. Over the course of a century or so, we have made many connections with the best producers, many growers are now old friends as well as suppliers. Word-of-mouth recommendations have been made over the years so that you’ll find a wide range of wines from all parts of the region, and that’s the key. Many are unfamiliar names, yet just need trying and, hopefully, are within your budget!
Let’s start with the southern-most part of Bourgogne, which is the Mâconnais. It’s an area of rolling slopes dominated by two major promontories, the Roche de Solutré and the Roche de Vergisson. This latter is the home to a favourite of ours, Mâcon-Vergisson from Domaine Guerrin. The altitude of these vineyards mitigates for being situated here in the warmest part of Bourgogne, so you’ll taste a fine thread of fresh acidity running through this white – a lemony streak not unlike a straight Chablis.
There are plenty of excellent white Mâcon wines to choose from, including a range from Dominique Lafon whose name is associated with the finest and most sought-after Meursault further north. Dominique however, like other enterprising Burgundians, has recognised the quality that he can conjure out of the southern terroir and this range is both glorious and somewhat more affordable! While nosing round this region you’ll also come across whites labelled Mâcon-Chardonnay – not a reference to the grape but to a particular village name – useful to remind you which variety you’re drinking. The Mâconnais is also home to Pouilly-Fuissé and Saint-Véran, both often richer and lusher than those of the Côte de Beaune. Château Fuissé’s Saint-Véran (just to confuse you!) has a charm and roundness to it, a great food wine with a fine pedigree.
Before we look at the Beaune area more closely, there are wines of reference close at hand in the Côte Chalonnaise, a long strip of rolling land that encompasses the villages of Buxy, Mercurey and Givry. All these produce delicious, early drinking Pinot Noir, alongside our longstanding favourite Rully from two excellent growers, the Borgeot brothers and the Jacqueson family. Rully seems to get a little more depth of flavour than its neighbours, while Paul Jacqueson has always been very particular about his choice of oak barrels. It is often attention to detail that makes a wine stand out!
Over the Canal du Centre you find yourself at the start of the Côte d’Or proper (comprising Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune), and ready to explore the less familiar areas and villages. First off are Maranges (we sell out of the Premier Cru Clos de la Boutière from Alex and Marc Bachelet at the en primeur stage of buying) and, dominated by a splendid, solitary windmill, the sloping vineyards of Santenay. We love the richness that you find here, almost in a style of the much more illustrious Meursault to the north, and the wines from renowned winery Vincent Girardin have a subtle dusting of oak to balance the weight of flavour they get here.
The lesser-known villages of this part of the Beaune are set back from the big names. Go east from the main road and you’ll come across Saint-Aubin, Monthélie and between them our old friends, the Pruniers in Auxey-Duresses. Lunch here can be a long affair – there are many ‘back vintages’ to consider when we visit! Their newest wines are invariably delightful too, with light Chardonnays and pretty Pinots, well made and well-priced.
Talk of the Pruniers moves us effortlessly into thinking about the Hautes Côtes de Beaune, those vineyards at the top of the slopes which, certainly in warmer vintages, are worth seeking out as they very often reflect the styles of wines below them. Estelle Prunier makes a lovely Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune which though simple has a fresh, zesty side to the ripe, Chardonnay fruit. We also take one from the Rollin family in Pernand-Vergelesses which is round the back of the hill of Corton. The latter you may know, the former you may not, but Rémi Rollin crafts a fabulous wine from both appellations, as well as his humble Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune.
The Côte de Nuits is much more a red wine region and the villages are mainly well-known and famously expensive. Again, it is worth seeking out the higher slopes of the Hautes Côtes de Nuits – we list a great Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits from the master of Vosne-Romanée, Michel Gros, and again it’s best to seek out warmer vintages making richer, riper wines but for less money than the neighbours down below. Perhaps the least known appellations of the Côtes de Nuits are Fixin and Marsannay, there are some great finds to be had.
Our tip is to find the best grower making Gevrey-Chambertin and hope he or she has a pocket of the lesser light in the portfolio, however having said that there are plenty of growers out there that only make wine in the lesser-known appellations. More and more attention is being given to these ‘secret’ appellations so we urge you to seek them out – then you’ll really be enjoying some classy Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but at a more bearable price.