Wines were tasted blind by Andy Howard MW at Decanter’s offices in London – producers and UK agents were invited to submit white and red still wines from any region in Burgundy except Chablis, priced up to £20 in the UK.
Prices continue to spiral for wines from the Côte d’Or – Burgundy lovers’ choices for good-value options are increasingly limited. Demand remains sky-high and this, combined with significant reductions in the volumes produced in 2016, 2019 and 2020, has led to even higher prices. And that was all before the drastic losses suffered in 2021 (through frosts, snow, vine diseases and rain), compounded by rising fuel and raw material costs, have added even greater pressure.
Rebecca Palmer, buyer and associate director at merchant Corney & Barrow, summed up the current situation, lamenting: ‘Côte Chalonnaise pricing is where village Burgundy used to be not so long ago, with the Côte d’Or off the chart. Much of it is inaccessible to most.’ So where should consumers look now?
Scroll down to see Andy Howard’s top 30 value Burgundy wines under £20
There are 84 appellations within the wine regions of Bourgogne, with the top of the quality pyramid occupied by famous names from the Côte d’Or, such as Gevrey-Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée, Meursault and the Montrachets. Within these appellations, village-level wines support even more renowned premier and grand cru exotica from specific vineyard sites – the latter often costing many hundreds of pounds per bottle.
The rise in prices for wines from the Côte d’Or has naturally led to greater interest in lower-cost alternatives. Wines from the less-renowned sites of the Côte d’Or (for example, the Hautes Côtes de Nuits or Beaune), Côte Chalonnaise, the Mâconnais and Grand Auxerrois (either side of the Chablis area, including APs Irancy, Saint-Bris and Vézelay) have been increasingly touted as the way forward for Burgundy lovers seeking quality combined with value.
At the same time, there have been improvements in many of these (previously) less favoured areas, partly due to improved techniques and the arrival of new generations of winemakers, together with a warming climate bringing fruit grown on marginal sites into better maturity. Palmer notes ‘many smaller appellations are on the up, often in the hands of a younger generation’, and that ‘sites that might previously have been considered infeasible are becoming more interesting in light of climate change’.
Around the regions
This blind tasting of 67 wines showed that there are still some fine Bourgogne wines to be found at up to £20 per bottle. What was encouraging was the geographical range – among 21 whites scoring more than 91 points, five were from the Côte Chalonnaise (including three produced from the Aligoté grape), one from the Grand Auxerrois (Chablis was excluded from this tasting but still remains a great source for top-quality, well-priced Chardonnay). There was a strong showing from wines produced with a blend of grapes sourced from across the region, while the well-known Cave des Vignerons de Buxy cooperative, Cave de Viré and Vignerons des Terres Secrètes (at Prissé) continue to excel.
It was unsurprising that wines from the Mâconnais scored highly. Fourteen wines are recommended, with these showing much more interest than might have been expected a few years ago. Whereas many wines from this region used to be attractive, easy-drinking, ripe and stone-fruit driven, relatively few offered the terroir-focused intensity of wines from the Côte d’Or. The tasting showed that the best examples from the Mâconnais offer a winning combination of purity, ripeness and terroir influence.
Of the nine red wines selected, three came from the Côte d’Or, with the same number from the Côte Chalonnaise. Within the latter group, Mercurey showed as an appellation moving forward and well worth considering.
Smaller family domaines performed strongly. These offer the greatest opportunity for ‘terroir hunters’ to find wines offering even more complexity, finesse and character than some of the (very good) wines made from purchased grapes and/or cross-regional blends. The domaine wines from Carrette, de la Croix-Senaillet, Dominique Cornin, Sève and Masse are worth searching out.
Finding fine Burgundy below £20 retail is a challenge, but there are still plenty of options. How long this remains so will be partly driven by volumes produced in the next couple of vintages. It seems likely prices will continue to move upwards, so now is the time to buy.