NATURE has been kind to Burgundy. That modest-looking ridge just south of Dijon, known as the Côte d’Or, is actually a geological fault line rich in calcium deposits.
Along with an advantageous local climate, that feature has helped make those particular hills home to some of the finest pinot noir and chardonnay in the world.
But let’s leave pinot for another day and focus on chardonnay from this and the three other areas that, together, give us White Burgundy.
Starting in the north, the mixture of limestone, clay and fossils on which Chablis stands provides some of the most delicate and distinctive versions of chardonnay anywhere.
The area’s Grand Cru and Premier Cru Chablis offers complex, mineral-influenced wine with carefully balanced acidity – but, inevitably, at a price. For a good value illustration of Chablis (but more sophisticated than many modestly priced versions) try 2013 The Co-operative Chablis (£9.99 at the Co-op). It has sharp lemon and apple flavours, and neatly combines gentleness, lightness and crispness.
In the southernmost of the four White Burgundy regions, Mâconnais, you will also find white wine with flavours of apple and citrus, but here the dominant theme is freshness rather than delicacy.
I particularly like 2013 Mâcon Villages Uchizy (£11 at M&S) from the top end of Mâconnais and made in one of the score or so communes allowed to include the village name (Uchizy) on the label. It is a gently textured white with fresh lemon fruit and a touch of spice to balance the vibrant acidity.
Pouilly-Fuissé, at the southern tip of the region, however, is the top place to go in Mâconnais. Here the especially favourable limestone and clay terroir has a special affinity with chardonnay. Seek out in particular 2011 Auvigue Le Clos Pouilly-Fuissé (£22.99 at Waitrose Cellar). Its exposure to oak is limited, so it contains only muted touches of vanilla, but it also delivers soft, orange-centred fruit enlivened by fresh, tangerine-based acidity.
Sandwiched between Mâconnais and the Côte d’Or is the fourth region, Côte Chalonnaise. Their wines are similar to those of Mâconnais and some of the best versions for their money are those from the widely acclaimed Co-operative at Buxy. Consider, for example, their 2011 Blason Montagny (£11.99 at Morrisons) with the gentle hints of orange that serve as a backdrop to the main lemon flavours. It is also nicely textured but in a way that avoids compromising the lively acidity needed to keep everything nicely zingy.
Tasty as all those wines are, however, it is the Côte d’Or that will populate most bucket lists. Candidly, the 30 or so grands cru wines from this area will test budgets; so will many from the next rung down – premiers cru.
Encouragingly, though, the third level – the so-called “village” wines – can be less lavishly priced. One such is 2013 Meursault Vieilles Vignes Closerie des Alisiers (£24 at Sainsbury’s), which is made from 45-year-old vines and uses natural yeasts. It has a smooth and polished texture to underpin its lemon-centred fruit and add complexity to the toasty vanilla touches that are derived from nine or more months in oak – of which a quarter is new oak.
With luck, bottles like this will be the House Wines in Heaven.