Divine pleasure

The French village of Mercurey produces heavenly wine.

Mercury was a latecomer to the Roman pantheon. His name derives from mercari - to trade - and he was the god of merchants, represented with the attributes of the Greek god Hermes, to whom, however, he was only superficially related. There was a temple to Mercury on the Aventine and as the Romans spread across Gaul the god's temples sprang up among the settlements, places of urgent prayer as tense with human greed and divine mischief as the London Stock Exchange today.

One of these temples gave its name to the village on the Côte Chalonnaise which (along with Rully) has the greatest claim to produce wines equal to those of the Côte d'Or, and which is also the largest single appellation contrôée in the whole of Burgundy. After a brief period of eclipse, the village of Mercurey, along with its neighbour under the same appellation, Saint-Martin-sous-Montaigu, is now an important place on the wine-lover's map, and a source of the kind of bargain for which the god was famous in the days when he listened to prayers.

Of the three million or so bottles of Mercurey produced each year, about a tenth are white, and about a tenth of those again are entitled to call themselves "premier cru". But if your eyes have alighted on a bottle so labelled, you should thank the god of bargains for your luck. With all the nutty harmonies and apple aromas of a true white Burgundy, a first-growth Mercurey Blanc will provide you with the perfect accompaniment to fish or goat's milk cheese, at a price that the upwardly mobile New Statesman reader can usually afford.

One particular instance is worth mentioning, as it enables me to sing the praises of another underrated source of vinous pleasure - namely Marks & Spencer. For many years a byword for overpriced and unadventurous wines, this supermarket has recently emerged into the front line of creative suppliers, covering the entire price range in an original and interesting way without somehow losing the appealing dreariness of its image. Among the affordable white Burgundies to which M&S claims exclusive rights is the Mercurey premier cru Domaine de la Grangerie, made from grapes grown in the ruins of the Château de Montaigu, above the village of Saint-Martin. We have just drunk a bottle of the 2004 - a wine of clean outlines and inner softness like a heroine of Henry James.

Mercurey does not have the keeping qualities of the better wines from the Côte d'Or, though I have a few bottles of red Mercurey, Les Naugues, 1999, that are still improving. But given the fashion for quickly maturing whites, which are at their best before their broody period, white Mercurey is high on the list of bargains. And Domaine de la Grangerie is a real winner, fully deserving the silver medal awarded in this year's world concourse of Chardonnays.