A 20th century renaissance is building in France, this time in Burgundy. As many consumers of fine red burgundy have known for years, much of the wine from this famous region 180 miles southeast of Paris is outrageously priced; sometimes deformed by the addition of cheap, heavy, highly alcoholic wine from France's south; often incompetently vinified by winemakers motivated by greed rather than professional pride; and likely to be marketed to a gullible public as hand-crafted works of art worthy of their pretentious price tags.
Not every merchant, broker and grower is primarily concerned with how much wine he can produce from his vineyard holdings, but the odds that a consumer can walk into a wine shop and get a bottle of real burgundy, unstretched, unfiltered, 100 percent pure pinot noir or chardonnay, unpasteurized and unadulterated, have been compared by some cynics to winning the daily lottery. And just like the lottery, if you indeed stumble upon the real thing, it is a wonderful experience.
For all the atrocious red burgundy made, one would have expected leading wine critics to have been sounding off loud and clear for years, but with the exception of a few protests now and then, most writers have been simply content to write about burgundy wines in a historical context. Yes, Emperor Charlemagne loved wines of Aloxe-Corton and, of course, Napoleon I had a weakness for the wines of Gevrey-Chambertin.
Then, in 1982, along came Anthony Hanson, an Englishman and author of a book called "Burgundy" (Faber and Faber, $10.95, paperback). Hanson said a lot of very unpleasant things about the majority of the most famous red burgundies, and about many of this region's most publicized growers, brokers and large burgundy houses, called negociants. Making no effort to be diplomatic in his criticism, Hanson pointed a finger at fraud, over-cropping, greed and incompetence by much of the burgundy wine trade. Hanson's book has been praised by many as effectively drawing the wine world's attention to the quality problem suffered by modern-day burgundies. However, for all its value and candor, the book was based on research done prior to 1980.
A shortcoming of this book, therefore, is that it describes a situation that is now changing, that in 1983 is becoming significantly better than it has been before. Several recent visits to the region have lead me to the conviction that while the majority of burgundy remains an over-priced mediocrity, a renaissance is commencing which will benefit everyone in search of an authentic bottle.
One of the major reasons for burgundy's blossoming renaissance is that an increasing number of small, high-quality burgundy growers are beginning to bottle the wine from their own vineyards, rather than sell it to large burgundy houses. Traditionally, negociants buy wine from hundreds of small growers, and then blend the wine and sell it under the negociant's label. These negociants are finding it more and more difficult to buy wine from the top growers with old established vineyards. Such growers, encouraged by several small high-quality importers, are now bottling their best barrels of wine under their own labels.
Interestingly, many of new breed of growers who are breaking away from the negociants are young men, often in their twenties and early thirties, have degrees in oenology, and share a bitterness about the general criticism leveled against the quality of burgundy wines. I have found most of the top growers singularly dedicated to re-establishing a great reputation for their wines. Who are these dedicated quality-conscious growers who are leading the renaissance in Burgundy and producing authentic, majestic red burgundies?
Following is a list by the name of the Burgundy commune, with the last name of the grower who bottles his/her wine listed. These growers often own vineyards in different communes, but for organizational purposes, their names have been placed beside the commune where they maintain their offices and wine cellars. All these growers produce wine available (usually in only minute quantities) in the United States. While their wines are often difficult to find, they do represent the very finest of the small-estate bottled, single grower, red burgundies made.
Gevrey-Chambertin--Rossignol, Maume, Roty, Burguet, Magien
Morey-Saint-Denis--Ponsot, Lignier, Bryczek
Chambolle-Musigny--Roumier, Groffier, Dujac
Vosne-Romane'e --Cathiard-Molinier, L. Jayer, H. Jayer, Mongeard-Mugneret, Arnoux, R. Mugneret, Sirugue
Nuits Saint-Georges--Chevillon, Rion
Savigny-Les-Beaune--Martray, Rapet, Bitouzet, Bize, Domaine Chandon de Brialles, Ecart
Chorey-Les-Beaune--Tollot Beaut, Voarik, Germain
Pommard--Mussy, Boillot, Michelot, Gaunoux, Courcel
Volnay--Domaine de Pousse d'or, Lafarge, Montille, D'Angerville