EVEN those of us who agree with George Saintsbury that "wine is red" will admit to the inevitability of drinking at least nominal amounts of white wine in the summer. Given this state of affairs, the question becomes: Which white wines?
For many oenophiles, the answer is white burgundy. Produced from the chardonnay grape in the Burgundy region of France between Dijon and Lyon, the better examples of this wine balance intensity and complexity of flavor with fresh, crisp acidity. California white wines made from the same grape almost always have plenty of flavor and body, but sometimes those more moderately priced lack sufficient acidity, and, as a result are flabby or too soft on the palate. Let the record reflect, however, that some prefer this softer style and further, that if you are willing to pay in excess of $15 to $20 per bottle for California chardonnay, you can find wines that will hold their own in any company.
The high price of top-notch wines made from the chardonnay grape is not a problem peculiar to California. Many lovers of white burgundy from abroad have been unable to enjoy its sensory pleasures because of increasing prices. Well, good news is at hand--a declining French franc and four good vintages in the supply pipeline ('78, '79, '81 and '82) have combined to make white burgundy a realistic alternative.
A recent blind tasting of white burgundies held by the national office of the Les Amis de Vin wine club provided an opportunity to evaluate many of the white burgundies available in the Washington area. Here is a report on wines priced at about $10 that stood out as exceptional values.
The most pleasant surprise of the tasting was a trio of wines from the highly reputable Burgundy house of Remoissenet. These wines displayed multitude of flavors far beyond their regional "Bourgogne" appellation and their modest price tag. These three wines are available in Washington only at A & A Liquors.
* 1976 Seigneurie de Posanges. Here is a deep, complex, lovely wine, reminiscent of a big premier cru puligny, or chassagne, montrachet. The bouquet suggests peaches and pears combined with the scent of oak. On the palate, intense, complex chardonnay flavors are balanced by just enough buttery oak. While soft and full, there is enough acidity here to provide sufficient backbone for a superb example of white burgundy as it should be.
* 1972 Seigneurie de Posanges. The toasty, smoky flavors of the nose prepare the way for luscious, fleshy, complex and mature fruit flavors in the mouth. Apricots and magnolia blossoms abound on this wine. Here is a rare opportunity to taste a gracefully aging, first-rate white burgundy without breaking the bank.
* 1978 Re jane Bourgogne. The intense smoky, toasty flavors of oak in both the mouth and the nose of this wine are so predominant that one is reminded distinctly of butterscotch. If this doesn't bother you, you will find underneath a wine with complex fruit, good balance and lovely, deep flavors.
* 1981 Montagny Chateau de la Saule. Here is a crisp wine with good, fresh acidity on the palate, balanced by pleasing varietal fruit flavors. Those who prefer their white burgundy on the tarter, drier side will enjoy this wine. (Available at MacArthur Liquors.)
* 1979 Chablis Moreau. This unassuming, unflawed, honest chablis, while not a wine to ponder, is clean and enjoyable. I have seen this wine for as little as $6.99 a bottle (at a recent Chevy Chase Liquors sale), and while it is fine now, you will want to save half a case for next summer when some of the assertive fruit flavors should round out and become more complex.
* 1979 Chablis Chanson-St. Vincent. While not revealing much in the nose, this wine has good structure and plenty of fruit in the mouth. Here is an example of the assertive, grapy fruit of a young wine developing into the more subdued, interesting and complex flavors of a mature wine.
* 1979 Rully, Ropiteau. Some oak and fruit in the nose and good chardonnay varietal character in this wine are rounded with a "kiss" of oak and backed up by good acidity.
* 1979 Montagny Chateau de Davenay. This wine has a full, ripe fruit bouquet and is full-bodied and well-balanced with ample varietal character in the mouth.