On average, Domaine Leflaive produces fewer than 500 bottles of Le Montrachet each year, so perhaps it is little wonder that the average bottle price is measured in five figures. The combination of a top producer in a prestigious grand cru appellation, as well as incredibly limited supply, makes this Chardonnay one of the most expensive white wines in the world.
A bargain it is not. Indeed, all white burgundy has become expensive, and it is increasingly tricky to find true bargains among them. Yet there are many other classic white wine-producing regions that offer fantastic value. The New World has hundreds of examples – from Hunter Valley Semillon to Swartland Chenin Blanc – but Europe has a wealth of classic options that shouldn’t be forgotten.
Riesling country: Germany
There are signs that Riesling is finally regaining favor. In Germany, a new trend of Grosses Gewäches dry wines is leading the trend, yet prices remain relatively affordable. This is even more true for the sweeter styles, which have struggled to appeal to modern drinkers.
As a consequence, off-dry Kabinett Rieslings from the greatest estates can be picked up for little more than the price of a take-away pizza, yet they represent one of the most historic, most entrancing wine styles in the world, with vivid citrus fruit, thrilling acidity and esoteric complexity that develops huge depth as they age.
>> More on Riesling? Read: 'Riesling: Going For Gold'.
Blanc canvas: Sauvignon and Chenin
The Loire valley deserves far greater recognition for the diverse and characterful white wines it creates. Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé enjoys some degree of success, but dry Chenin Blanc from the likes of Savennières, Vouvray and Montlouis is criminally undervalued, despite offering style and quality that is comfortably comparable to Burgundian Chardonnay in style – and, like great Riesling, can also age for decades.
Top tip: don’t forget that Chenin Blanc can also make fantastic sweet and sparkling wines in the Loire.
>> More on Sauvignon Blanc? Read: 'Sauvignon Snobbery'.
Special styles: Sauternes and Champagne
Sweet and sparkling wines are usually associated with specific drinking occasions, and they have never experienced the excessive demand that has made the likes of bordeaux and burgundy so expensive – yet these classic styles are just as good in terms of quality.
Beyond the big brands, there are plenty of smart buys in champagne, not least because hundreds of producers collectively create up to 400 million bottles of fizz every year. Some of the trendiest ‘grower’ champagnes (where the producer also grows the grapes) can be absurdly pricey, but many of them represent outstanding value compared to the more famous names. Egly-Ouriet is one particular name to look out for.
Making Sauternes is incredibly labor intensive, and yields are punishingly low, yet most bottles are only priced in double digits. Furthermore, there is no intrinsic reason that great sweet wines can’t be served throughout a meal, as anyone who has tried it will attest! Even Château d’Yquem, the widely acknowledged pinnacle of Sauternes, is priced far below its top red Bordeaux cousins, and its lesser-known neighbors are even better value – Châteaux Rieussec, Climens and Doisy-Daëne are three such examples.
>> More on Grower Champagne? Read: 'Farmer's Fizz'.
Wine is subject to the fickleness of fashion, just like any other product. Finding the best value among classic European white wines means looking beyond the most famous, best-known names to the wealth of diversity and complexity available elsewhere. Here are three examples that offer a level of quality that reaches far beyond their price.
>> Read more about undervalued classic wines in 'Undervalued Classics: Red Wines'
Delamotte, Blanc de Blancs NV Champagne (US$47.99 WineTransit.com)
Compared to the top echelons of bordeaux and burgundy, champagne is arguably underpriced – and Delamotte’s Blanc de Blancs is especially so. From the same house that produces the luxury cuvée Salon, this has much of the same expressive, charismatic style at a fraction of the price and must be one of champagne’s smartest buys.
Château Rieussec 2015 Sauternes (US$59.99 KLWines.com)
Rieussec produced one of the best Sauternes in the 2015 vintage. A blend of 86% Semillon and 14% Sauvignon Blanc, it has incredible complexity and huge weight, while maintaining perfect balance and drinkability. The depth and range of flavor here is truly mind-boggling, and is unquestionably a bargain at the price.
Consistently rated as among the best Riesling producers in Germany, JJ Prüm eschews the trend for dry Riesling, focusing on traditional styles with residual sugar. This Kabinett from one of the Mosel’s best vineyards has a brilliant combination of honeyed sweetness with tangy acidity and expressive lime fruit.