A bargain Burgundy
by: Vino Joe (e-mail)
Don’t let anyone tell you differently: the very best Chardonnay in the world comes from Burgundy, France, (yes, Burgundy is a place, not a color) in a strip of land called the Cote d’Or (golden slope). However, those very best examples -- which grow in tiny vineyard plots in small villages such as Puligny-Montrachet -- have very steep prices. Even a run-of-the-mill wine from that area can set you back $45 or more. This is where Chardonnay may well have been born, and where the grape reaches its zenith.
However, you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money to get a taste of true Chardonnay from Burgundy. There’s a secret place, just a few miles south of the legendary Cote d’Or, called Macon (mahc-OWN -- and it ain’t in Georgia.
In Macon -- or the Maconnais (mac-oh-NAY) -- the Chardonnay is nearly as remarkable, but does not have the hype or the history, and grows on much cheaper real estate. Top Chardonnay in the Maconnais is grown in the village of Pouilly-Fuisse (pooey-fwe-say), and amazing bargains grow in the outskirts. Many great deals come in particular from a village called Saint-Veran (sin-veh-RAHN), such as this one from Domaine Delaye.
Called “Les Pierres Grises,” which translates to “the gray stones,” it is a fitting name as this wine displays an attractive mineral character that no doubt has its origins in the stony, limestone-rich soil where Chardonnay flourishes. If you are used to -- and prefer -- over-oaked, corn-syrup sweet Chardonnays from California and Australia, then please do not pick up this bottle, as you will be sorely disappointed. However, if you tired of Sugar Smacks as a 12-year-old, and are looking for a pure, clean expression of what Chardonnay is supposed to taste like, then dig out a 10-dollar bill and pluck this wine off the shelf. The nose has an aroma of fresh, ripe, clean fruit, and in the mouth you have similarly clean, fresh, vibrant flavors of pear, spice, white peach and mineral. No oak is added, thank goodness, so all you get is pure grape. Medium levels of acidity and alcohol are the perfect complement to the fruit and allow for a surprisingly long, balanced, attractive finish. This is a very typical Saint-Veran, and an excellent example of what the Maconnais can offer.
Learn how to say “Saint-Veran” and “Maconnais” with a slightly Gerard Depardieu (or Kevin Kline a la “French Kiss”) accent, and you’ll appear to be a really savvy, sophisticated dude in front of the ladies. Best of all, you won’t have to dish out the coin for this “bargain Burgundy.”
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