Burgundy and Champagne, the two regions that occupy the bulk of my working hours, are both intensely hierarchical. Longstanding traditions, enshrined respectively in Burgundy’s appellation system and Champagne’s “échelle de crus,” rank every square meter of vineyard land; and prestigious labels, many of them celebrated for generations, dominate any list of these wine regions’ most expensive wines. If you simply must have a grand cru bottling from a famous producer, that makes Burgundy and Champagne a very expensive proposition. But for more open-minded consumers, it’s an amazing opportunity: plenty of great vineyard sites aren’t classified as grand cru, and plenty of these region’s most hardworking and talented farmers and winemakers still fly under the radar precisely because they can’t boast a famous name. Paradoxically, in other words, many of both regions’ most interesting wines are actually undervalued. This selection from Burgundy and Champagne emphasizes excellence in all its forms that can be found off the beaten track.
Walk through the vineyards of the Côte de Beaune, and Thomas Bouley’s vines are easy to spot. Their unusually high, evenly spaced canopies are trimmed little and late, casting dappled shade over supple, aerated soils that are often covered with a delicate carpet of grass and weeds. At harvest, his yields are moderate, and clusters are invariably open and healthy. Vineyards don’t look like this by accident, and it’s both Bouley’s results and the indefatigable work ethic that lies behind them that have won him the near-universal admiration of other growers along the Côte d’Or. Yet in many respects, Bouley remains a vigneron’s vigneron—someone more talked about by his neighbors than by collectors overseas, who are more readily seduced by social media savoir faire than hard work in the vineyards. His finest wine is generally his Pommard Fremiers, and the 2018 is built to evolve in the cellar: impressive today, it will really begin to shine in 10 to 15 years.
You’ll be hearing a lot more about Jean-Marc Vincent in the near future. Working with “humbler” appellations such as Santenay or, in this case, Auxey-Duresses, his work in the vineyards is cutting edge: Ultra-high-density plantings with heritage vine genetics, cultivated without the use of tractors, and high canopies that don’t need to be trimmed throughout the growing season deliver impeccable fruit, and constant refinement in the winery and cellar mean that all its character makes it into the bottle these days. Always tirelessly striving to improve, Jean-Marc is now prolonging the time his wines mature in barrel to bring yet another step up in quality. Why isn’t this domaine a household name already? Simply because for far too long the wine press and trade have assessed the quality of Burgundy by “pedigree” as opposed to the wine in the glass and the work behind it.
A Wine for Tonight:
NV Egly-Ouriet Brut Grand Cru (France, Champagne)
Francis Egly can boast an over 30-year career of excellence in Champagne, but he isn’t resting on his laurels. Now working alongside his daughter, Clémence, Egly continues to push the parameters of the possible: cultivating his soils, limiting yields, picking late at full ripeness and fermenting and maturing the vast majority of his production in oak barrels. The result? Immensely flavorful, seamless, authoritative wines that put to shame many of the region’s famous Grandes Marques. Egly’s Brut Grand Cru is his calling card. Based on Pinot Noir from the village of Ambonnay, it was formerly labelled as “Tradition”: that’s changed, but the quality in the bottle hasn’t. It’s hard to think of a better or more consistent Champagne for the price.
A Wine from a Producer That Exemplifies Sustainability:
Few young producers in Burgundy have inherited a more enviable collection of vineyards than Vosne-Romanée’s Charles Lachaux; but few are taking bigger risks. Since taking the helm at this historic domaine less than a decade ago, Lachaux has revolutionized every aspect of winegrowing at this address: He’s changed the trellising in all his vineyards so his vines can grow without any trimming during the growing season, and he’s rolled out permaculture across the domaine—something almost unheard of in a region where mechanical cultivation or even herbicides are still almost universally employed to control competition from weeds and grasses. The result: very low yields of concentrated fruit, which Lachaux handles ever more gently in the cellar. Prices are already exploding, but his entry-level Bourgogne Pinot Fin benefits from the same work and attention to detail and remains somewhat attainable.
Contemporary Burgundy is inevitably associated with wines that are scarce and expensive. The quality, consistency and availability of Domaine Faiveley’s Mercurey La Framboisière are a reminder that this doesn’t always have to be the case—even for a single-vineyard wine produced entirely from estate fruit. This 24-acre parcel, owned by the Faiveley family since the 1960s, seems to produce better wines every year—perhaps in part because yields in this part of Burgundy are declining and grapes ripen more completely. Sumptuous and perfumed, it bursts with aromas of raspberries and rose petals. And it punches well above its comparatively modest price point.