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Burgundy: Charm, spice and everything nice

If you're looking for a red or white food wine that tastes authentic and original, TODAY wine columnist Edward Deitch says you're best off with Burgundy. Here, he highlights his standout picks.
/ Source: TODAY

When we talk about Burgundy in wine, we’re talking about wine from the Burgundy region of France — often sublime pinot noirs for the reds and chardonnays for the whites. Forget your father’s Hearty Burgundy, the California jug wine you might remember in the big green bottle with the screw cap, a bottle so big that the wine seemed to last for weeks and weeks. The days of the jug are gone, but Gallo still sells its Hearty Burgundy in smaller bottles, though it is Burgundy in name only and I still have no idea what grape varieties go into it (there is no clue on Gallo’s Web site).

In any event, I digress. Burgundy, the real Burgundy, is one of the true pleasures of the wine world, and I remind myself of that fact every time I taste some good examples of it, as I did in the last week or so. It is chardonnay and pinot noir with a sense of place, what the French call terroir; it is wine that tastes authentic and original.

Burgundy doesn’t hit you over the head; it is reserved, elegant, even a bit enclosed when young, although as it opens up in the glass it gives you a sense not only of what it is, but what it will become. This is exactly what I found with two new releases from Domaine Faiveley, a large and well-known Burgundy producer.

Among Faiveley’s many wines are two from Mercurey (pronounced mer-cure-EH), a village in the area known as the Cote Chalonaise in Burgundy’s southern end. The small Cote Chalonaise, with Mercurey and just four other appellations (Rully, Givry and Montagny and Bouzeron) isn’t as well known as other areas of Burgundy but offers some of the best values.

The Mercurey appellation produces both reds and whites, and Domaine Faiveley makes one of each. The new red (pinot noir) is the 2006 Mercurey, and the white (chardonnay) is the 2006 Mercurey “Clos Rochette,” which refers to a specific vineyard plot. When you smell and taste it, the Clos Rochette, with a suggested price of $34, immediately says “Burgundy.” It’s beautifully expressive and concentrated, with notes of pear and white peach, a layer of vanilla from partial aging in oak, a touch of Asian spice, minerals and ample acidity.

I had a hunch that it would match well with a special dinner I had made — my own version of a fish gumbo that included shrimp and some porgy fillets from a pail of the fish I had caught with my younger son. I added the fish at the last minute to a stew of heirloom tomatoes, diced onion and peppers, a little garlic, some sliced okra, chopped coriander and a sprinkling of cumin seed.

My hunch on the wine pairing was right. With its acidity and modest alcohol (Burgundy isn’t usually more than 13 percent), the Clos Rochette proved to be a delicious counterpoint to the stew and picked up the spices in it. The wine wasn’t overpowered by the food and didn’t clash with it as a bigger-style American chardonnay with more oak and more alcohol might have. Burgundies, whether white or red, are essentially food wines.

As for the $24 red Mercurey, this relatively light pinot noir, in color and texture, was all about cherry and spice and an attractive earthiness that gave the wine character. Slightly chilled, I had it with grilled chicken one night and sliced steak the next, and it was a refreshing accompaniment to these foods. With many of the more famous Burgundy appellations prohibitively expensive, the Domaine Faiveley Mercureys, while not exactly cheap, offer the chance to enjoy distinctive Burgundy at more reasonable prices.

And that, after all, is one of the great wine-value tricks — finding the real standouts from  lesser-known wine areas. (The importer of Domaine Faiveley is Wilson Daniels Ltd., St. Helena, Calif.)

Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at