For many grape nuts, the best white wines in the world come from Burgundy’s Côte d’Or. Emanating from romantic-sounding villages such as Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault and Corton-Charlemagne, these rich, complex wines are justifiably ballyhooed.
Other cork dorks might try to make the case for another subregion of Burgundy, Chablis. Unlike the whites from the Côte d’Or, these steely delights see little or no oak and are beloved for their purity and precision
But wait, as the late-night ads like to implore, there’s more. Actually much more.
Two districts in particular — Mâconnais and Côte Chalonnaise — pump out tasty, moderately priced chardonnays. And contrary to the widespread notion that Burgundy is all about pinot noir and chardonnay, another white grape, aligoté, finds great expression with several producers.
It wasn’t always like this. For decades, most vintners used the grape primarily as a base for kir, or for so-so table wine served in local restaurants. But in recent years, several serious winemakers have picked up their game mightily, and thanks to globalization and savvy local importers, most any aligoté that makes it to Minnesota boasts great attributes: freshness, mouthwatering acidity/minerality and major food-friendliness.
The most readily available of these wines, which generally sell in the $20s, is probably the lively, delicious A.&P. De Villaine Bouzeron Aligoté. Others to seek out: Guy Amiot, Sarazinière, Gislaine & Jean-Hugues Goisot, Francois Carillon, Chanzy, Chateau de Chamilly and Domaine des Remparts.
(Those who want to assess the grape for a smaller financial outlay can check out Olivier Leflaive or the Shooting Star Aligoté from Washington.)
Still, most of the stellar whites from Burgundy are 100 percent chardonnay, and a great place to start is Mâcon. These wines often come in on the dry side — the luscious, heady Roally Vire Clesse might be the exception that proves the rule — but with layers of fruit and no shortage of raciness.
At 1010 Washington in Minneapolis, “Cordier Mâcon Blanc Vieilles Vignes has been the store’s darling since we opened,” wine buyer Rob Bonelli said of that $28 gem that is “always brilliantly framed by wood and shows rich lemon butter on the palate.”
Bonelli’s counterpart at Thomas Liquors in St. Paul, Peter Vars, touted a pair of Mâconnais wines from Terre de Chatenay as “one of the best values around for white Burgundy.”
Many offerings are branded simply Mâcon-Village and provide a great gateway to the district: Henri Perrusset, Joseph Drouhin, Terres de Chatenay and Georges Duboeuf Flower Label are all dandy.
To many consumers, especially boomers, the more familiar appellation is Pouilly-Fuissé. These wines found quite a following in the late 1970s and early ’80s. I have no idea why so much of it started reaching these shores, but I have always suspected that its popularity was greatly enhanced by how much people liked to say the name — once they actually had learned how to pronounce it (poo-yee fwee-say).
These are among the most full-bodied of Mâconnais whites, usually straddling the creamy/crispy line.
Daniel Barraud Alliance and Gilles Noblet are exemplars of what Pouilly-Fuissé can show at around $30, but too many others are spendier and thus a tough go for those of us who value, well, value.
It’s easier to “drink up” in Côte Chalonnaise, a province just south of the Côte d’Or with five communes offering up whites that usually punch above their price class. My three faves: Montagny (Jean-Marc Pillot, Bouchard); Mercurey (Faiveley Clos Rochette, Louis Max), and Rully (Chanzy, Joseph Drouhin).
OK, that’s a lot of wines. But it just touches on the options in Burgundy for those who wish to explore the many facets of chardonnay — or to delve into the underrecognized aligoté. And that’s without even touching the province’s two foremost appellations.
Pretty impressive for a region that’s less than one-seventh the size of Minnesota.
Bill Ward writes atdecant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.