Burgundy 2018: where to find value


Photograph: Jason Lowe

There is much more to Burgundy than its most famous plots and producers – if you know where to look. As the 2018 vintage is released en primeur, our Wine Director Mark Pardoe MW offers his insider tips on where to find serious value

Nothing in Burgundy is made in large volumes. The most famous wines are almost impossible to find, as the tiny quantities usually have to be allocated, and prices for these rarities are high. But there are ways you can get a foothold on the Burgundy ladder and find wines that give the thrill of Burgundy’s unique qualities – without having to break the bank.

Big names, “lesser” wines

The one immutable fact about Burgundy is that the name of the producer is the most important guarantor of quality. Great producers make excellent wines at all levels. While their top wines may command eye-watering prices, almost all Burgundians have a broad portfolio, running from the generic to the great. They may cost a little more than their peers, but don’t hesitate to pick up these “lesser” wines when they are made by Burgundy’s most admired producers.

Non-village village wines

A lot of Bourgogne Rouge and Blanc is created by blending across the region but, at smaller growers, some generic wines are created from vineyards situated only around the famous villages. Although less intense and to be drunk young, in the right hands these wines can capture the essence of a village’s character, be it the steely minerality of Puligny, the silky intensity of Vosne or the floral delicacy of Chambolle. There is no way of knowing from the label. Be sure to check our tasting notes, which always aim to show each wine’s provenance.

Climate change vineyards

Burgundy’s quality hierarchy is based on the empirical observation of each vineyard’s ability to ripen fully and, for centuries, those vineyards on the best soils and situated mid-slope have been identified as prime land. The converse is that vineyards that struggled to ripen, although on good soil, were not so well regarded. But as climate change brings earlier harvests, these out-lying vineyards are coming into consideration. Look at wines from villages tucked into the valleys, such as St Aubin, Pernand-Vergelesses and St Romain for whites, or higher locations, like Monthélie and Blagny for reds.

Look for old vines

As vines age, their yield reduces and the fruit gathered is more concentrated. This quality is much prized as, although the volumes produced are smaller, quality and intensity are enhanced. This is seen as a particular benefit to Burgundy’s great wines, but there is a win lower down the scale as well. Many producers still prefer to keep as many old vines as is practical, even though this is a more commercially challenging decision. Sometimes producers will label their wines as “vieilles vignes”, but there is no legal definition of an old vine, so others may not.

Halo effect villages

As demand for the great names of Burgundy increases, it pays to keep an eye on their neighbours. Santenay borders Chassagne where the soil turns more to red wine territory (for the same reason, do not underestimated Chassagne’s reds, for which it was once more famed), Auxey-Duresses has much in common with Meursault, whereas in the north, Fixin borders Gevrey-Chambertin and itself runs into Marsannay. Do not necessarily expect the finesse of the more renowned villages, but you will find very worthy and delicious wines.

Flying south

With the price of land in the Côte d’Or increasingly prohibitive, many producers are looking south to the Côte Chalonnais, Mâconnais and Beaujolais. A much greater understanding of these regions’ terroir has catalysed a resurgence in quality, led by existing domaines and now joined by increasing numbers of renowned producers from the Cote d’Or, keen to make wines that are both affordable and of quality in line with their own reputations, and thus able to offer wines with their imprimatur to their growing bands of customers.

Head for the hills

Although much of the traditional focus on Burgundy is on the precious vineyards of the Côte d’Or, there are also vineyards in the higher country to the west, behind the famous hills. There is some fine terroir here and, in centuries past, some villages were held in very high regard. The themes are well-known: a new generation of vignerons, better vineyard management, climate change, a better understanding of the market, and a quality halo effect from the famous wines; all these influences are helping to support wines that offer both value and interest.

Explore the full list of Mark’s recommendations here, or browse all Burgundy 2018 En Primeur at bbr.com/burgundy2018