Chardonnay, that ubiquitous grape, traces its ancestral home to Burgundy. Although the ABC (Anything but Chardonnay or Cabernet) crowd might be unimpressed by examples outside of Burgundy, they would surely have to concede that, at least here, in the gastronomic heartland of France, this grape deserves respect.
The finest stretch of Burgundy is the Cote d'Or, or the Golden Slope, starting just south of Dijon and running southwest for about 50 kilometers. The northern half of this narrow strip of land is home to the great red wines of Burgundy, while the southern half, or the Cote de Beaune, encompasses nearly all the great white wine vineyards of Burgundy.
Any wine lover is sure to have heard of the villages of Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet, which host the various Montrachet Grand Cru vineyards. Further north, on the hill of Corton is another Grand Cru site, the vineyard of Corton-Charlemagne. Between Corton and the Montachets lies the village of Meursault. Although there are no Grand Crus here, the best Premier Cru wines are of exceptional quality. Among the vineyards of note are Les Perrieres, Les Genevrieres, and Les Charmes.
Of course, the producer is just as important as the vineyard. The large houses of Drouhin, Jadot, Faiveley, Bouchard, and several others are nearly always good bets but if you can get the likes of Leflaive for Puligny-Montrachet or Lafon for Meursault, that would be even better.
There are other areas in Burgundy—far from the Cote d'Or—that are famous for their whites. In the 1980s, one very fashionable wine was Pouilly-Fuisse. This area, some 50 kilometers north of Lyon, has discarded the rather thin and tart wines of the late twentieth century and is now making wines of real character. Look for producers such as Domaine Guffens-Heynen, Domaine Daniel Barraud, and Domaine Robert-Denogent.
In the farthest northwest reaches of Burgundy is the area of Chablis. The cool climate and limestone and clay soils produce wines of stony, flinty minerality. Traditionally, the wine was produced without the influence of oak, but more and more there is experimentation with wood. Among those who refuse to pander to the wood overs are Brocard and Durup, while those who believe some oak influence improves the wine are Dauvissat, Raveneau, Laroche, and Fevre.
One may grow bored with plain, old, anonymous Chardonnay, but it would be foolish to ignore the great Chardonnays of Burgundy.
This story first appeared in Vault Magazine Issue 3 2011.