No one takes greater advantage of the economic doctrine of supply and demand than the wine producers of Burgundy. So many of them exploit the incredibly high prices by selling wine of embarrassingly shoddy quality.
Because the region is tiny in size and limited by French law as to what, where and how much wine it can produce, Burgundy's ruddy-faced vignerons have no trouble selling their crops regardless of how poor the vintage may be. The demand for burgundy is so great that there is little incentive for many growers to employ conservative viticultural practices and produce less wine of finer quality.
To understand burgundy, one often is better off simply forgetting its vintages, and concentrating instead on its most conscientious and meticulous growers. They will consistently produce better wine in mediocre and poor years than many growers do in the good to excellent years. However, the connoisseurs who follow burgundy closely anticipate the arrival of wines produced by these top growers; consequently, demand and prices usually are staggeringly high.
Another alternative to enjoying what burgundy is famous for but so infrequently provides -- broad, expansive, velvety textured wines with stunningly aromatic bouquets -- is to ignore the famous producers and their historically significant vineyards altogether. Look instead for wines from less prestigious appellations such as santenay, rully, savigny les beaune, mercurey, monthe'lie, fixin and givry.
These seven areas of Burgundy all are entitled to their own appellation and almost always are the source for Burgundy's best values in red wines. A short summary of the style of wine of each appellation and recommendations for several good growers to look for locally follows alphabetically:
Fixin: Located just north of the famous commune of Gevrey Chambertin, Fixin is a region that produces wines from growers such as Pierre Gelin or Guy Barthaut that are as good if not better than 50 percent of the wines produced in Gevrey. Fixin wines cost $10-18 a bottle, about half that of a gevrey, and are prized for their rustic, smoky, robust richness.
Givry: Givry is not located in either Burgundy's famous Co te de Nuits or Co te de Beaune. Consequently, the wines do not have the glamor or high prices of their more prestigious brethren to the north. However, they offer round, ripe, generous pinot noir flavors when produced by the likes of Baron Thenard from his Clos-Saint-Pierre vineyard and by the Steinmaier family from its Clos Salomon vineyard. The price for givry rarely exceeds $10, which by burgundy standards is downright cheap.
Mercurey: The wines of Mercurey are finally gaining more respect as consumers learn of their solid quality and reasonable prices. The Faiveley firm produces particularly fine spicy, cherry-flavored wines from its Clos du Myglands vineyard, as do the Domaine Jacquesson and Domaine de Suremain. Prices average $10-14 dollars, but the top wines often are equivalent to burgundies that cost twice as much.
Monthe'lie: Good volnays are among Burgundy's most elegant and graceful wines, but few can afford the price of $15-25. Monthe'lie is the poor person's volnay. Located next to the famous Volnay appellation, but largely ignored by the wine trade, the wines of Monthe'lie tend to be firmer and fuller than those of Volnay. Look for the wines from such outstanding producers as Coche-Dury and Douhairet.
Rully: This underrated appellation produces especially good red and white wines that are quite underpriced given the general level of quality and their character. Four growers and one broker -- or as the French say, ne'gociant -- dominate the scene here. The Domaine de la Folie is this appellation's best producer, closely followed by the Domaine Jacquesson, Jean Franc,ois Delorme, the firm of Faively and the Domaine Chanzy.
Santenay: The southernmost appellation of the Co te de Beaune is a veritable treasure trove for top values in red burgundy. The general level of winemaking in Santenay is quite high, and as yet the demand not sufficiently insatiable to corrupt the winemaking habits of the top growers. Santenays are filled with the scents and flavors of ripe cherry fruit and spices. They rarely cost more than $10 to $15. The best wines come from such vineyards as Les Gravie res, La Comme and Le Passe Temps. The best growers, and fortunately there are many here, are Lequin Roussot, Domaine de la Charrie re and Domaine Mestre, and the ne'gociants Joseph Drouhin and Pierre Boure'e have consistently fine Santenays.
Savigny Les Beaune: Savigny Les Beaune is a good stone's throw from the much more famous and prestigious commune of Aloxe Corton. The wines are similarly styled, but not similarly priced. Rich and characterized by ripe cherry fruit with an elegance and softness, the best Savigny Les Beaune wines are made by Simon Bize, Tollot-Beaut, Tollot-Voarick, Bonnot-Lamblot and Domaine Chandon de Briailles. Wine Briefs
Speaking of lower priced red burgundies, don't miss either the 1982 or 1983 Bourgogne "Chante Flute" from Michel Goubard at $5.49, or the 1978 or 1976 Bourgogne "D'Auvenay" from the highly respected Maison Leroy for $8.95. Both are the quality equivalents of red burgundies costing two, even three times as much.