Affordable Burgundy? It’s not quite an oxymoron, but the price of the most desirable Burgundy wines has gone through the roof in recent years – from expensive, to eye-wateringly expensive. Burgundy is a venerable wine region boasting an intricate patchwork of small, classified vineyards, often with multiple owners. It is sited in the east of France where a continental climate means the dangers of frost and hail are never far from affecting a vintage. For all of those reasons: small production, fabled history and vagaries of weather, the best wines of the best properties are extremely difficult to buy, often sold on allocation to a waiting list, and invariably very expensive.
This selection of wines from merchant Justerini and Brooks is priced between around £20 and £35 a bottle. If you baulk at the idea of that being described as ‘affordable’, consider that a top-flight Premier Cru Burgundy will easily sell for £200 per bottle, a Grand Cru for much, much more. At time of review, the 1997 vintage of Musigny Grand Cru from Domaine Leroy is being offered by London merchants at £21,000 per bottle, and even the 2017 version from Maison Faively will set you back £3,000.
Justerini’s buyer, Giles Burke-Gaffney, put together this selection of moderately-priced wines from growers representing domaines across the Côte d’Or and Côte Chalonaise, saying “These producers have not only been selected because of their geographical spread and diversity, but also because of how much they represent what is happening in Burgundy at the moment.” These included the new generation of established domaines, such as Edouard and Arthur Clair who are gradually taking over from Bruno Clair, and Aude and Guillaume Lavollée, fourth generation now in charge at Genot Boulanger. Recently-formed domaine Bachelet Monnot was established only in 2005 by Marc and Alexandre Bachelet, while two noble names, the Château de Meursault and Château de Marsannay, are revitalised under the ambitious new ownership of Olivier Halley of the Carrefour family. Taken together, Giles says these wines “offer an insight into the exciting innovations that are taking place in the region.”
(2021) From a domaine established in 2005 by brothers Marc and Alexandre Bachelet, this is a pretty fabulous Bourgogne Blanc by any measure, beautifully oaked and sharp as a tack with only 12.5% alcohol. There's a gently nutty creaminess to the aroma, sesame seeds and something sea-salty and river stone-fresh. Tempered white fruits - melon, pear and a citrus thrust - but that nutty and textured creaminess balances and supports beautifully. Terrific minor Burgundy of great class.
(2021) This a monopole vineyard is on a north-east facing slope of clay over limestone, planted 40 years ago. It does not see any oak. Pale green-gold, the aromas are crisp and stoney-mineral flecked, some creamy yeastiness, and just a suggestion of peachy ripeness to the fruit. The palate has a pithy streak of lemon and underripe apple that is dry and succulent, but there's a prettiness to this to offset the nervous acid thrust.
(2021) A terrifically peachy, nectarine scented wine, touched lightly by oatmeal and almond, but ripe and verging on the tropical. The palate too has a surge of juicy, pulpy nectarine and mango, luscious and mouth-watering, then orange acidity cuts through the sweetness, a nice weight and texture creamy into the finish, which is tangy and juicy, but still highlighting that deliciously ripe fruit. This might be too 'New World' in style for some purists, but what a lovely wine.
(2021) What a lovely wine, tertiary notes of sous bois and incense delicately woven through cherry fruit. From the Savigny and Pommard communes, and aged part in tank and part in 20% new oak barriques, the wood sits lightly but supports the dry cherry and cranberry fruit very nicely, tannins and good acid adding a bit of heft and the finish is spicy, intense and balanced.
(2021) Feom gravelly slopes north of Marsannay. Quite meaty, dense and earthy, gamy aromas dominate here, but as it opens in the glass a little more floral and red fruit character comes through. Onto a palate of sweet and fleshy plum fruit, spices too, in a rich, deep style of Burgundy, chocolaty tannins adding to the plushness and concentrated depth of the wine. Lacks a little of the Château de Meursault's charm, but a powerful expression of Pinot Noir.
(2021) A rich, ripe and hedonistic red Marsannay, made with 30% whole bunches, the colour is a transluscent bright garnet, and the aromas touched by woodsmoke and spice, but fruit packed on top, lovely incense and floral highlights floating above. Again, plush and sweet on the palate, crushed red berries and a nice liquorice stripe of tannin and acidity, giving cut and length against the weight of fruit. A delight to drink now, but should cellar well.
(2021) From a fourth generation family estate based in Meursault, this Premier Cru was de-stalked and aged in 20% new oak barrels for 12 months. It has a fresh, medium-pale garnet colour and aromas evoking mushroom, a touch of silage and all-sorts of terroir-driven notes but cherry and rhubarb fruit too. The palate has a stripe of lean, chewy and gamy tannin and acid structure, with a bittersweet liquorice and dark, savoury, redcurrant fruit. It's a savoury and leaner style of red Burgundy, with quite an intense, concentrated and incisive style.
(2021) J&B suggest this vineyard is "A prime candidates for elevation to Premier Cru status," and indeed it is a very impressive wine. Bruno Clair and his sons are 'minimal intervention' winemakers and use a mix of large, old foudres and barriques for slow ageing of their wines, this fermented with 30% whole bunches. It is super-smooth, silky and charming, replete with juicy and plump cherry fruit, bitter dark chocolate and a hint of twiggy herbaceousness that gives bite and freshness. The tight, fine, slick tannins are perfectly set against the supple fruit and acidity. A lovely wine.