As Burgundy Prices Soar, Diners Look for Alternative Wines to Buy

by Admin
As Burgundy Prices Soar, Diners Look for Alternative Wines to Buy

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We remember a time in the not-so-distant past that you could find several white Burgundies on a list at a top restaurant in the $100 range. Sure, there were bottles that fetched four or five times that amount, but once upon a time, Michelin-starred eateries in major U.S. cities had multiple Burgundy options in their cellars that would simultaneously please the palate and the pocket. After back-to-back vintages with smaller-than-normal yields and restaurant price increases spiraling out of control, ordering Pinot Noir or Chardonnay from its home in France to enjoy with a meal is becoming an almost too-rarefied luxury. While most of us can afford the meal we want even as appetizer and entrée prices have gone through the roof, there is definitely a moment of hesitation before choosing a bottle in the $500 plus range.

So what to do when you’re dining out and the Burgundy you are hankering for is giving major sticker-shock vibes? Be honest with yourself and the sommelier and look for options that offer you the taste and tactile sensations that draw you toward Burgundy but won’t break the bank. Although New World versions of Chardonnay often have a heavier hand on the oak than their French counterparts and American Pinot Noir can be bolder and more extracted, we often recommend wines from the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast AVAs and Willamette Valley in Oregon. We also believe that often-overlooked Beaujolais is a good option, as Gamay is a close relative of Pinot Noir and the most expensive bottles from the region are in the same price range as entry-level Burgundy.

One of our habits when pondering wine is to think outside the box; a recent trip to Campo de Borja, a little-known Spanish region that specializes in Garnacha, made us realize that the elegant style produced there has the soft tannins, moderate acidity, and combination of red-berry and spice flavors that we love in red Burgundy. Pam Walton, beverage director at Manhatta in downtown New York City, also considers Spanish Garnacha a good replacement to scratch the Burgundy itch, although she prefers bottles from Sierra de Gredos near Madrid, specifically those from producer Bernabeleva. “As you go higher up the slope those Garnachas are tasting on par with great Burgundy and Barolos,” she tells us. “They are definitely not Burgundy, but they compare in age worthiness, with long lasting fruit, acid and balance.” Garnacha isn’t the only Spanish option that restaurant pros consider when suggesting a wine that will work. Luke Boland, corporate wine director for restaurant group Hospitality Department, which operates the Press Club Grill and Point Seven in Manhattan, is a fan of Mencia, a red grape native to Galicia. “Styles vary a bit here, but typically you get a medium bodied, aromatic red wine with a bit of rose and spice fragrance,” he says. “Some producers also lean into whole cluster fermentations, which pushes the ‘pinot-esque’ profile forward even more.”

Could we interest you in a white Rioja instead?

Remirez de Ganuza

Pinot Noir is one of the most widely grown grapes around the globe, so opportunities abound to find one that can take the place of a bottle from Burgundy. “As you know, it’s hard to get a Burg-hound off the scent, but we’ve found a few strategies that help,” Zach Kameron, corporate beverage director at RHC, which operates Peak in Hudson Yards, tells us. He is a fan of Pinot Nero (the variety’s Italian name) from Alto Adige, and he likes the single-vineyard bottlings put out by Manincor. Walton prefers Pinot from the other side of the Alps in Austria, where it goes by the name Spätburgunder; she says guests at Manhatta are always pleased with the bottles she carries made by Wasenhaus. And staying in France, Carrie Lyn Strong, a consultant and wine educator who helps restaurants shape their lists, often recommends Pinot Noir from Alsace, which is much better known for its Riesling and other aromatic white varieties. “Pinot Noir from Alsace is light and lively with good acidity and fruit structure,” she tells us, and explains that the elevation of two specified terroirs to Grand Cru status in 2022 has thrown a spotlight on the region’s reds, which make up only about 10 percent of its output.

On the white side, both Kameron and Boland brought up the idea of moving past the Premier Cru and Grand Cru selections while sticking within Burgundy itself. Kameron’s strategy involves looking at appellation village wines or those from the southernmost district of Burgundy, the Mâconnais, adding that it “offers some amazing values.” He points to well-known producers such as Comte Lafon, Domaine Leflaive, and Domaine de Villaine whose bottles from here can be had for $100 or so on a New York list. Boland suggests the Mâconnais as well, but also included the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune and Côte Chalonnaise for accessible choices within Burgundy proper. Farther afield, he also advocates for Saumur Blanc from the Loire Valley, made with Chenin Blanc. “Producers like Arnaud Lambert and Guiberteau have a defined chalky minerality and texture that can be reminiscent of Burgundy,” he says. “Plus, they’re readily available and inexpensive.”

The growing fashionableness of Sauvignon Blanc has one sommelier thinking about white Bordeaux. Andrea Morris, beverage director at Essential by Christophe on the Upper West Side, has noticed that for the first time in her career, Bordeaux Blanc is flying out of the cellar. “I think this is likely due to the skyrocketing price of white Burgundy, plus the popularity of Sauvignon Blanc,” Morris says. “White Bordeaux kind of combines these two worlds while also doing its own thing.”

However, diehard Chardonnay fans may find that in addition to Sonoma and Oregon, IGT Toscana Chardonnay, from Tuscany, satisfies their palate. It’s got the apple and citrus flavors, judicious touch of oak, and mineral-driven finish that many of us crave. White Rioja can also do the trick, especially those made with 100 percent Viura, which has a similar flavor profile and nice acidity. Reserva versions spend six months in oak before release, so the fruit shines through, but you still get the vanilla notes that we go for. One of the things that excites us about searching for options within any category is all the paths it can take us down. Even if the original motive was finding a more affordable pour, paging through a wine list in search of options provides an opportunity to discover something new, intriguing, and, most of all, delicious.

Do you want access to rare and outstanding reds from Napa Valley? Join the Robb Report 672 Wine Club today.

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