Domaine Rollin VergelessesFrom time to time, even bargain-hunters need to splurge. When I do, it’s generally French: Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Sancerre dominate my list of mid-range to expensive buys, although I’ll toss in the occasional Barolo or high-end Riesling. The most recent mid-range find fit a rare profile for superior value in its price point: a really superior Burgundy for under $50. We’re talking Pinot Noir, people, something I love but don’t give enough attention. This bottle really grabbed my attention.

A little background on the appellation of origin, Pernand-Vergelesses. Located at the top of the Cote de Beaune, the L’Ile des Vergelesses is, as the winemaker puts it, “the jewel of the village of Pernand-Vergelesses.” It is famous for its elegance when young, with serious aging potential that allows for cellaring if you so desire. The soil in this area is similar to that of esteemed Corton, and harbors numerous vineyard plots of premier cru quality.

And what does such quality look like? Well, it looks really nice. In the glass, the 2006 Domaine Rollin Pernand Vergelesses 1er Cru Ile des Vergelesses is a pale cherry red, with great clarity. A truly Burgundian nose: aromas of red raspberry fruit, loamy earth, and a slight gamy hint of cured meats coalesce into that quintessential hallmark of Pinot Noir. More round red berries in the mouth, with exquisite balance; this is acidity and fruit as a subtle matrix, covered gently in a cloak of flowers. Or something. The final sip leaves your palate as bedazzled and full of longing as the first. This is a perfect answer to the question: “why Burgundy?” $45.

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone, this one featuring many changes. New locations, new faces, and of course (my favorite), new wines at the table. For this post-turkey post, I thought it would be fun to do a brief write-up of the Pinot Noir wines we chose for our family dinner. Some serious contenders here, in terms of both raw deliciousness and good value. These included:

  • Galante Vineyards Carmel Valley Pinot Noir, 2004
  • Domaine Prieur-Brunet “Cuvee Saint-Jean de Naross, 2009
  • Luminous Hills Yamhill-Carlton District Pinot Noir, 2010

So! Let’s cover each in turn, and see what we can say about why any of these three Pinots should have graced your table this Thanksgiving…

Galante Vineyards Carmel Valley Pinot Noir, 2004

Galante Vineyards is a small family-owned estate producing varietal wines in the upper Carmel Valley, in California. Their winemaking emphasizes the expression of terroir; they prefer to let the vine speak through the grapes, and the land through the vine. While they specialize in Cabernet Sauvignon, other varietals are produced in minute quantities, such as Zinfandel, Merlot and Pinot Noir. This Thanksgiving, I happened to have a bottle of the 2004 Estate Pinot Noir, bought directly in their tasting room in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Glorious ruby color in the glass. After the first pour, soft notes of dark cherry and earth drift heavenwards. More fresh-tilled loam and spice form the backdrop, and red fruit gushes around a silky mouthfeel. A little hot, however, at 14.6% alcohol. Delicious overall at $24.


Domaine Prieur-Brunet “Cuvee Saint-Jean de Naross, 2009

Nothing too much to say here except: beautifully typical entry-range Burgundy. And entry-range Burgundy is not normally this affordable, not by any means. This is a Pinot Noir with grace, finesse and just enough tannic texture to mesh with the easygoing red berry fruit and snappy acidity. Light-bodied, flowery and a bit funky, this is a steal at $20.







Luminous Hills Yamhill-Carlton District Pinot Noir, 2010

For a seriously delicate wine in this line-up, however, we must turn to the 2009 Luminous Hills Pinot Noir, from their Yamhill-Carlton estate in Oregon. A long growing season with a cool stretch led to even ripening, but low yields. Blended from grapes based on four distinct clones of Pinot Noir, this is a lovely wine, rosy, pale and shimmering with elegant fruit, minerality, and harmony in all its parts. I’d almost drink this on its own, before food arrives to puncture the experience. $35. Lovely.

What the hell, let’s talk Pinot Noir. The grape that shucked Merlot sales in 2004 with the advent of Sideways. That beautiful, beautiful grape with intense sensual earthiness, derived always from terroir when it is good, and richness and depth behind its pale color and delicate floral aromatics. Who on earth doesn’t love this wine? I sure do. And it’ll make a perfect recommendation while I continue to roll out the video format. Coming soon, dear readers.

Generally, Gevrey-Chambertin is known as the most esteemed source of quality Pinot Noir. Exceptional terroir, this is the largest appellation in the Côte de Nuits (comprising the northern half of the Côte d’Or, or Golden Hills, the finest region for Burgundy). It also produces one of the finest red Burgundies around, Chambertin – also one of the finest red wines in existence, depending on who you ask. In the case of the red Burgundy discussed here, the man who made it is as remarkable as the region.

The producer, Joseph Roty, is known as being something of an enfant terrible, a batshit crazy grower and vintner with iconoclastic tendencies and a fierce hold on tradition. Somewhat overstated, but I am trying to honor the man who made the wine. Since his family has been working the same vineyards in Burgundy for over three centuries, however, he does possess some level of authority on the subject of winemaking. Roty maintains a very small production (less than 100 cases apiece for his three best cuvees), and nobody knows much about his techniques beyond his immediate family and acquaintances. Awesome.

A nice garnet color in the glass, the 2000 “Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire” tees off with aromas of red berries, currants, loam, crushed herbs, and a slight gaminess. The mouthfeel is soft like silk; the acidity toight like a toiger. Amazing finish for wine at this level, delicious overall. Enjoy now with braised duck, venison, or Hen of the Woods mushroom risotto. Silly levels of goodness at $13 a bottle.

When I first tasted this, the wine intrigued me. Later on, however, getting the details proved an embarrassing moment in my career as a wine drinker. This wine rested in a bin full of standard Burgundy when I bought it, and so of course I assumed that “Bourgogne” meant “Pinot,” as usual. But the bright aromas on the nose and tart palate told me otherwise. I assumed it was just an eccentricity of the wine, however, and treated it as Pinot. A Pinot even lighter than normal, dancing with crisp acidity in the mouth, almost biting, meaner than most. But I knew my stuff! This was normal Burgundy. Definitely.

And then! lo and behold, truth erupted onto the scene when I mentioned the wine to a knowledgeable staff member at Astor Wine & Spirits (where I happened to buy this bottle). She informed me that this was no standard Burgundy (aka, Pinot Noir), but rather was Gamay, the red grape of Beaujolais, in its current incarnation from Didier Montechovet, an oddball producer – working very close to Pommard – whose wines are always brilliantly expressive, if somewhat challenging. The appellation on the label, “Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire,” is a general appellation that is no longer used, with normally very low requirements for wines produced under its category – as the name implies, the wines with “BGO” status are considered very plain compared to AOC wines; however, there is nothing plain about this one.

The 2008 Didier Montechovet Bourgogne “Grand Ordinaire” shows pale brick red in the glass, with a nose packed with cranberry and strawberry aromas tinged with distinct orange peel elements, and a bit of spice and minerality. This in turn rushes into a mouthfeel defined by sharp acidity, especially in the midpalate, balanced to more juicy red berries and mineral; the wine is light-bodied at 10.5% alcohol, with a clean finish. Absolutely the strangest expression of Gamay I have ever encountered, and apparently extraordinarily lean this year; this might be a wine to watch for in the future. $15.

Olivier Leflaive Rully 1er Cru. I must make a big deal about this white Burgundy. If you get a chance to drink this, do so. Rully is located in the Côte Chalonnaise, in the south of Burgundy. 1er Cru means Premier Cru, which of course means First Growth. It’s got floral and honey aromas with a hint of citrus, and is beautifully well-balanced, with creamy oak complementing fresh acidity and vibrant fruit. Full-bodied, soft, and a lingering finish. When people think buttery French Chardonnay, they’re thinking of something like this. $20. Get a case. A bottle of this will compliment roasted chicken, halibut, or boiled lobster with pepper butter.

This Thibert Mâcon-Fuissé presents a great value in white Burgundy. Pure Chardonnay, moderately oaked, the result a well-balanced, full-bodied wine with hints of citrus and mineral on the nose, and buttery mouthfeel on the palate complemented by hints of peach and white plums. This is one of the Mâcon appellations allowed to hyphenate the town’s name into the wine region, allowing a more specific designation than just “Mâcon” or “Mâcon Villages.” Such specificity is supposed to indicate higher quality, and does in this case. Worth trying at $15.