The rising interest in the best Burgundy wines in our Christie’s
auctions has not only resulted in a growing demand for the
finest Pinot Noirs, but also reflects a dramatic increase
in the worldwide thirst for grand and premier cru white Burgundies.
The best of white burgundy hails from the region just south
of Dijon known as the Cote d’ Or (literally, ‘golden slope’),
a limestone escarpment that stretches south as far as the
river Dheune, about 65km long and between one and two kilometres wide.
While the northern half, the Côte de Nuits, produces red
wine almost exclusively, the Côte de Beaune, around Beaune
in the south, produces both reds and whites.
In common with other white burgundy regions — Chablis and Mâconnais
— the wines are made from a single grape: Chardonnay. Although
there are successful examples of good Chardonnay made in
California, Chile and Australia, it’s in the southern part
of the Côte de Beaune and the slopes of the Corton hill that
the greatest white wines in the world are made. Just three
small villages — Meursault, Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet
— must supply the increasing number of wine collectors who
thirst for these vinous treasures.
The styles: Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet
Its difficult to generalise on different styles, although its
fair to say that the wines of Meursault give a nuttier,
rounded style of wine compared to the tensile, refined and focused
wines from Puligny-Montrachet. Chassagne is more broad-shouldered
and intense compared to its neighbours.
But it is the mystique of the individual vineyards — the magic
of what the French term ‘terroir’ — and the hard craft of
the producers that really drives each wines style.
The best vineyards
In Pinot Noir country, north of Beaune, the isolated grand
cru of Corton-Charlemagne makes one of the
most refined white grand crus, with a vibrant acidity and
mineral tone that requires ageing in the bottle to truly
reveal its character.
White Burgundy reaches its highest quality in Montrachet itself. In January 2017 the Christie’s wine team had the pleasure
of tasting at Bouchard Père & Fils a number of Montrachets
from 2015, 2008, 1992, 1971 and 1939. While all were of a
very high quality level, it was the older wines that were
showing best. The true complexity of a Montrachet only comes
out after ten or more years of ageing.
There are many domaines that make profound white Burgundies,
although here we will focus on the top tier as these are
the most sought-after in our Christie’s wine auctions.
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is known for its
exceptional red wines, but the famed producer has been turning
its hand to crafting tiny quantities of Montrachet since
the 1960s. The combination of power and purity in this wine
makes it a fiercely contested lot at auction.
A true white wine specialist is Domaine Comte Lafon in Meursault, which has the deepest and coldest cellars in
Burgundy. Dominique Lafon has been in charge of the domaine
since 1985, and it is now cultivated along biodynamic principles
without use of herbicides of chemical sprays. Lafon’s Montrachet
displays a complexity and mystery that reveals him as a true
master of his craft.
From the same village comes another domaine that focuses the
minds of wine collectors: Domaine Coche-Dury.
Although Jean-François Coche officially retired in 2010,
his son Raphael continues to adhere to his father’s bywords:
balance and length.
The waiting list for a small allocation
is long. His wines are examples of absolute refinement with
beautiful acidity. From Bourgogne Blanc and Meursault village
to his very rare Corton-Charlemagne, each level of the appellation
pyramid will offer one of the best wines in that particular
vintage. The tiny quantities produced each year make these
wines a rare find — drinking one of the domaine’s premier
crus is an experience any wine lover will remember.
Farther down the road is Domaine Roulot where,
after pursuing an acting career in Paris, Jean-Marc Roulot succeeded his father Guy in 1989. Here are wines that give a complex crescendo of layer
over layer of flavour, with Meursault-Charmes and Meursault-Perrières
benchmarks of oatmeal complexity over pure white peach and
To the south it is in the village of Puligny-Montrachet that
we find one of the best known domaines for excellent white
Burgundy, Domaine Leflaive. Its impressive
portfolio of vineyards has no fewer then four grand crus: Montrachet, Bâtard-Montrachet, Bienvenue Bâtard-Montrachet and Chevalier-Montrachet. These are superb wines that leave one in awe with each taste, but
the real diamond in the crown here is the super-small production
of Montrachet. If one is fortunate enough to receive an
allocation of this wine, it is only in terms of single bottles,
making it even rarer then Coche-Dury’s Corton-Charlemagne
and DRC’s Montrachet, and certainly a treasure worth seeking.
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Other producers and wines of note include Comte de Vogüé, Musigny Blanc; Joseph Drouhin, Montrachet; Bouchard Père & Fils, Montrachet/Chevalier-Montrachet; and Ramonet, Montrachet