With Saint Valentine’s Day falling squarely in the middle of the month, you might think of February as a month to consider wines with somewhat of a saintly theme. Fortunately, French wines—and Burgundy in particular, which is anchored by the wines and villages founded by religious orders and named for various saints—give you many choices to incorporate a “saintly” wine into your Valentine plans.
When I want value and consistent quality, Saint-Aubin is my go-to white Burgundy wine. Nearly 75% of its 383 vineyard acres are planted with chardonnay in a valley adjacent to Puligny and Chassagne-Montrachet, I find Saint- Aubin has the floral and instantly pleasing white fruit flavors of its more prestigious Chassagne neighbor without the price. Its red wines are generally a step below the whites.
Thierry Pillot is the young winemaker and, along with his sister Chrystelle, the fourth-generation owner of Domaine Paul Pillot. The family owns premier cru and village-level vineyards in Chassagne-Montrachet and Saint-Aubin.
A few weeks ago, I opened a bottle of the 2015 Thierry Pillot Les Argilliers Saint-Aubin. Les Argilliers is a vineyard that Pillot buys grapes from and markets the wine under his negociant (a person who buys grapes or wine) label. The wine’s classic composition of lily aroma and ripe white nectarine flavor with a refreshing acidity and minerality was captivating on a freezing January day. Within 20 minutes, it offered a deliciously rich blend of summer’s pear and nectarine fruit flavors with perfect balance. 94 points. Expect to pay about $42.
Family-owned Maison Joseph Drouhin is one of Burgundy’s most respected wineries. With plantings and contracts with growers throughout the region, Drouhin produces high-quality wines from nearly every appellation.
With only 212 planted acres, it is not surprising if you are unfamiliar with the wines of Saint-Romain. But in excellent vintages like 2014, the white wines of Saint-Romain bring good-value to your table. Its red wines are usually a notch below the appeal of the whites.
The 2014 Joseph Drouhin Saint-Romain is made from grapes purchased from two growers. Fragrant white flower and pear scents, honeycrisp apple flavor, and soft acidity brings complexity and balance. It was ideal with a winter’s chicken stew and mushroom couscous. 90 points. Retail is $18-$20.
Saint-Bris is the only appellation in the Burgundy region that permits sauvignon blanc and sauvignon gris to be grown for its white wine (nice fact for your next wine geek conversation). This tiny appellation sits a few miles south of Chablis, halfway between Paris and Beaune, Burgundy’s wine capital. Sauvignon blanc and gris were planted in Saint-Bris sometime after the area’s vineyards were destroyed by Phylloxera in the late 19th century. But it took until 2003 for the area to receive appellation status for its 244 vineyard acres.
The 2015 Domaine Goisot Fie Gris Corps de Garde Saint-Bris is the family’s bottling of sauvignon gris using the grape’s historical name “fie gris.” Farmed biodynamically, the vineyards’ kimmeridgian limestone and chalk soil are the same terroir that gives Chablis its mineral backbone. In my glass, the wine’s pronounced citrus and grassy aroma was anchored between Loire Valley’s elegance and New Zealand’s brazen sharp aroma. The Granny Smith apple and tropical fruit flavors were tied with the acidity and minerality of its soils. I enjoyed it immensely with oven-roasted shrimp and sautéed spinach. And at about $21 to $23, the pleasure is multiplied. 90 points.
One of my favorite appellations is Morey-Saint-Denis, located in Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits section—the heart and soul of the region’s red wines. Morey-Saint-Denis’ name is connected to the monks of the Cistercian Abbey of Citeaux who were followers of Saint-Denis, the first Bishop of Paris and a Christian martyr
An impressive 52% of the appellation’s 259 vineyard acres is home to four Grand Cru vineyards, and a piece of a fifth Grand Cru, Bonnes Mares (which is mostly in the village of Chambolle-Musigny), and 20 premier cru vineyards.
In 2002, fourth-generation Stephane Magnien took the reins of Domaine Stephane Magnien, his family’s winery just behind the church in the center of Morey-Saint-Denis. The owners of 11-acres, the family has never used herbicides, employs new oak barrels sparingly, and neither fines nor filters its wines. These are truly terroir-driven wines.
The 2014 Domaine Stephane Magnien Morey-Saint-Denis has Burgundy’s classic translucent cherry hue. Its cherry, strawberry and herbal scents are mixed with a gravelly aroma, and a stony character underlies the black-cherry and strawberry flavors that have the feather-light body that makes Burgundy’s pinot noir mystifying and enticing. This is the polar opposite of the candied aspect often found in New World pinots. 91 points. Retail price is a very reasonable $35 to $43.
Nuits-Saint-Georges is arguably the most well-known red Burgundy (only Gevrey-Chambertin rivals it), yet, is the only appellation in the Cote de Nuits lacking a Grand Cru vineyard.
Its notoriety can be attributed to being the commercial center of the Cote de Nuits, and the ease of pronouncing its name for English speakers (for centuries English wine merchants and writers educated its population about the wines on Nuits-Saint-Georges).
Originally named Nuits, it was only in 1892 that the village annexed the name of its most famous vineyard, Les Saint-Georges, creating the Nuits-Saint-Georges appellation.
The 2013 Domaine Chicotot Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru, Les Rues de Chaux was made by the seventh-generation of this family-owned domaine. It has an eye-catching translucent raspberry hue, and smoky, cranberry, cherry and herbal aromas. The delicate body releases very flavorful strawberry and cherry fruit flavors supported with a minerality that gives it an everlasting finish. I followed the wine’s expansion into the second-hour of aeration, but it became too enjoyable to leave alone for a third hour. 91 points. Retail is approximately $50.
Made with love from producers grounded in the history and soils of Burgunday, these saintly wines provide ample inspiration for a Saint Valentine’s dinner or gift, with the added benefit of being attractively priced—something we all appreciate on what has become a “Hallmark holiday,” marketed to encourage extravagant shows of affection.
Photos by John Foy