Scarcity and demand have always been at the crux of Burgundy’s fame. Whether Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, the unfortunate truth is that most of us will never encounter, let alone taste, many of Burgundy’s greatest wines.
Often strictly allocated to well-connected collectors and Michelin-starred cellars, these wines are rarely seen on store shelves or most restaurant lists. Add to that the ever-expanding global competition for Burgundy and successive years of small harvests, and these legendary wines become even more inaccessible to those without unlimited wine budgets.
Should you strike it rich someday, or find yourself adopted into an exceptionally well-drinking crowd, here are five of Burgundy’s most iconic producers and the flagship wines you’ll want to try.
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, widely known as DRC, is singular in its centuries-long reign as the most hallowed estate in Burgundy.
Once owned by Prince Louis François de Bourbon-Conti, a cousin of King Louis XV of France, each of DRC’s grand cru vineyards represent an iconic climat. This Burgundy-specific term denotes vineyards boasting an extraordinary coalescence of optimum limestone soils, aspect, sun exposure and microclimate.
Its namesake vineyard, the Grand Cru La Romanée-Conti, is the jewel of DRC’s crown. A 4.5-acre monopole hidden behind stone walls and planted entirely with Pinot Noir dating to 1947, La Romanée-Conti produces less than 6,000 bottles annually. In 2018, two bottles of 1945 Romanée-Conti broke world records for the most expensive wines sold at auction, fetching $558,000 and $496,000.
The vines of La Romanée-Conti are so precious they were targets of a Hollywood-worthy extortion plot in 2010 and threatened with poison unless the estate paid a ransom of 1 million euros.
Arguably the sole challenger to the stratospheric pricing and reverence commanded by DRC, Domaine Leroy shares a complicated history and co-ownership with its storied rival. Founder Lalou Bize-Leroy is a former codirector and current shareholder of 25% of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Domaine Leroy, separate from Bize-Leroy’s family negociant operation, Maison Leroy, flourished in the early 1990’s after Bize-Leroy was voted off the board of directors at DRC.
Cultivated entirely under biodynamic principles and boasting some of the lowest yields in Burgundy (typically around 16 hl/ha), Domaine Leroy produces less than 7,200 bottles annually across nearly 30 vineyards throughout the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits.
Burgundy afficionados would be hard pressed to declare which of Domaine Leroy’s eight grand cru Pinot Noir is most iconic, but auction records indicate it’s the estate’s Musigny Grand Cru. In 2021, three bottles of Domaine Leroy Musigny, part of just 618 bottles produced in 2013, sold for nearly $47,333 per bottle.
The winemaking roots of the Leflaive family in Puligny-Montrachet trace to 1717. By the second half of the 20th century, Domaine Leflaive was firmly established as a leading producer of Chardonnay in Burgundy.
In recent decades, the preeminence of the domaine is often credited to the vision of Anne-Claude Leflaive, who took over the estate in 1990 and was an outspoken and early proponent of biodynamic viticulture before passing away in 2015.
The richly concentrated yet breathlessly pure, chiseled wines she produced continue to embody Domaine Leflaive’s style in the hands of current Managing Director Brice de la Morandière, Leflaive’s nephew.
Most venerated is Leflaive’s exceptionally rare and ageworthy Le Montrachet Grand Cru, sourced from a tiny plot of just over 8,500 square feet. Due to slightly increased availability, the domaine’s Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru is often considered its flagship wine.
Perhaps more than anywhere else in Burgundy, the wines of Chambolle-Musigny highlight the sensuality and succulence of Pinot Noir. Arguably the most heralded producer in Chambolle is Domaine Georges Roumier, best known for its annual production of just 300 or so bottles of Grand Cru Musigny sourced from a quarter-acre slice of the legendary vineyard.
Increasingly rivaling wines from DRC or Leroy in terms of scarcity and demand, in 2020, a magnum of 1990 Georges Roumier Musigny commanded $60,400 at auction.
Roumier’s red wines are exemplified by a seductiveness of fruit and richness of concentration marked by an unusually muscular, even sinewy physique unusual to Chambolle that lends particularly well to long cellar maturation. Somewhat more accessible than the Musigny are the producer’s Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru and Les Amoureuses Premier Cru, two other highly sought-after wines.
Domaine Armand Rousseau
Gevrey-Chambertin is broadly characterized for its structure, power and density. Yet the acclaimed wines of Armand Rousseau, most particularly their expressions of grand cru vineyards Chambertin and Clos de Bèze, are better known for their detail and tension, seductively truffled, floral perfume and sublime, textured appeal.
Compared to Burgundy producers of similar caliber who only sell their wines according to strict allocations, larger vineyard holdings have allowed Rousseau to offer greater quantities of wine to consumers in the retail market. Current vintages of the flagship Grand Cru Chambertin, for example, sourced from a plot that spans over six acres, are readily available at online retailers. At $2,500 a bottle, they’re still a lavish extravagance for most but a veritable bargain compared to similarly blue-chip peers.
Founded in the early 20th century, the domaine was a frontrunner in Burgundy, pioneering estate bottling at a time when most producers in Burgundy sold their wines through negociants.