burgundy, chardonnay, meursault -

Value Burgundy?!

I recently tasted a white wine from Burgundy. On the first smell, I said "Meursault." But it was labeled Bourgogne Blanc. Why? Because 80% of the fruit is from Meursault, but the other 20% is from Pommard and Volnay which are—in terms of the appellation labelling rules—red wine (i.e. Pinot Noir) only. Therefore, the wine can't be classified as Meursault. (And look at me for immediately identifying it as Meursault even if technically it isn't.)

The wine in question is by Pierre Girardin, a young winemaker producing superb expressions of Burgundy. It's still an expensive wine, at $55: but less than a Meursault of equivalent quality. We may not always want to spend that much on a bottle of wine, but for Burgundy you just may have no choice.

And this is a problem with Burgundy: the wines are getting prohibitively expensive. Prices are associated with the reputation of a village or a vineyard: Premier Cru Meursault is hard to find below $70-80 a bottle. Even if the wines are superb, that's a lot of money.

Which brings us on to the question of value. $55 does not seem like a good value price for a bottle of wine. But most wines of this quality and provenance are $80. Value has to be judged in the context of quality. Is the wine worth $55? Is the wine as good as more expensive wines? If the answer in both cases is yes, then the wine is good value.

Burgundy is complicated because the site where a wine comes from is so prominent in its pricing. The prestigious name of a vineyard or village pushes the price up as collectors snap up the wines. But there are many extremely good wines made from less famous villages; not at the fraction of the price, but certainly lower.

If you see a bottle of Burgundy whose village or vineyard name you recognise, there's a good chance it's overpriced. If you see a bottle of Burgundy whose name you don't recognise there's a good chance it's underpriced, at least for the time being. It is a region where finding good quality wine at reasonable prices is a challenge, but value isn't always about bargains but more about finding hidden gems.

A $55 wine that tastes like Meursault doesn't feel like good value, but it really is.