The Cote d’Or, or golden slope, gets its name from the sunlight that bathes the east-facing slopes during the growing season, but it may just as well refer to the price of the wine. Even village wines, bearing just the names of those towns on their labels, command a hefty price. Move up the hierarchy established over the centuries, to single-vineyard wines awarded the status of premier cru or grand cru, and the prices soar accordingly.
Burgundy has other districts, of course. Chablis, to the north, nudging Champagne, specializes in chardonnay. Prices range from quite reasonable to lofty. In the south, the Macon supplies many a French bistro with a house white, delicious chardonnay at comfortable prices.
And just south of the Cote de Beaune is Burgundy’s “Third Cote,” the Cote Chalonnaise. The villages here — Rully, Givry, Mercurey, Montagny and Bouzeron are the main ones — are peasants compared with the royalty to the north. And yet, they offer terrific wines for the price.
“The Cote Chalonnaise is the best value in Burgundy today,” says Decanter magazine columnist Steven Spurrier. He keynoted a session on the Chalonnaise as Burgundy’s Third Cote at this year’s International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Spurrier, who helped put California on the world wine map by organizing the famous Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976, noted that Chalonnaise winegrowers may be benefiting from the warming climate, which is helping grapes ripen more evenly and reliably than in previous vintages.
Don’t get me wrong: These wines are not cheap. Chalonnaise bottles cost between $25 and $50. Value doesn’t always mean inexpensive. While not matching the thrill of top burgundies, Chalonnaise wines are delicious and relatively affordable. They are great candidates for your holiday dinner parties, family occasions or even personal vindication celebrations on a really bad day.
They are also hard to find. Their inferior status compared with wines of the Cote de Nuits or Cote de Beaune dampens market demand. Retailers may be skeptical and put these bottles on the lower shelf or the far edges of the burgundy section. The wines may be easier to find on restaurant lists, at least when sommeliers are searching for relative bargains. So look for these town names on labels, and be willing to explore Burgundy’s third slope.
Three major burgundy producers — Faiveley, Louis Jadot and Louis Latour — have invested heavily in the Cote Chalonnaise and are names to look for. Maison Chanzy, Domaine de la Folie, Antonin Rodet and Chateau de Chamirey are also making delicious wines.
In my recent tastings, I was most enthusiastic about the whites. I enjoyed a stunning chardonnay from Domaine de la Folie in Rully, in the northern Chalonnaise near Chassagne-Montrachet. Further south, in Montagny, I was blown away by the minerally energy of wines from Louis Latour and Laurent Cognard.
The wines of Bouzeron, an appellation devoted exclusively to the aligoté grape, are also standouts. Traditionally blended with cassis to make the aperitif kir, aligoté shines in Bouzeron, where it exhibits some of the fleshiness of white burgundy, restrained by a mineral core.
Pinot noir from this region tends to be on the rustic side, a little rough on the edges but with fine flavors of dark cherries and truffles characteristic of the grape. Mercurey is the main appellation for pinot noir, with Faiveley and Louis Latour producing delicious examples that do indeed show sophistication. Givry, just to Mercurey’s south, is the smallest of the appellations in the Chalonnaise. The pinots here tend to be juicy and well, fun, for lack of a better word.
I’ve used the word “peasants” to describe these wines, and I’m not alone in my sentiment. In the newly released eighth edition of “The World Atlas of Wine,” the British writers Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson call these wines “undernourished cousins” of the more famous wines of the Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune.
But this perspective compares the wine of the Cote Chalonnaise with the very best of Burgundy. Perhaps that’s not the best point of view. Compared to wines in the $10 to $20 range, these are a definite step up in quality. They give true Burgundy character at a fraction of the price of that storied region’s top wines. They are worth seeking out, on retail shelves or restaurant lists. And are worth the splurge.
Here are five of my favorites from recent tastings of Cote Chalonnaise wines.
Louis Jadot Domaine Gagey Bouzeron 2016
Burgundy, France, $27
Aligoté, chardonnay’s nearly forgotten cousin in Burgundy, was traditionally blended with cassis to make a kir cocktail. When treated with respect, it makes a delicious wine, lighter in body than chardonnay, but with the same mineral and terroir aspects of white Burgundy. The Domaine Gagey from Louis Jadot is expansive and fruity, yet that mineral core shows through on the lengthy finish. Alcohol by volume: 12.5 percent.
Imported by Kobrand, distributed by RNDC: Available in the District at Calvert Woodley, MacArthur Beverages, Rodman’s.
Domaine de la Folie Rully Clos la Folie Monopole 2017
Beautifully expressive, with a perfect balance of fruit, oak and terroir, this chardonnay should stand proud among more famous (and more expensive) white burgundies. The label explains the name “Folie” as coming from an ancient belief that the nearby forest was a hideout for spirits. This wine sure is spirited. ABV: 13.5 percent.
Imported by Vintage ’59, distributed by Winebow: Available in the District at Connecticut Avenue Wine & Liquor, Rodman’s, Schneider’s of Capitol Hill. Available in Maryland at Bradley Food & Beverage in Bethesda, Downtown Crown Wine and Beer in Gaithersburg, Rip’s Wine and Spirit Shop in Bowie. Available in Virginia at Dominion Wine and Beer in Falls Church.
Laurent Cognard & Co. Montagny 1er Cru "Les Bassets" 2016/2017
Lithe, nimble and electric, this chardonnay seems to be channeling energy from within the earth. I tasted the 2016; the importer has recently introduced the 2017. Laurent Cognard also produces a less expensive (and less expressive) chardonnay whimsically called “Le Chard” and a pinot noir. ABV: 13.5 percent.
Imported and distributed by Winebow: Available in the District at Rodman’s, Schneider’s of Capitol Hill, Wide World of Wines. Available in Maryland at Bradley Food & Beverage in Bethesda, Wine Cellars of Annapolis in Annapolis, Wine Source in Baltimore.
Maison Chanzy Bouzeron Clos de la Fortune Monopole 2016
This aligoté from Maison Chanzy shows the care given to a wine produced from a single estate-owned (monopole) vineyard. The emphasis here is on mineral structure and less on fruit. ABV: 12.5 percent.
Imported and distributed by Winebow: Available in the District at Rodman’s, Schneider’s of Capitol Hill. Available in Maryland at Bradley Food & Beverage in Bethesda. Available in Virginia at Bottle Stop in Occoquan.
Maison Louis Latour Mercurey Rouge 2016
This is a lovely “village” wine, one step up the hierarchy but at the same price as many wines labeled “Bourgogne.” Aromas of truffles and autumn leaves, flavors of dark cherries and plums — all pinot noir signatures — are held together by noticeable, though not overbearing, acidity. This wine is light enough to drink with casual meals but substantive enough to enjoy with hearty, fancier foods as well. ABV: 13 percent.
Imported by Louis Latour Inc., distributed by M. Touton Selection: Available in the District at Eye Street Cellars, Rodman’s. Available in Maryland at Beer, Wine & Co. and Bradley Food & Beverage in Bethesda; Bin 201 Wine Sellers in Annapolis; Bin 604 Wine Sellers, Canton Crossing Wine + Spirits and Wine Source in Baltimore; Decanter Fine Wines in Columbia; Frederick Wine House and Old Farm Liquors in Frederick; Hop N Grape in North Bethesda; Pine Orchard Liquors in Ellicott City; World Gourmet Wine & Beer in Potomac.
Availability information is based on distributor records. Wines might not be in stock at every listed store and might be sold at additional stores. Prices are approximate. Check Winesearcher.com to verify availability, or ask a favorite wine store to order through a distributor.
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