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Grilling this Fourth? Serve a French pinot noir

More restrained than its American brethren from California or Oregon, Drouhin’s ’04 Chorey-les-Beaune shows why a Burgundy is always in style.

I can just imagine the average wine drinker walking into a store, browsing around, and coming across a bottle of Burgundy. While it would be easy to bypass the bottle in search of something more familiar, it would be a great opportunity lost in the case of the 2004 Chorey-les-Beaune from Maison Joseph Drouhin.

I am talking here about Burgundy — pinot noir from the French region that produces the finest pinots on the planet. And at $20 or so, I’m also talking about one of the best Burgundy values I’ve seen in recent years.

Prices for top Burgundies (the whites are made from chardonnay) reach well into the hundreds of dollars a bottle. A lot of what dictates the quality of these wines and the prices they command is real estate, including vineyard orientation, soil composition and so on. The vineyards of Burgundy have probably been mapped and analyzed more than any others in the world.

Wines from the most famous Burgundy towns and vineyards (the wines are named after the villages where the grapes are grown) command the highest prices. These include such famous appellations as Chassagne-Montrachet, Meursault and Pommard, to name just a few.

Which brings me to Chorey-les-Beanue, one of numerous villages in which Drouhin, one of Burgundy’s oldest and best-known wine houses, grows and purchases grapes from other vineyards. Chorey-les-Beaune (pronounced shorey-lay-bone) is a minor appellation in this part of Burgundy (the Côte de Beaune). And while it may not yield the most sought-after wines, its ability to produce pinot noirs of elegance and charm is demonstrated well by Drouhin’s wine.

Its light ruby color, common in Burgundy, is a marked contrast to the deeper hues of many American pinot noirs. The style is restrained as well. Alcohol is 12.5 percent, unlike the “bigger” pinot noirs of California and Oregon, which are usually in excess of 14 percent alcohol. And yet the Burgundy, despite its leanness and restraint, is concentrated and vivid.

What’s on display here is balance — ample and delicious fruit integrated with subtle oak and refreshing acidity. That’s the hallmark of Burgundy. Drouhin’s wine shows notes of ripe strawberry and cherry, minerals and sweet spices, including cinnamon stick and clove.

Notably, the wine opened up considerably, becoming more expressive, over the course of a day. The just-released 2004 vintage will benefit from a year or so of bottle aging, but it also will show well if you open it and let it breathe for a couple of hours. I like to serve pinot noir just slightly chilled, at about 55 degrees or so.

As far as food matches are concerned, I liked the honesty and simplicity of the suggestions on Drouhin’s Web site. “Chorey,” it says, “needs a fine but not sophisticated cuisine: roasted poultry, grilled meats and soft cheese such as Reblochon or Brie.”

Drouhin, by the way, has an American property, producing some fine pinot noirs in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. As for the Chorey-les-Beaune, this is classic pinot noir at a great price — the kind of wine that shows why there is nothing quite like Burgundy.

Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at EdwardDeitch