To confound the wine world, the 2016 vintage’s April frosts reduced yields about 10-fold in the Cote de Beaune, accelerating an already meteoric price increase beginning with the 2014 vintage. Though prices had been slowly creeping up each year in Burgundy, we have now hit price inflation that, reviewing the post-2015 wine auction indexes, has exceeded the likes of the Bordeaux heyday starting in 2005 and exploding in 2009/2010.
Burgundy will escape much of the criticism leveled at Bordeaux – most of the domaines remain family run at a family scale (compare Mouton Rothschild’s 20,000 case production for their top wine to 450 cases for DRC’s top wine), and for the most part the quality keeps increasing . There also remains no other place in the world that expresses the concept of terroir more effectively and with such depth. But, with the rise of Burgundy pricing, I wonder if we are experiencing the emergence of a completely new understanding of terroir. Burgundy remains the lodestone, and teaches that there is much more to terroir than soil (culture, experience, genetics, microbiology, a confluence of stylist preferences within a given region, etc.). However, terroir as an elite concept is perhaps on the wane. We now know that wines from all of the world can be well-made wines without the cultural, intellectual, and sensual force of terroir, but also that terroir wines need not be priced as trophies and can emerge nearly anywhere grapes grow well.
At the same time, there is an irreplicable draw and profundity to Burgundy that will ensure its enduring importance as the point at which wine transitions from hedonism to art, at least until climate change completely snuffs it.
We are experiencing the creation of a completely new world of Burgundy. It is likely that the wines will never again be accessible to any but the wealthiest. 2014, 2015, and 2016 prove this transition. Case in point: Taupenot-Merme Charmes-Chambertin BCLDB pricing has progressed as follows: $210 for 2014 vintage; $260 for 2015 vintage; $310 for 2016 vintage. This is not an anomaly, but exemplifies the norm. Per The Economist, Burgundy prices have doubled since 2015 (i.e. at the tail end of the 2013 vintage release).
All the more reason to buy those 2013’s and 2014’s still on the shelves. It may be the the last you will ever be able to splurge for. Alternatively, it is now time to look at Burgundy’s ancillary regions and basic bottlings for your luxury splurge. Below I provide four examples of the very best of white Burgundy, all very rare, but some more financially accessible than others. Each of these wines performs at the top level.
Etienne Sauzet Les Perrieres Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru 2013
Ah 2013, when Burgundy was expensive but not impossibly so. This premier cru was available in the market for about $150 (now it is closer to $300). Though 2013 was not a strong vintage for white wine, Sauzet (one of Puligny’s top producers) delivered an impeccable wine at the highest level, clean and bright, but richly textured and wonderfully long. Excellent+.
Domaine Ramonet ‘Les Belles Filles’ Pernand-Vergelesses 2014
A storied domaine that, yes, can be prohibitively expensive. But look into its lesser-known Pernand white for a stunning wine at a fraction of this Chassagne producer’s regular pricing (making me recall a 2011 Montrachet I bought for $300 – now at least four times the price if you can find it). Excellent.
Domanie Roulet Bourgogne Blanc 2015
Another storied, almost impossible to find Domaine. However, if you do, Roulet’s basic Bourgogne Blanc is among the best whites in all of Burgundy, far exceeding many premier crus from other domaines. It comes in around $100 in Canada, which is a superb price for the quality. Excellent+.
Francois Mikulski Meursault 2016
Electric wine. Mikulski is not for those who seek out fat Chardonnay. This is linear, high acid Meursault that rejects the old-premise that Meursault is the richest cru. Nonsense these days, especially with a Mikulski bottling. Mikulski is Somm-respected but not yet at cult-fame, so you can get this wine for about $100 around town. The production is tiny, but it is worth the effort and time to find out who has these and make the splurge. Excellent.