Sommelier, author and educator Hillary Zio travels the globe in search of the best that the world of wine has to offer. Here, she shares her expert tips on how to find value in some of the world’s most incredible wine regions. Read on and follow along with her sips and trips on Instagram @HillaryZio
If you’re a Burgundy lover like myself, you’ve probably discovered that many of the renowned region’s wines aren’t considered affordable. While frustrating, there are several reasons why Burgundy can fetch such high price points for its reds and whites.
For one, the unique terroir produces inimitable wines, especially from the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. Burgundy is also a relatively small growing region and many of the wines are produced in very small quantities, making demand far exceed supply. Thankfully, there are still a few ways we can enjoy these wines without having to sell any organs or family heirlooms.
Look for regional wines
A red or white Burgundy labeled simply as “Bourgogne” means that the grapes can come from anywhere inside the entire region of Burgundy. Many producers (even the very best) release one of these as their “entry-level” wine since it is often a blend from several of the estate’s owned plots. A wine labeled with more geographical specifics are usually more expensive, depending on where exactly that is. Also, many consumers have identified their preferences and tend to buy from appellations they already know they enjoy, making these regional wines easier to come by.
Regional wines are often unoaked or lightly oaked and meant to be enjoyed within a year or so of release. I find that both red and white Bourgogne tend to pair nicely with a summer BBQ or picnic and are easy for everyone to enjoy. A great example of a regional wine from Burgundy is the 90+ Cellars Bourgogne Rouge. This ripe-fruited wine has notes of red cherries and strawberries on the nose, followed by mushrooms, pine cones and a hint of anise. For more on this wine, check out my article, “Discover the Classics: Burgundy, Where Pinot Noir Rules.”
Seek out lesser-known village appellations
Village-level Burgundy is just a step above regional, and while generally more expensive, there are still a few villages that aren’t necessarily fought over. Many of these appellations are just a few kilometers away from Burgundy’s famous Premier Cru and Grand Cru-classified wines. In fact, several of these village-level wines include a portion of fruit from those vineyards, they just can’t legally include that information on the label. Generally speaking, village-level Burgundy is more complex than regional, but you have to know where to look.
A few regions to explore for the best value Pinot Noir include Fixin and Marsannay in the Côte de Nuits. Some of the best producers within these regions have been known to mimic the much higher-priced wines of neighboring Gevrey-Chambertin or Morey-Saint-Denis! Chardonnay lovers can find value in the Côte de Beaune villages such as the Mâconnais, Saint-Véran and Auxey-Duresses.
Chardonnay from the appellation of Auxey-Duresses is especially unique, in my opinion. The commune does include the often expensive Auxey-Duresses Premier Cru, but that area only makes up around two percent of production for the whole village. Therefore, many estates surrounding or nearby the Premier Cru site are producing beautiful “look-alikes” at a much lower price point. For example, the 90+ Cellars 2016 Lot 168 Auxey-Duresses expresses classic notes of fresh almonds, ripe pear, daffodils and peach. The unmistakable minerality from this village is also quite present, offering an aroma of gunflint and crushed rocks. The wine is aged in oak casks for one year, which adds a hint of toasted brioche and creaminess to the long finish. This lively wine is full of acidity and pairs best with blue cheese, prawns, ratatouille and cooked shellfish. At just around $40, this wine is still a great value for Auxey-Duresses, or any of the best Côte de Beaune village wines.
Try out other grape varietals
To understand the variety of wines in Burgundy, Gamay and Aligoté are grapes that needn’t be overlooked. Aligoté is similar to Chablis in style, as it is often unoaked and known to offer stone fruit and mineral aromas in the same way Chardonnay can. Also, since the grape is lesser known by wine drinkers, it’s rarely as expensive.
If you’re a Chablis chaser, Aligoté can be a wonderful alternative. I recommend checking out the 90+ Cellars 2017 Lot 167 Bourgogne Aligoté. This crisp and refreshing wine is more about minerality than fruit or floral aromas. A hint of river stones and clay came across the palate as I tasted this wine, followed by lime juice, yellow apple, fresh basil and daisies. Light and easy to drink with heightened acidity, this wine pairs best with a spring pea salad, roasted beets and radishes, or an herbed goat cheese. This is an exceptional choice at under $20/bottle.
Gamay can be a lovely substitute for the often-expensive Burgundian Pinot Noir. In fact, many seasoned wine professionals still confuse the two when tasting blind, since they’re genetically related. Gamay can always be found in Beaujolais, as well as Burgundy’s southernmost region, the Mâconnais. The thin-skinned grape often displays aromas of red cherries, cranberries, herbs and granite-like minerality. Always light in tannin, Gamay is inarguably one of the only red wines that can pair well with fish, but I like to enjoy it with delicate cheeses and charcuterie. For more on Beaujolais, check out this article.
Look to négociants
In Burgundy, négociants are merchants that purchase grapes or finished wine from several vineyards and estates and usually throughout several villages. They can bottle the wine under their own name either separately or blended with other growers’ wines. If the négociant is blending wine from several vineyards, they typically cannot include a precise location on the label. Therefore, and similar to regional wines, they can rarely demand top dollar when the wine’s origin is unspecified. As a consumer, you’re able to know the region, but never the exact vineyards.
A great example of a modern négociant is 90+ Cellars, as they put carefully selected wines from all over the world behind their own label and sell them for less. They achieve this by helping wineries sell their product without having to discount their own wine, which could potentially weaken their brand. This allows consumers a chance to experience wines that may be too expensive otherwise. And since Burgundy’s prices are constantly increasing, négociants can offer a solution at every price point.
So next time you’re looking for Burgundy, keep in mind there are several ways to find value while still enjoying one of the world’s most illustrious wine regions.
Lot 167 Bourgogne Aligoté and Lot 168 Auxey-Duresses are available in limited quantities, so be sure to scoop them up before they’re gone!