Burgundy's '02 reds: fine wine for holiday table


It is usually easier to admire the red wines of Burgundy than to recommend them.

Burgundy, known in French as Bourgogne, is one of the world's most renowned wine regions. Its name has been heartily hijacked by pretenders from all around the world - most notoriously by Gallo.

True burgundy has a style all its own among the red wines of the world - seldom approximated even by those who lovingly cultivate the pinot noir grape. It depends less on concentration than finesse to make its point, and when it is at its peak, it ripples across the palate with a suppleness that few other wines of the world can match.

But Burgundy, the northernmost of the great red-wine regions, is exasperating in its variations and in its economics. Great vintages are infrequent; appalling ones all too common. The ones in the middle tend to be a minefield, with price being no guarantee of quality and mediocrity afflicting wines from less-prestigious vineyards.

That's why it's so wonderful to come across a vintage such as 2002, when excellence is evident at every level. A consumer doesn't have to spend upward of $100 to taste a fine 2002 burgundy from a Grand Cru vineyard.

There appears to be an abundance of well-made wines even at the level of basic Bourgogne and a host of gems from less-pricey appellations as Santenay, Savigny-les-Beaune and Marsannay.

These wines are especially useful during the holiday season because they pair well with festive meals featuring roast beef, turkey and ham. They may not steal the show, but they complement the food. And while they are never cheap, they needn't break the bank.

A recent sampling of 2002 red burgundies for $30 and less found quite a few to recommend. They are listed in rough order of quality.

One caveat: While usually inexpensive red burgundies gain little from cellaring, 2002 is an exception. Some will be better in two to five years, but none is inaccessible now.

2002 Louis Jadot Savigny-les-Beaunes "Les Narbantons" ($27). This well-known firm put in an excellent performance in its wines from the less-expensive villages, but this may be the best. It shows intense black-cherry fruit, exotic spices and an appealing earthiness. Mildly tannic, it would probably be at its best in two years.

2002 Gachot-Monot Cotes de Nuits Villages ($21). This medium- to full-bodied wine offers rich black-cherry fruit, a mild earthiness, excellent texture and a satisfying finish. It does an excellent imitation of a more expensive premier cru.

2002 Vincent Girardin Maranges Premier Cru "Clos des Loyeres" ($25). Another wine that could improve with age, this is a particularly ripe and lush burgundy whose black-cherry and wild berry fruit flavors develop in the glass.

2002 Capitain-Gagnerot Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Vendanges Manuelles ($17). The pale red color might suggest a lack of flavor, but that turns out to be an illusion. This wine has more grip and penetrating cherry flavor than most Bourgognes, and it captures the essence of the region's style in a most elegant way.

2002 Louis Jadot Fixin ($21). This Fixin, an appellation known for good value, shows impeccable balance and forward, well-rounded pinot-noir fruit.

2002 Louis Jadot Marsannay ($20). Once again Jadot hits the spot with a well-structured wine that will improve with age. This has an appealing gaminess that might pair well with venison.

2002 Bertrand Ambroise Bourgogne "Cuvee Vieilles Vignes" ($22). This full-bodied wine offers impressive intensity and a hint of black raspberry.

2002 Vincent Girardin Santenay Premier Cru "Les Gravieres" ($30). A little whiff of the barnyard is not regarded as a bad thing for a red burgundy. This wine has it, giving it a rustic but natural quality. There is ample fruit, and it could rank higher after a few years to shed its tannic edge. This could be a late bloomer.

2002 Mestre Santenay Premier Cru "La Comme" ($18). This medium-bodied, pale red wine shows good spiciness and balance, though not quite the complexity of the wines above.

2002 Robert Chevillon Bourgogne Passetoutgrain ($18). A blend of gamay and pinot noir, this is a pleasant wine that falls short of the quality of the 100 percent pinot noir wines listed above. Still, it's a brash young wine that resembles a beaujolais, but with more edge.

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