Fintan Kerr: Finding value in Burgundy

By , 17 July 2023



Has any wine region seen a more meteoric rise in fame and fortune than Burgundy? It´s hard to imagine that any producer struggled to sell their wine in the ‘60s and ‘70s, let alone producers in the now famed villages of the Côte d´Or. Instagram is now awash with these older vintages, selling for stratospheric prices at auctions and in restaurants, whilst even young, village Burgundy can now command prices comparable to a flight abroad. The descriptor “Burgundian” would have seemed odd even 20-30 years ago, yet is now one of the most overused marketing expressions in the world of wine, deployed by anyone wishing to describe a wine that has nuance, delicacy and a sense of place. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir plantings in cooler regions of the New World have shot up the wake of this demand, from Hemel-en-Aarde to Tasmania, from Ontario to Patagonia.

Success rarely comes without a price. Inheriting land in the region, for the fortunate few, now requires substantial capital to pay inheritance tax on a value that has multiplied many times over. Land ownership for new vignerons is almost impossible, with the larger, incumbent families purchasing newly available land before it even makes it onto the market. Most importantly, consumers are increasingly having to look elsewhere as prices for even the most ordinary of wines continues to rise. Domaine Romanée-Conti selling for $15 000 instead of $12 000 is only problematic for the extremely wealthy, but the spiralling price of top Burgundy has pulled up the prices for wines across the entire region.

Yet there are a few producers still working their magic at a more affordable rate, both within and outside of the more famous appellations. For whatever reason, the market hasn´t caught onto the quality of their wine and prices have stayed, if not affordable, reasonable by comparison to what some of their peers are charging.

Alice and Olivier de Moor are based in Courgis, a village 7km away from Chablis where they are making some of northern Burgundy´s most exciting white wines. Some of the portfolio is produced under the Chablis appellation, including two premier cru bottlings, but there are also wines from satellite appellations such as Chitry and two of the very best Aligote wines in Burgundy. The vines have all been grown organically since 2005 and the focus of the harvest is on ripeness, yet the crisp, steeliness that hallmarks Chablis seems to stay present in the wines, even in warmer years. Despite demand outstripping supply handsomely, these wines are still available from a little over €20, going up to €45 for the premier cru wines, with the sweet spot being their superb Bourgogne Aligote; sappy, herbal and utterly delicious.  

A little further south takes us to arguably the best value-for-money appellation of the Côte d´Nuits, namely Marsannay. Sylvain Pataille is producing stunning wines here, at a fraction of the cost of his more prestigious neighbours. Whole-bunch fermentation, long macerations, long elevage times and a sensibly low use of SO2 are hallmarks of his style. Sylvain’s vines are spread across Marsannay, with single sites regularly celebrated and bottled individually for all three of his planted grapes; Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Aligote. Unusually, Sylvain is seemingly adept at making top class red and white wine, whilst also producing perhaps Burgundy´s most delicious rosé wine; Marsannay Fleur de Pinot. As with De Moor, availability is much more of a concern than price, though word is starting to get out!

The heartland of the Côte d’Or is not generally considered a good place to buy wine at reasonable prices, but Didier Fornerol is a largely undiscovered gem in the Côtes de Nuits-Villages. The cellarmaster at the famed Domaine de L’Arlot for 16 years, Didier took over his family estate in 1999, with a focus on red wines produced at full ripeness levels, complimented by the use of whole bunch fermentation. These are old-school wines in the best possible sense – firm, fresh and so beautifully floral. Better yet, they´re typically available for less than €30 a bottle.

Yet perhaps the greatest bargains of Burgundy come an estate in the village of Rully, in the Côte Chalonnaise. Just a few miles south of Chassagne-Montrachet, Vincent Dureuil of Domaine Dureuil-Janthial is producing red and white wines of unparalleled quality in the appellation, across 20 different parcels farmed under organic principles. Finding these treasures on a restaurant list is one of life’s great pleasures, and substantially more likely than finding them on a shop shelf. The whites are particularly stunning – focused, flinty and with such effortless drive and persistence. It´s hard to imagine the wines staying affordable so enjoy it whilst they are!

Burgundy won´t be a one-off success story, though it might remain the most dramatic at the top end. Indeed, across the world of wine, prices are rising for its superstars, even in regions much further afield. For South Africa, the phenomenal success of the Swartland in particular has seen similar changes in price and availability, with the wines of The Sadie Family, Mullineux, Porseleinberg and others all rising sharply over the last few years. The danger is that by focusing too much on the same, well-known producers, we run the risk of continually pushing the demand up for only a few wines, isolating others and creating a similar imbalance in the market.

The young energy and diversity in South Africa´s wine scene needs to be fully embraced. The cost of land is still at a level where new producers can find a foot-hold in the country and prices are very competitive with their international peers, whilst also holding onto their unique points of difference. The success of Burgundy has been remarkable, but it´s a double-edged sword that doesn´t need to be so sharp on the downswing. Globally, we need to keep striving to showcase the very best of our wines at all price points – there are gems to be found and celebrated in every region.

  • Fintan Kerr, DipWSET, lives in Barcelona and is a wine writer, educator and founder of Wine Cuentista (Cuentista is Spanish for “storyteller”.) Follow him on Twitter: @Wine_Cuentista


3 comment(s)

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    Tom Prior | 18 July 2023

    Hi Fintan, great piece. As the 1.5% (don’t quote me) tourist wines of Burgundy soar, exacerbated by a weak ZAR, there has long been a need & enjoyment for delving into the road less travelled villages of Burgundy. What the locals drink…

    They’re increasingly well represented here in SA. From our side at Radford Dale Imports, we’ve placed emphasis on sourcing wines from such villages, typically producers based in & championing their village of specialty.

    Domaine Jacqueson in Rully, Chateau de Chamirey in Mercurey, Tollot-Beaut of Chorey-les-Beaune, Pierre Gelin in Fixin, Dubreuil-Fontaine of Pernand-Vergelesses, Albert Morot in Beaune, Rene Bouvier (Marsannay, Gevrey, Fixin), to name a few.

    Better yet on value is Cru Beaujolais… around R280 gets you the better village tier wines bordering the crus in the north. The majority of top Cru Beaujolais can be found here from R350 to R500. The Chardonnays are increasingly good.

    Beaujolais is the Burgundy of 30 years ago.

    Derek Kilpin | 17 July 2023

    Hey Gilles, we have been importing Sylvain Pataille’s wines into RSA for many years. We also have a few more new fantastic growers coming in next year where one can flirt with the word value relative to the quality of wine in the bottle.

    GillesP | 17 July 2023

    Thank you for highlighting these Burgs producers. Sadly not imported in SA yet.
    Personally, I think the hipe for Burgundy is over rated but that’s just my palate talking. I have them as an investment and once in a blue moon pop up a bottle mostly to give the change to my burgundy peer lovers. Would love to find affordable burgundy gems bringing me the satisfaction I used to have for them when the winemaking style was a bit different than it is today but I guess I am not following the trend of purity and so on as I like them bold and rich perhaps more like the American ones are nowadays.

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