Portfolio Tastings: White Burgundy

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by josh perilo

for the last couple of weeks i've been recounting my findings from the annual new york wine and liquor distributor portfolio tastings. "what are these portfolio tastings?" i hear those of you out there who haven't read my last two installments asking. in a nutshell, the distributors that sell wine to liquor stores and restaurants have a get-together every year where they let the buyers taste everything.

it's not as fun as it sounds.

this year i decided to focus on two or three grapes, regions or styles,instead of trying to give an overall "best in show" type of distinction to any particular wine. by doing this, i may have left some wines out that i think are very good, but my aim is to focus on wines that i thought showed well as a group and feature the best in those particular categories.

for the final installment, i have decided to focus on an area and a grape: the noble, elegant and delicious white wines of burgundy, which are made from chardonnay. sometimes overshadowed by the dramatic reds of the region (which are made from the pinot noir grape), white burgundy is in a class by itself. they aren't just complex "food wines" anymore, either. many of them are bursting with enough fruit and other luscious flavors that they are delicious all by themselves.

burgundy's a big place, and that means the chardonnays from that region will vary greatly in style. i attempted to represent the various flavor profiles from different subregions in my selections. so, without further ado, allow me to present my picks for the stand-outs in the white burgundy category from this year's portfolio tastings:

most likely to be confused with a different grape: it's the number one gripe of most american wine drinkers when they talk about chardonnay: "i don't like them because they taste too oaky." well, if that's the way you feel, then you need to take a trip up to the northern area of burgundy in chablis. these are the crispest, sparest, most refreshing chardonnays you will ever taste, and a perfect example of this area's finesse is in the william fevre chablis "domaine" 2009 ($21.95 @ sherry-lehman wine and spirits, 505 park ave. at 53rd st., 212-838-9285). this clean-tasting burgundy starts with green herbs on the nose. the focused flavors of lemon peel and wet stone drive straight through, with a hint of wildflowers on the finish. this is the go-to wine for fruits de mer, from raw oysters to lobster.

best line-straddler in the category of flavor: further south in the area of côte chalonnaise is the subregion of rully. almost smack dab in the middle of burgundy, this region produces chardonnays that reflect that geography. these wines owe some of their flavor profile to the fuller bodied wines of the côte d'or, but maintain some of the minerality of chablis. that is the case with the joseph faiveley rully "les villerange" 2008 ($19.99 at crush wine and spirits, 153 e. 57th st. between third and lexington avenues, 212-980-9463). there is plenty going on just from the scent alone, with tons of white peach and orange peel. flavor notes of ripe apricot upfront, fine herbs in the middle and white pepper on the finish make this a luscious, but not over-the-top selection from the storied region.

outstanding achievement in blowing my taste buds through the back of my head: so, i obviously didn't literally have my taste buds blown through the back of my head, but it sure felt like it when i tasted the chateau fuisse pouilly-fuisse "les brules" 2007 ($49.95 at sherry-lehman wine and spirits). this is not a wine for the faint of palate. the scents from the glass attacked my olfactory receptors with burnt sugar and candied ginger right away. the wine unfurled its complex structure with dollops of quince paste at the front of the palate, all the way through to the finish, which was rife with cinnamon, allspice and clove.

whatever you seek in a white wine, rest assured that the vast and varying landscape of burgundy has you covered.

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