Sommelier India Issue 3 2023

If you tell Indian oenophiles that you are going to Burgundy, they will point you to DRC or Domaine de la Romanee Conti. Those that visit Burgundy often give the opposite advice: why are you getting hung up on DRC when there are so many other great wines and winemakers? So what do you do? I chose the latter route.

Until the early 2000s, Burgundy was a sleepy region three hours Southeast of Paris. As one Burgundy vineyard owner told Levi Dalton, the host of the podcast, “I’ll drink to that,” in the early days, the whole region could hear a car entering the region and everyone competed with each other to sell their wines.”

Sommelier India Is it possible to enjoy Burgundy wine without the prohibitive price? 1Issue 3, 2023 double-spreads_page-0001

That changed as buyers from the US and the UK started trickling in. American Becky Wasserman was one of the earliest to shine the spotlight on small Burgundy producers, something that Jasper Morris, author of “Inside Burgundy,” acknowledges. Buying in Burgundy at that time (and even now) was all about relationships. You had to live there like Wasserman did or visit frequently like Morris did. In the seventies and eighties, few in the US and the UK cared about Burgundy wines and fewer still were buying them.

The eighties were a time of churn for Burgundy as old practices and owners gave way to the next generation. These scions slowly converted their land into organic parcels using esoteric biodynamic techniques championed by Nicolas Joly. These then-young winemakers are the names that make headlines now: Dominique Lafon, Simon Bize, Lalou-Bize Leroy, Armand Rousseau, Christophe Roumier, Jacques Seysses, Olivier Leflaive and of course, Auburt de Villaine of DRC.

De Villaine champions the aligote grape and lives in Santaney, away from the fever surrounding his vineyards in Vosne-Romanee. He elevated the status of his wines into the global cult that they are now. This was not without toil or foil. He was willing to fight his family– ousted a relative in fact, so that he could run DRC as he thought it should. It must be particularly galling to him that her wines are the most expensive in the world. Today, his cousin, Lalou Bize-Leroy rules the roost in Burgundy. As per Wine Searcher, Domaine Leroy and its sister winery, Domaine d’Auvenay dominate the list of the world’s most expensive wines. As per Wine Searcher, Leroy wines held the top three spots for the world’s most expensive wines.

To get a meeting with Lalou Bize-Leroy is impossible. To get a meeting with DRC’s de Villaine is like meeting the Pope. I tried. I couldn’t. What I did though was drive half-hour from Beaune to Bouzeron to do a tasting at Domaine de Villaine, also owned by Auburt. Their premier crus and village wines are made from the local aligote grape which has a bright structure and acidity. I bought two.

In Morey St. Denis, I visited Domaine Dujac, one of the best known in the region. Started by a father and now run by his two sons, Dujac is on the pilgrimage list of most wine lovers. I joined a group of six others who belonged to the Florida chapter of the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, a wine group with global chapters that aims to promote the wines of Burgundy. They had just drunk their first DRC in a restaurant the previous night and proclaimed it “decent.”.

Burgundy takes time to understand, and in theory, it can be gamed. By which I mean that if you are budget constrained and cannot afford the top grand crus, there are ways of enjoying Burgundy’s pleasures. That said, the market will reset prices in this region, given that is under the magnifying glass. Today’s darling in the wine world is Burgundy.

The French think that Bordeaux is boring because it has been sold out to the Chinese. What else is there to compete at these prices?

One way to overcome the prohibitive cost of grand crus is to choose premier crus or even village wines from good years such as 1985, 1995 and 2005 for both reds and whites. If you have a good mind for years, then you can drill down and separate out whites from the reds. For example, 2009 was a great year for pinot noir but 2008 was better for Chardonnay. In the nineties, there were several crossover years that were great for both reds and whites: 1990, 1995, 1996, but 1992 was great for white Burgundy and 1999 was great for red. In the eighties, both 1985 and 1989 are great.

Choosing these years and buying bottles from good ‘climats’ at a cost you can afford is one way. For example Vosne-Romanee is home to DRC. How about finding a 1985 bottle from this climat but from a lesser known producer? Perhaps a village wine or a premier cru? Wine searcher is a good place to look for bargains. For example, a 2016 Domaine Bruno Clavelier is priced at Euro 198 a bottle even though critics gave it a 94/100 score. Good climat, good producer, bad year, but hey what a price. Similarly, domaines like Sylvain Cathiard, Dujac, Meo Camuzet, and Henri Jayer may offer value during certain years. They won’t be cheap– the wines will run in the hundreds and low thousands, but they won’t cost $20,000 a bottle like DRC.

So go ahead, buy some Burgundy and let the experiments begin.

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