Is there a more romanticised wine region than Burgundy? The Cote d’Or and Cote de Beaune possess an ancient history and mythology that have carried the names of certain vineyards and vignerons to the very pinnacle of the fine wine firmament. Yet in an age when information is so easy to come by, Burgundy remains something of an enigma. One has to work hard to understand its wines – and even harder, these days, to acquire them.
Some will argue that this is all part of its charm. Others bemoan the prohibitive price points that now seem entrenched in the region – for both its red and white wines. What is not debatable, though, is that Burgundy produces several of the very best white wines in the world, and current demand for these is at an all-time high.
White Burgundy has always been hugely popular, and continuous increased global demand has pushed prices up further and further in recent years. Given the region’s tradition for producing high-quality wines with long ageing potential, the spectre of premature oxidation has cast a shadow over the whites, raising a question mark in some people’s minds regarding white Burgundy’s longevity. Yet the fact that many of the wines are being consumed earlier, in their youth, has only led to a further squeeze of the offer, which in turn pushes prices yet higher.
White Burgundy has always been hugely popular, and continuous increased global demand has pushed prices up further and further in recent years
This is true at every price point. Good quality Bourgogne blanc sells out fast. At the other end of the scale, top-quality premier and grand cru wines are on tiny allocations and rarely seen by the ‘average’ fine wine collector. In between, there is fierce competition to acquire the best village or entry-level premier cru. To make matters worse, yields in the past few vintages have been painfully small – in particular the 2021, which was one of the smallest crops in recent years. In that context, there is little doubt that, sadly, we will see further price increases over the next few years.
Never has the quality pyramid been more squeezed at the top end, with such a disproportionate amount of attention concentrated in the top few names, and wines being ‘bid up’ in the secondary market to such stratospheric heights. But for those with the means to enjoy them – and for those who merely want to understand them better – the following is an overview of the greatest white wines Burgundy has to offer.
12 of the greatest white Burgundy wines for your wish list
Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Bâtard- Montrachet
Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey is one of the most highly regarded producers in Chassagne-Montrachet, known for his reductive and leesy Chardonnay that boasts great aging potential. He took control of a share of the family vineyards (Domaine Marc Colin) from the 2006 vintage and has since gone from strength to strength. His white wines are whole-bunch pressed, fermented with natural yeasts, and aged on lees for up to 18 months, mostly in 350-litre barrels, with no lees stirring and no filtration. The resulting wines are built to age classically for up to 10 years or more. The domaine range is wide, starting from various vineyards in the modest appellation of St-Aubin all the way to grand cru, with many different top premiers crus in Meursault, Chassagne and Puligny in between. Picking out one specific wine is difficult, but a consistent star of the range is the Bâtard-Montrachet, a large-scale yet subtle grand cru made from 85-plus-year-old vines that is particularly hard to find. The price has nearly doubled in recent years and is now around £1,200 a bottle for a young vintage.
Domaine des Comtes Lafon, Meursault-Charmes
Very few winemaking families in the world are as talented and dedicated as the Lafon family. Domaine des Comtes Lafon has been in its hands since 1865 and is today managed by Dominique Lafon, who took over in 1983 and has, along with his wines, become something of a superstar. (As of the 2019 vintage, he has been joined by his daughter Léa and nephew Pierre.) The domaine is comprised of approximately 16ha, situated in the communes of Volnay, Monthélie, Chassagne-Montrachet and, of course, Meursault, where the winery and monopole vineyard Clos de la Barre are located. The family also owns 0.32ha of Le Montrachet. Lafon was an early adopter of sustainable viticulture, abandoning weed killer in 1992 in favour of ploughing, and becoming organically certified in 1998. The domaine is now fully biodynamic, using compost produced in cooperation with other growers. The whites are fermented in mostly old barrels with carefully controlled bâtonnage and aged for between 18 and 22 months. The Meursaults have wonderful fruit, and each is distinctive and characterful, some being spicier and some being almost Riesling-like in their aromatic quality. The premier cru Charmes and Perrières are the standouts, next to the exceptional Montrachet grand cru, of course. The secondary market price for recent vintages will be around £350 a bottle, compared to just under £200 a couple of years ago.
Domaine Bonneau du Martray, Corton- Charlemagne
The 2017 sale of Bonneau du Martray – one of the oldest, largest and most important on the hill of Corton – to US entrepreneur Stan Kroenke (owner of Screaming Eagle and Arsenal Football Club, among other interests) is moving the landscape both literally and metaphorically. One of the new owner’s first moves was to lease 2.89ha of the vines to Romanée- Conti. The significance of this cannot be overstated. This extraordinary arrangement has a twin benefit for Bonneau du Martray: by dividing up its vines (and it owns a lot of them), the goal of more precise biodynamics is more achievable; while the subsequent reduction in production should make the wines even more marketable – and expensive. Bonneau du Martray’s vines lie in one contiguous plot at the heart of the Charlemagne climat, the appellation’s largest single holding at 11.09ha (including the 2.89ha on lease to DRC). No herbicides or fertilisers are used, and yields, while naturally controlled by the age of the vines, are further reduced by severe pruning in the early part of the growing season. Following biodynamic trials on a third of the vineyard from 2005 to 2011, the whole estate was certified biodynamic in 2016. Unsurprisingly, the latest vintages have seen an increase in price, and the 2019 will cost you more than £300 per bottle on the secondary market.
Domaine Leflaive, Chevalier- Montrachet
Leflaive produces some of the most sought-after white wines in Burgundy. The domaine was created by Joseph Leflaive between the years of 1910 and 1930, as a result of his successive purchases of vineyards. Today, it extends over 24ha in Puligny-Montrachet, of which 4.8ha are grands crus and 10.8ha premiers crus. Under the late Anne-Claude Leflaive, the domaine became one of Burgundy’s pioneers of biodynamic viticulture. One of the Côte d’Or’s most vaunted white wines is its Chevalier-Montrachet, a cru where Leflaive is the second-largest owner. (Bouchard Père & Fils being the largest.) The wine it produces is typically fresh and focused, with a keen line of acidity and immense depth. It is precise and saline, fanning out with immense precision and poise. The typical price of a recent vintage was around £750 per bottle just a couple of years ago, but it has since doubled to around £1,500.
Joseph Drouhin, Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche
Arguably the world’s greatest terroir, Montrachet is certainly the world’s most sought-after land under vine. The Marquis de Laguiche’s family has owned this fantastic plot since 1363, and despite being one of 16 growers, he owns more than 25% of the site at the northern end of the Puligny side of the vineyard. This is picked and brilliantly vinified by Maison Drouhin and is undoubtedly one of the most exciting examples of this great wine, with wonderful purity and sublime balance. Robert Parker described it thus: ‘The huge, smoky, tropical fruit-scented nose is followed by a wine that offers up gobs of honeyed, apple-, butter-, and orange-like flavors, good lemony acidity, and a rich, creamy, well-evolved finish.’ Expect to pay around £600 (in bond) to experience it.
Domaine Coche-Dury, Meursault-Perrières
Indisputably one of the greatest domaines in Burgundy, Coche-Dury’s Meursault-Perrières is one of the greatest premiers crus to be found in the whole of the Côte de Beaune. It is made from plots totalling an area of just 0.6ha: 0.23ha in the lieu-dit of Aux Perrières, planted between 1930 and 1947 and replanted around 15 years ago; and 0.37ha in Les Perrières Dessus, half of which was replanted by Jean-François Coche’s grandfather in 1962 and the other half by his father in 1970. The wine is more redolent of Puligny, next to whose northern border it lies, than of Meursault, where there is more clay in the soil. It typically displays astonishing minerality and elegance, and a recent vintage will cost you around £2,500 a bottle (considerably up from just over £1,000 two or three years ago). Small change, though, compared to the domaine’s exceptional Corton-Charlemagne – a concentrated, multidimensional triumph that captures both the amplitude and stony tension of which the appellation is capable. It has no contemporary rivals but will cost you around £4,000 on release, increasing fast from there, with the 2014 well over £6,000 already.
Domaine Raveneau, Chablis Les Clos
The wines of Domaine Raveneau are among the very finest one can find in Chablis, and they are popular with collectors all over the world for their outstanding quality and consistency. The domaine was created in 1948, when François Raveneau consolidated his vineyard holdings with those of his wife’s family, doing his best to restore quality after his father had spent years selling off prime parcels of land. Today, it owns nearly 8ha of land, including three grand cru vineyards (Blanchot, Les Clos and Valmur) and six premiers crus (Montée de Tonnerre, Les Vaillons, Butteaux, Chapelot, Mont-Mains and Forêt). The grand cru Les Clos is the pick – one of the greatest wines produced in Chablis. Les Clos has always been in high demand but even more so in the past year or two. The latest release (2019) will cost around £2,000 a bottle and is by far the most expensive bottle of Chablis you can buy.
Bouchard Père & Fils, Chevalier- Montrachet La Cabotte
Bouchard’s Chevalier Montrachet La Cabotte is one of Burgundy’s finest and grandest expressions of Chardonnay. Although La Cabotte was once part of the great Montrachet vineyard, in 1992 Bouchard began vinifying it separately from its regular Chevalier, with the wine bottled separately since 1997. This tiny 0.21ha terrace of vines lies directly above Bouchard’s holdings in Montrachet, nestled in snugly between DRC and Ramonet, no less. Ex-Bouchard winemaker Philippe Prost often jokingly referred to his La Cabotte as ‘upper-slope Montrachet’, and many commentators are of the view that, stylistically, it serves as a hybrid of the two legendary grands crus of Chevalier-Montrachet and Montrachet. Bouchard used to produce bottles and large formats but has decided to make only magnums in recent vintages. The 2019 was released at £1,025 and is now trading for just over £1,300.
Henri Boillot, Puligny-Montrachet Clos de la Mouchère
Based in Meursault, the Boillot domaine dates back to 1885. Henri is the third generation to produce wines from this desirable terroir, having bought out his siblings back in 2005 and rebranded the estate in his name (it was previously Domaine Jean Boillot). Today, he works alongside his son Guillaume, who focuses on the red wines, while Henri looks after the whites. The domaine owns approximately 14ha of its own vineyards, including the coveted premier cru Clos de la Mouchère in Puligny-Montrachet, a domaine monopole of nearly 4ha within premier cru Perrières. The vines date back to before World War II and have not been replanted since. One of the most distinctive and sought-after wines from the Boillot range, it has been released at around £125 a bottle in recent vintages but usually trades at just under £200 within a few months.
Domaine Ramonet, Chassagne- Montrachet Les Ruchottes
Ramonet’s wines always exhibit a rare amalgam of amplitude, depth and precision, which makes for an arresting impression. The range begins with a ripe and gourmand Bourgogne blanc but gains in focus and tension as it ascends the hierarchy of appellations. The wines are glorious, the character of each vintage synergising wonderfully with the style of the domaine. Jean- Claude Ramonet is a master at capturing the precision and structure of a vintage but also at realising its potential for volume, authority and a sense of incipient extravagance. Each of the wines is among the very best produced in their respective appellations, with Les Ruchottes Chassagne-Montrachet arguably at the pinnacle. It used to be released at just over £200 a bottle, but recent vintages are closer to £350.
Leroy, Domaine d’Auvenay, Criots- Bâtard-Montrachet
All the Leroy wines, whether under the Domaine or Maison label, benefit from the same care and expertise for which Lalou Bize-Leroy is renowned. Old vines and low yields are the bedrock of the domaine; yields are kept low and reduced even further by Leroy’s insistence on cultivation according to biodynamic principles. There is no destemming, a long cuvaison and plenty of new oak. The results are breathtakingly intense, pure and concentrated. Even after all these years, Mme Bize-Leroy’s passion and dedication to the concepts she holds dear – biodynamics, a total belief in the importance of terroir, and an unrelenting pursuit of quality – remain as strong as ever. One of the most elusive wines is her Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet from Domaine d’Auvenay. Coming from two plots totalling a minuscule 0.0637ha, the typical production is around 300 bottles, making it one of the most difficult-to-find but greatest white wines in all of Burgundy. There isn’t such a thing as a release price, but a recent vintage will cost you upwards of £20,000 per bottle, having roughly tripled in price over the past few years.
Domaine de la Romané-Conti, Montrachet
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti produces not only some of the finest Pinot Noir in the world but also one of the best Chardonnays you could wish for. The combination of one of Burgundy’s most prestigious producers and one of the region’s finest white wine terroirs results in a truly legendary wine. DRC now owns three plots on Montrachet – in total, 0.6759ha – all located in the Chassagne section of Montrachet. The first plot, of 0.342ha, was acquired in 1963, the second, of 0.167ha, in 1965 and the last 0.167ha in 1980. These allow DRC to make what is arguably one of the best wines of the appellation – on a par with, if not superior to, the likes of Ramonet or Leflaive. Typical production is limited to around 2,700 bottles, and prices tend to increase very sharply after release. (The 2017 was launched in the UK at just under £2,000 a bottle and is already selling for around £9,000 on the secondary market.)