Pale in comparison

Next to Burgundy, all other white wines are crap

I began this column eight years ago with an article in praise of white Burgundy. Now, nearing the end of my tenure, I return to the theme, courtesy of Corney & Barrow. During those eight years I have manfully swallowed on your behalf Chardonnays from Chile, Argentina and California.

I have choked on Gavis from Italy, Verdejos from Spain, Pinot Gris from New Zealand and even Chenin Blancs from South Africa.

I have grinned my way through Rieslings from Germany, Australia, Alsace and Bohemia; I have sipped wines made from the Ugni Blanc, the Traminer and the Grüner Veltliner; I have explored the Assyrtiko of Santorini, the Gros Manseng of Jurançon, the Vilana of Crete and the Öküzgözü of Anatolia. And I am, I think, entitled to my opinion that, in comparison with white Burgundy, all other dry white wines are crap.

White Burgundy is also cheap. Between £4 and £10, I have discovered, price is directly related to quality. Thereafter knowledge takes over. The four examples on offer illustrate the point – all just over the £10 hump, and all equal to wines that could cost you twice as much. Only one of them is from a named village. But all four do what only white Burgundy can do, which is to draw aside the heavy curtain of the Chardonnay grape so as to reveal the intimate drama behind it – the drama of the soil, the people, the saints and the prayers.

The most magical of the four is the 2004, from Chanson in Beaune. It was a poor year in Burgundy, which might explain why this wine, which has the nutty taste and lingering farewell of Meursault, is sold merely as “Le Bourgogne”. This is the real thing at an unreal price: it won’t keep for long; but it is perfect now and you should drink a bottle a day until the money runs out.

As the year would suggest, the 2005 from Joseph Roty is firmer and more structured. What it lacks in aroma it makes up for in attack, and an evening spent drinking the two bottles in apposition, like chorus and anti-chorus in a Greek tragedy, persuaded us of the vastness of the white Burgundy stage, and of the multitude of characters that can appear on it.

Olivier Leflaive creates his generic white Burgundy from grapes grown in the Meursault and Puligny vineyards – grapes that presumably don’t quite earn the halo those revered names might otherwise bestow on their product. From year to year, Les Sétilles is reliable – a wine unpretentious but distinguished, which makes every kind of food digestible.

Rully lies on the north of the Côte Chalonnaise, but belongs, from the gustatory perspective, with the Côte d’Or: more sunset than sunrise, more wise than virginal. The example on offer shows that, wherever Leflaive walks in Burgundy, a clean and honest wine springs from under his feet.

Roger Scruton is a philosopher and countryside campaigner as well as an author and broadcaster. Widely regarded as one of Britain’s leading right wing thinkers, his publications include the Meaning of Conservatism. He has also written on fox hunting.

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2009 issue of the New Statesman, King and Country