Red Burgundy is undoubtedly one of brightest stars in the fine wine firmament. This thin, elongated part of eastern France stretches from Chablis in the north right the way down to Beaujolais in the south. If you were to take a drive from Chablis to Lyon you’d be about to embark on a 178-mile trip through some of the loveliest countryside and vineyards France has to offer.
Burgundy: Wines Like No Other
Housed within this undulating landscape of extraordinarily complex (and extraordinarily complicated!) soils of Jurassic limestone, clay, gravel, marl and sand are the world’s finest producers of both pinot noir and chardonnay. Burgundy’s unique combination of soil and climate – terroir in other words – has gifted it the natural ability to create reds and whites that are the envy of world. Add to nature’s bounty producers as fanatical about quality as Domaine de la Romanee Conti, Leroy, Rousseau, de Vougue and Faiveley and it’s easy to see why Burgundy inspires such fanatical passions.
Red Burgundy: Priced Out of the Market?
Unfortunately, the region’s reputation is such that in recent years prices have gone beyond sky high and into an orbit where only billionaires can comfortably venture. Over the last 5 years’ the Burgundy investment market has grown substantially both in terms of size and returns. The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) has hit around 15% and it has doubled in terms of market share since 2016. In 2018 alone, the Burgundy market saw growth of a whopping 35% according to wine trading platform, Liv-Ex.
Now this extraordinary growth has, in fairness, been fuelled by a handful of Domaines. As with investing in whisky, it’s become a case of the best and the rest. In 2016 a bottle of Rousseau’s Chambertin 1989 could be yours for around £1,000 a bottle. Today the same wine is trading at closer to £3,000. This, and the unbelievable sums that Asian collectors have paid for the likes of Romanee Conti 1945 (£460,000) have pushed up the indices. But even with these superstars aside, the whole market has gone, well, up-market, at least in terms of price and left many Burgundy drinkers wanting.
Red Burgundy: Where Are the Values?
Many years ago, a friend of mine once asked an MW and leading UK Burgundy expert where the values were in fine red Burgundy. He laughed and replied, ‘In your dreams!’ Now while that has never been truer in the case of the superstar Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines, there are still some corners of this fabled region that can offer affordable excellence. To help you find them here are a few simple rules and some recommendations on wines that can provide pleasure without giving you a nasty financial hangover.
Tip 1: Look Beyond the Golden Side…
The Côte d’Or, that relatively small proportion of the region that comprises of the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune, is home to the finest and the rarest. Buying wines from here is rather like buying property in central London: a wonderful idea if you can afford it. Look slightly further west to the vineyards by or on top of this famed escarpment and values start to appear. The wines from the sub regions of the Hautes Côte de Nuits and the Hautes Côte de Beaune can offer terrific drinking for (relatively) modest money. While no one would suggest that they can hold a candle – or even a match – to those from appellations such as Echezeaux or Chambertin, they can offer some of that mercurial pinot noir brilliance that makes these wines so enthralling.
Tip 2: Forget the Rarities
Burgundy as a whole is not a massive producer, relatively speaking. It produces around 1.41m hectolitres per year whereas Bordeaux makes somewhere closer to 3.75m hectolitres. Of that 1.41m only 14,000 litres or 1,500 cases (around 1-2%) is of Grand Cru quality. Given the highly fragmented nature of vineyard ownership thanks to Napoleonic inheritance laws, producers may only make a barrel or two of such gems. This is another reason why wines such as Clos Vougeot, La Romanee or any of the 33 Grand Crus are so extraordinarily pricey and prized and why values rarely exist.
Tip 3: Don’t Turn Your Nose Up at Bourgogne Rouge
Basic AC Bordeaux is all too often just that: basic. Based on over-cropped merlot with a smattering of green cabernet franc or chewy malbec, it’s often a joyless experience that does the region no favours. Basic Bourgogne Rouge on the other hand can be an absolute joy. Follow the golden rule of buying burgundy and buy from the best producer you can afford and you can get something amazing for (relatively) little money. Faiveley, Groffier, Leroy, Ponsot, Meo Camuzet, Lafarge, all these great names make great Bourgogne and they take pride in crafting wines that are worthy of their great domaines.
Tip 4: Less Fashionable Villages and Vintages
While most wine lovers know the wines of Vosne Romanee, Musigny or the great Chambertin – by repute if not experience – names such Givry, Ladoix-Serrigny or Auxey Duresses may well pass them by. The wines can be excellent though – especially things like a good Givry 1er Cru which combines elegance and styles with real precision and verve.
Equally look to so-called ‘off-vintages’. Vintages matter hugely here and while stinkers are best avoided, underrated years like 1991, 1996, 2004 and 2006 can be lovely.
Tip 5: Look for The Rising Stars
Catching a rising star in Burgundy is rather like catching a rising star of the art world: enjoy the ride while you can, they will soon be millionaires’ playthings! Burgundy is a surprisingly vibrant place for somewhere that is associated with conservatism and new producers and rising stars are lighting up the firmament all the time. These are winemakers who tend to be younger, who have travelled and trained around the world and who are willing to take risks. Our encounters with the likes of Domaine d’Eugenie – bankrolled by the owner of Latour, Francois Pinault, David Duband and Domaine Arnoux-Lachaud all show that beauty on a budget is still possible if you know where to look.
Burgundy: A Wine Jewel We Can All (Still) Enjoy
So, despite the ever-rising prices and the ever-increasing frenzy to get hold of the latest releases from Burgundy’s legends, values can still be found and wines for an affordable price can be enjoyed. Much like other small French fine wine regions – one thinks of Pomerol or Cote Rotie – it just takes a little knowledge, a willingness to take a step into the unknown and a preparedness to experiment. But isn’t that one of the great joys of wine?
Like Some More Help?
If you would like some help getting some fine Burgundy wines at genuinely good prices or would like some fine wine advice, then please get in touch. You can call us on 0118 984 4654 or email us and we’ll be more than happy to help.