We set our tasters a mission: find the best white burgundies for everyday drinking. They found 28 top performers, at under £20 a bottle. NICK ADAMS reports.
The greatest white Burgundies pass hands for astronomical amounts in the auction sale rooms, and even at a lower level, this is not a wine region that you usually associate with for value for money. But if you accept that you will probably have to pay more than a tenner for quality, the quest for ‘affordable’ white Burgundy doesn’t have to be fruitless.
For this tasting, the bar was set at a maximum of £20 per bottle at retail and the wines had to be widely available in the UK. On the tasting panel were Decanter consultant editor Steven Spurrier, tastings co-ordinator Christelle Guibert and myself, and we tasted our way through 66 wines that met these criteria. The findings were, well… mixed.
Some of the white burgundies were simply dull, and mixed sins of overcropping, (some) over oaking and excessive sulphur levels, which combined to mask any generic, let alone appellation, identity. Steven Spurrier, for example, noted that the Côte Chalonnaise offerings were not as good as the wines he had tasted from the Mâconnais in January 2001.
Overall, there was a feeling of disappointment with this selection – disappointment that one of the world’s flagship wine regions could not excite a more enthusiastic response at this level. This is not to say there weren’t some very good examples – there were – and we would like to commend those, in particular, which scored four stars or more, of which there were some 16 wines. The issue, however, was that we would have liked to have found even more wines to recommend.
So, where to head to, for the best value white burgundies, on the evidence of this tasting? Probably to the most northern outpost, Chablis, which showed consistently well. This is where you will find Chardonnay at its coolest and least oak-influenced best.
Southern Burgundy – with communes such as Rully, Montagny and Pouilly – should also be sources of ‘affordable whites’, where the potential to offer disarming charm and richness, in its better wines, would satisfy as a cheaper alternative to the classic whites of the Côte de Beaune. We found few wines (Mâcon apart) to get excited about.
Steven Spurrier remarked that the poor quality of so many wines in this tasting suggests that either the high street buyers didn’t taste the wines before they bought them, or that their suppliers passed on lower quality wines on the repeat orders. Considering the revered limestone soil on which Chardonnay thrives in Burgundy, far too many of these showed feet of clay. Ultimately, this tasting confirmed the need to be selective. As ever with Burgundy, put producer (and reputation) first. Beware buying solely on price and, to a lesser degree, appellation, alone.
Written by Nick Adams