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Contents of this issue of
The Poor Man's Guide to Fine Wine

  • Inexpensive Red Burgundy: Is there such a thing?
  • The Poor Man's Guide's Wine Reviews

Inexpensive Red Burgundy:
Is there such a thing?

burgundyI'm a burg nut. The best Burgundy hits all the right spots. It is both intellectually satisfying as well as so seductive, complex and elegant. But, unfortunately, that brilliance comes at a price. Burgundy is expensive! It can also be a minefield because while the best examples are profound there are many poor wines out there which are still expensive.

So what is a discussion of Burgundy even doing in the Poor Man's Guide to Fine Wine? Shouldn't we all keep a safe distance? I wish I could, but there is no denying its potential for greatness. So what to do?

Well, when first exploring Burgundy on a budget, there are several tips that can make what seems like a treacherous minefield a lot safer.

Producer, Producer, Producer: My first tip is to remember that while the largest lettering on the label may be the appellation (such as Gevrey-Chambertin, Volnay, Romanée-Conti, etc.), the most important thing you should look for by far is the producer! Burgundy newbies often miss this fact. They see the name of a vineyard or village they know and fork over their hard-earned money for the bottle. Most of the time, they are disappointed. While terroir is clearly important in Burgundy, a crap producer can make crap wine even from the best of vineyards. Just because it says grand cru on the label doesn't mean it is grand vin.

However, the best producers who are truly talented, take exquisite care in the vineyard and don't overly manipulate the wines in the cellar will almost always make great wines. While their premier cru wines may be better than their village wines and their grand crus better still, all of them will be good wines. So before learning every cru in the Côte d'Or, read up on producers. A Freddy Mugnier villages Chambolle-Musigny will always be better than a poor producer's Bonnes-Mares, and you'll usually pay less. Some of the best "values" in Burgundy are great producer's "lesser" wines.

Learn the Appellations that Typically Give the Best Value: Another important tip is to start to learn your Burgundy appellations. Some villages are very well known and sought after because of the famous grand cru vineyards contained therein. For example, the great vineyards of Chambertin and Chambertin Clos de Beze hike up the price for all the wines in Gevrey-Chambertin. However, some villages have gone less noticed historically and the prices have stayed lower. Some villages don't have any grand cru vineyards, such as Marsannay, Nuits-St.-Georges, Savigny-Les-Beaune, Beaune, Pommard and Volnay, for the reds. Does this mean they aren't capable of making good wine? Absolutely not! In fact some of my favorite Burgundies come for these appellations. And the prices tend to be a lot lower than equivalent wines from villages such as Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny and Vosne-Romanée.

Volnay, Pommard and Nuits-St.-Georges are arguably the three best of these "lesser" appellations, but they all have several excellent premier cru vineyards which are capable of making thrilling wines from the best producers. However, the best of these are not cheap per se. However, they do represent a great value in the context of Burgundy. For a few examples, see my reviews of the 06 d'Angerville Volnays below. And some, like Savigny-Les-Beaune, have remained even cheaper. Most good Savigny can be found for $30 to $40 with only the most expensive examples getting up to the $50 range (with the exception of Leroy's Narbantons which is silly expensive for a Savigny).

Stock Up on the "Value" Vintages: Some vintages get all the hype. One or more reviewer declares it the "vintage of the century" and pretty soon thousands of Burgundy lovers are swarming to corner the market. However, there are a slew of great wines made in many vintages if you stick to the good producers, and you'll pay less for these wines. For example, the 2005 vintage has been lauded as one of the best in recent history. Surprise, the prices went through the roof. The next vintage, 2006, following on the heals of the 05s were initially shadowed by the greatness of the 05s everyone was still excited about. But 2006 may many great wines! The prices are considerably cheaper than the 05s and because of the economic crisis we are going through prices seem to keep dropping. Even wines from some older vintages are coming down in price. Good 98's and 01's can be found in the market for less than the current vintages. So don't be fooled into thinking there is only one or two vintage a decade you should pay attention to, take advantage of others narrow-mindedness and explore other vintages and you'll find value at the same time.

So, I guess the moral of this whole story is to know your producers and try to find those cherry appellations and vintages which "fly under the radar" a bit. If you combine the three (a truly great producer, a less famous but excellent vineyard and a good but not top vintage), you are in the sweet spot and can find many outstanding Burgundies which don't break the bank (maybe just bruise it a bit).

For some specific examples...Pavelot is an outstanding producer in Savigny. Even the wine which is often considered his best, the Daminodes, can be had for under $50 and can be very long-lived. Also Bize and Guillemot in Savigny. d'Angerville in Volnay is a favorite. Roty's Marsannays. Chevillon in Nuits-St.-George. The list goes on. Not to mention the many excellent examples available from the south of the Côte d'Or (check out de Villaine's wines from the Côte Chalonnaise if you don't believe good Burgs can come for anywhere but the Côte d'Or!).

So don't fear Burgundy. But be sure to arm yourself with knowledge before setting out across that minefield and you'll save yourself money in the process!

The Poor Man's Guide's
Wine Reviews

Wine Ratings Explained:
Zero Stars A wine I don't particularly recommend.

One Star
Well made, simple and tasty wines that I recommend.

Two Stars
Excellent quality. Worth an extra effort to search out and enjoy.

Three Stars
Outstanding wine of the highest caliber.
Either a wine that is close to deserving a higher score or a wine that may not be showing that much but with the potential to move up in quality with further aging. A young wine that may be closed up or shows potential for significant improvement. Assuming it opens and improves with additional age, it may merit a higher rating.
??? Flawed bottles or wines that are difficult to assess for any number of reasons. Judgement reserved.

Sparkling Wines:

Paul Berthelot à Dizy
Brut Réserve NV
Stars Drink Now-2020 $30
New Years was not too long ago so you can imagine I've had some nice sparkling wines recently. This non-vintage Champagne is from a small grower in Dizy and has been a favorite inexpensive bubbly of mine recently.

Excellent, classic rich Pinot and Chardonnay blend with a yeasty and doughy nose followed by a round, even voluptuous, powerful mouthful. Has nice pinot sweetness without being out of balance. Nothing out of place. This is quite a deal for an inexpensive non-vintage in a powerful full-bodied style! Two Stars. Becky Wasserman Selection, Importer: Garber & Co, Topanga, CA.

Gloria Ferrer
Royal Cuvée
Carneros Brut 2001
Drink Now-2018 $25
Gloria Ferrer makes some of the best bubbly in California and this vintage wine, the Royal Cuvée, is probably their best. Unlike many California Bubbly in this price range, it ages beautifully for 10 to 15 years, gaining in complexity.

Toasty and very buttery ripe tropical fruit aromas would not be confused for a Champagne but are very pretty nonetheless. This has a seductive lush, sweet mousse with bright, almost tropical fruits and good balancing acidity. Sweeter than the French bubblies reviewed here but still balanced and very tasty. This is very young and should gain in complexity with age. Again, I wouldn't confuse this with Champagne but that doesn't detract from it. After all, Champagne is Champagne, Prosecco is Prosecco and California sparkling wine is California sparkling wine. They are all separate and distinct, but good examples of each is worth of its place on your table. One Star Plus.

Rionolo Prosecco
Spago Nero
Drink Now-2010 $13
I had not seen this producer's wine before but tried it out of curiosity. This Prosecco, from Italy's Veneto, is a vino frizzante, meaning it is a bubbly with a slightly less pressure than a traditional Champagne.

The nose is like cutting into a ripe and fresh honeydew melon. This and fresh honeysuckle fill your nose while you sip and encounter more honeydew, pureed with tangerines and a hint of fresh cut grass. This does have quite a bit of sweetness but seems to remain fresh and balanced and is very good with food. One Star. Importer: Grape Solutions, Inc., Dover, Delaware.

Cuvée Création 1998
Drink Now-2028 $100
Vilmart is one of the stars of grower Champagne, making many outstanding cuvées. No, this is not a cheap wine, but given its outstanding quality it is a great value in the context of great Champange. Considering that top Champagnes from the big houses like Salon and Krug can cost 3 or more times as much, for a special occasion, this is a great find. The Cuvée Création is a vintage Champagne blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir.

Compared to the big, yeasty and doughy Berthelot above, this one was more vibrant, laser-like and with a buttery nose held together with a finer etched minerality. Creamy and silky flavors yet bright and vibrant. This is young but so delicious. It will likely be even better in ten years but who can wait! Two Stars Plus. Terry Theise Selections. Importer: Skurnik Wines, Syosset, NY.

White Wines:

Bodegas Hidalgo Sherry
Amontillado Napoleon
Drink Now-Whenever $15/500ml
This is not the most complex Amontillado I've had but satisfies with some nutty, exotic spices and butterscotch. Buttery and quite silky in the mouth, this doesn't quite have the depth, complexity and vibrancy I'd hope for in a great Amontillado, but it is nice. A bright finish cleans up the palate with even a bit of a vegetal note. Good, but not great Sherry. One Star. Importer: Classical Wines, Seattle, WA.

l'Etoile Savagnin 2002
Drink Now-2020 $28
I've been groving on these wines from the Jura of late, tasting everything I can get my hands on. This one from Montbourgeau, whose wines I have reviewed previously, is a pure Savagnin, the Jura grape used to make Vin Jaune.

Golden in color and displaying a honeyed nose of roasted nuts, chicken bouillon and curry, this is not unlike the 2000 Cuvée Speciale reviewed in Issue 10 but is a bit less flamboyant and in your face. More reserved, pretty and even floral as compared to the exotic spice and umani nuances of the great Cuvée Speciale. Salty and tangy flavors are brighter and show more verve. This seems rather young and primary and will probably improve with some age in bottle. Does not have as much of the sous voile, oak-aged nuances of the Cuvée Speciale and Vin Jaunes. One Star Plus. Importer: Rosenthal Wine Merchant, New York, NY.

J. Puffeney
Arbois Vin Jaune 1999
Drink Now-Whenever $75/620ml
If you were making a list of the top 10 least widely known and misunderstood wine producing regions in the world, the Jura, particularly for their Vin Jaune wines, would have to be near the top of the list. Most wine drinkers, even card-carrying members of the wine geek world, know little if anything about these enigmatic wines. Yet, they are capable of outstanding brilliance. Part of the problem is that the long aging in oak, under a veil ("sous voile") of yeast produces a singular wine that defies adequate description. If not prepared, tasters don't know what to make of these wines as they really don't resemble what people have prior experience with. Yet, with time, the depths, heady complexity and vibrancy of these wines can become addicting and you begin to see their brilliance. Puffeney, the "Pope of Arbois", is one of the top producers. The Vin Jaunes are not cheap, but considering their outstanding quality they still represent a value, especially considering that these can age for many decades, even centuries. If you don't believe me, read the recent article in Wine & Spirits where they drank 19th Century wines.

As I said, these wines often defy description because the aromas and flavors here only partially resemble anything remotely grape or fruit-like. You have to try to get a bit poetic in describing the best of these. This 99 from Puffeney, or "the Puff Daddy" as some like to call him, is no exception. My notes started "Wow, I don't even know where to begin." The aromas display brilliantly the typical Vin Jaune characteristics of Sherry-like nuts, curry spice, chicken boillon and such. But beyond that, you have a hard time describing. It seems impossible that this came from grapes. Heady, yet mellow. Intense, yet comforting and seductive. Sensuous and long as all hell on the finish. A baby. You can get lost in there. Umami, earth, nuts. So much going on yet conveys a sense of a single, cohesive whole that you can't easily pick it apart into its components. Enveloping and simply beautiful. A thing to behold. Yet, this is an infant and needs decades to be at its best. If you drink it now, decant it for hours and watch its evolution over a whole afternoon and evening. A passionate wine! Hard to imagine what this will be like in a century. Three Stars. Importer: Rosenthal Wine Merchant, New York, NY.

von Schubert Riesling
Maximin Grunhauser
Abtsberg Spätlese 2006
Drink Now-2028 $22
From what I can tell, von Schubert hit it out of the ballpark in 2006. While some 2006 German Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Rieslings are on the ripe side without as much vibrancy, the wines I've had here are outstanding. From the best of their three vineyards within the Maximin Grunhaus estate, Abtsberg.

Classic, precise Abtsberg "honey pressed through a granite and shist filter. The nose gives an almost tactile sense of nuanced and chiseled minerality. How a smell can convey texture I don't know, but this does. The flavors are even better. Scintillating stars of honey, acid and filigreed stones. Precise, pure and vibrant as great Abtsberg often is. This will hold a long time. Yum! Its almost criminal that a wine this good is this inexpensive. Two Stars Plus. Importer: Vakkenberg International Inc., Tulsa, OK.

Red Wines:

Marquis d'Angerville
Volnay Premier Cru
Drink 2012-2028 $49
Following we have three wines from the same vintage from the same brilliant producer, the Marquis d'Angerville in Volnay, Burgundy. Volnay is known for its elegant, silky wines which can be quite complex and long-lived. Because the village has no grand crus the prices have remained relatively, for Burgundy, low in price. Yet this is undeniably a great producer with some excellent vineyard holdings. These wines are not "cheap". Yet I include them because they do represent value in the context of Burgundy which can be both a minefield in terms of quality and very expensive.

Tasting these wines is a fascinating exploration of the different terroirs of Volnay and despite being from the same vintage and producer, the differences are quite dramatic, each site speaking in a unique voice, particularly for the single vineyards which are to follow. This first one is the basic Volnay Premier Cru which is typically a blend of several 1er cru vineyards within the village.

Very pretty, even seductive, ripe blueberries, cherries, powdered sugar and rose petals. Very fresh and pure aromas that are ripe yet vibrant. Velvet wrapped plums and cherries with a fine etched minerality and abundant tannins. The ripe tannins keep it tight and somewhat austere in its youth but this is excellent and deserves a decade in the cellar at least. Will probably be drinking wonderfully at 20+ years. However, this will show better in its relative youth vis-à-vis the Champans and Taillepieds. Excellent value. Two Stars. Importer: Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines, New York, NY.

Marquis d'Angerville
Volnay 1er Cru Les Champans
Drink 2016-2036 $60
Following the Premier Cru above up the ladder, this Champans is quite a bit different. I hate to call any Burgundy, especially a Volany, rustic, but Champans can tend to lean more towards the chunky, masculine side. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, just trying to describe the unique terroir that this wine expresses.

The nose here is again very pretty but more intense with a spicy dark red fruit and a craggly, rocky minerality which seems decidedly red in nature. This is burly, tannic and quite austere right now, like a good young Champans often is. Rocky, crumbly earth minerality give power to the fruit which has good depth but is buried in tannin and rocks right now. While the Premier Cru above is much more alluring and seductive now, this wine has more power and a clearer voice in terms of the transparency of its individual terroir. While the structure tends toward the coarse side now, I have little doubt that the underlying stuffing is more than adequate to enable several years of improvement in the bottle as the tannins soften and fade. In fact, as this sat in the glass over an hour or so the continued to soften and become much more approachable. This should be quite long-lived. Two Stars. Importer: Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines, New York, NY.

Marquis d'Angerville
Volnay 1er Cru Les Taillepieds
Drink 2016-2036 $65
Finally, the Taillepieds is often one of d'Angerville's finest Volnays. It tends to have a bit finer breed and elegance compared to the burlier Champans. Of note, not tasted here is the Clos des Ducs, a monopole vineyard which is arguably d'Angerville's best, but also most expensive.

In contrast to the Champans which had a sense of craggly, rocky minerality, the mineral component here is finer. Still quite mineral, this tends more towards finely etched white stones that are finer in grain. More ripe red fruit is evident on the noble nose. However, in the mouth this is even more tannic and austere at first, yet with finer grain and a silkier, sweeter minerality and tannin. So very young but this should evolve beautifully. I give it the slight edge because of its more noble structure and balance. This was a very interesting examination of these terroirs which revealed some of the key differences between the Champans and Taillepieds sites. Two Stars Plus. Importer: Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines, New York, NY

Château Bois de Lamothe
Côtes de Duras 2007
Drink Now-2010 $10
This little inexpensive red from the region of Bordeaux is a solid wine that is very drinkable. Jammy cassis and black cherry fruit with hints of sweet pipe tobacco are just complex enough to give interest and to hint at its origins. The flavors are simple with a hint of dusty tannins but very drinkable. Good everyday inexpensive red, nothing more. One Star. Importer: J Watson Inc., City of Industry, CA.

Patrick & Christophe Bonnefond
Côte-Rôtie 2001
Drink Now-2015 $25
Côte-Rôtie is one of the noble terroirs of the northern Rhône Valley in France, along with Hermitage. Its Syrah-based wines, sometimes blended with a bit of Viognier, can be deep, smoky, long-lived and thrillingly complex. Bonnefond is not on the list of the producers that I would consider the cream of the crop in the region. However, to taste those producers wines you can easily spend over $50 and many can be several hundreds of dollars. So a "value" Côte-Rôtie is something to keep an eye out for. This is an older vintage, but some has shown up in the marketplace recently. With the state of the economy as it is, values like this are certainly something to keep an eye out for.

This wine starts out a bit dusty and musty but definitely shows some of the telltale and much sought-after Côte-Rôtie smokey bacon and pepper spice. Some herby and stemy complexity came out with air. The flavors are spicy and iron imbued and while not too deep, lacking a bit on the midpalate, this is a good simple introduction to Côte-Rôtie. It lacks the breed, depth and complexity that the best examples possess. It did get better with air, fleshing out some. While this is not a stellar Côte-Rôtie, it is a worthy introduction into the character of the wines of this famous region. One Star. Importer: Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York, NY.

Cambria Pinot Noir
Julia's Vineyard 2006
Santa Maria Valley
Zero Stars Drink Now-2010 $18
The nose of this domestic Pinot from the Santa Maria Valley in California is decidedly toasty with torrefaction notes of coffee and toasty spice firmly encasing the black cherry fruit. For my palate, this is clearly over-oaked with quite a high char giving those toasty, even ashy notes. The effect of the oak can be seen on the palate as well as this seems like a shell of a wine with only hints of sweet fruit poking out. Besides the obvious oak influence, this almost seems like it was aggressively filtered as it is quite thin, like there is a hole in the middle. Either that or the underlying raw materials were simply not that great to begin with. This is not recommened, even for those who tend to like New World styled wines with considerable oak. If there is going to be considerable oak on my wines, it better have a lot of stuffing beneath to balance and absorb that oak. Not so here. Zero Stars.

Tempier Bandol
Cuvée Classique 2006
Drink 2010-2030 $35
I have a sweet spot in my heart for Tempier. Simply one of the best producers of southern French wine, my wife and I also spent our honeymoon in Bandol and visited Tempier. 2006 also happens to be my son's birthyear. Do those facts sway my assessment? I don't think so, this is just an excellent wine. This is Tempier's basic red Bandol, often called the Cuvée Classique but you won't find that designation on the label. They also make three single vineyard bottlings called Migoua, Tourtine and Cabassaou.

This took a bit of coaxing, not showing much at first. But after 15 to 20 minutes in the glass this started to show hesitant but undeniable earth and spice aromas that are just starting to poke through. There is a sense of ripeness and depth but the fruit is playing second fiddle to the spice and earth at this point. The mouth is also very young and not yet showing all that it will after a long sleep in the cellar but already there are dense black fruits, peppercorns, meat and even some iron-like minerals. Definitely feels like there are depths to plum as this ages. Quite young, but should be great, particularly for the Cuvée Classique. While this is approachable and enjoyable now with some time in the glass or a decanter, this will only get better. Ideally, I usually feel this cuvée is best after 10 years from the vintage. The single vineyard wines take even longer and can be extremely long-lived. Two Stars. Importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, CA.

Dessert Wines:

Baumard Coteaux de Layon
Clos de Sainte Catherine
Drink Now-2040 $30
Mmmm, Baumard. For me, this is simply one of the greatest domaines in the world. If they owned land in grand cru vineyards like Montrachet or in Sauternes, they would be much more famous in the general world of wine. Yet, not many people are as familiar with Savennières, Coteaux de Layon and Quarts de Chaume. This lack of recognition is good for us! The prices for these wines tend to be quite low compared to their brilliant quality. Lets hope it stays that way!

Creamy buttered brioche, truffle honey and spicy botrytis immediately caress your olfactory neurons. Decaying leaves on the ground in the fall and sweet slightly rancid apple and apricot add to the complexity. When my wife smelled this she said it was the "sweet smell of fall and crunchy layers of wet golden leaves you walk through as a child anticipating Halloween." In the mouth this is creamy and rich yet super silky and perfectly balanced. No shrill acidity and no cloying sugar, just right. This shows very well right now but is just a baby. While it doesn't have the power and size of the Quarts de Chaume, this has a more feminine, seductive character. So pretty, even sexy. So natural. So pure. Just great. Three Stars. Importer: Premier Cru, Oakland, CA.

Blandy's Madeira
5 Years Old Verdelho
Drink Now-Whenever $25
I drink and review a fair amount of Blandy's Madeiras because they are widely available and represent good values for good basic Madeiras. While they aren't like the ancient single vintage wines from great producers, they are almost always at least good and much less expensive. This is the Verdelho which is on the drier side for Madeira, although Sercial tends to be even drier.

Heady, even alcoholic, aromas of banana nut bread, pumpkin bread and walnuts. Simple, but pretty. The flavors are similar with tangy banana, honey, nuts and Sherry-like notes. Doesn't have tremendous depth but flavorful simple flavors. One Star. Importer: Premium Ports & Madeiras, San Francisco, CA.

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