On the Trail

The Secret of St. Aubin

David Driscoll

Pulling into the sleepy little village of St. Aubin, off the main drag through Burgundy's Côte de Beaune, nothing in the nearby vicinity gives the impression of prime real estate. The stone buildings still show the remnants of once-painted placards and advertisements, while the streets are empty and silent as the rocks crunch under your feet. Don't let the environment fool you, however: St. Aubin is Burgundy's next Brooklyn. It's like Oakland just across from Chassagne and Puligny-Montrachet, the San Francisco of chardonnay. St. Aubin was once a source of value and overlooked potential, but it's now a hot spot for wine drinkers in the know and the secret isn't all that safe anymore. From Beaune down to Santenay, the main road runs like the 101 freeway down to Palo Alto, with nothing but high-end properties everywhere you look: Pommard, Volnay, and Meursault until you get to the twin Montrachets, But jutting out to the west, a little off-shoot valley with limestone rich soils has quietly been making some of the best white wine values in all of Burgundy. Of course, that was until the word began to spread. Today, there are still a number of great St. Aubin deals, but you have to act a little faster than before and perhaps buy a bit deeper.

We rolled into the commune of Gamay and over to St. Aubin this past February as part of our trip through the region and I made sure to pay extra attention to the 2015 expressions. In the best vintages, like 2014, the wines have a clean and vibrant acidity with a delicate streak of minerality and medium weight. They are elegant wines. They have depth, nuance, and they taste expensive. Wines like the 2014 Marc Colin 1er Cru "Clos de Meix" and the "En Monceau" have been my prized secret weapons for the past few months. I've rolled into dinner parties and gatherings with a chilled bottle of St. Aubin and said nothing, only to have people approaching me minutes later after tasting their first swig. "This is incredible!," they exclaim. Yeah, I know! That's why I have a refrigerator full of this stuff, waiting to be unloaded when in need. With the talk of 2015 being a warmer vintage, I was worried the St. Aubins might not have that same trademark finesse. Luckily, most of what we tasted quickly put to bed any of that fear. While 2015 doesn't have the zip of the previous harvest, the wines don't lack freshness and the extra baby fat they've put on only adds to their charm. 

When we talk about value in St. Aubin, we're still talking about $40-$50 bottles of chardonnay. If you need daily drinkers, you need to check out our fantastic direct-import Mâcon selections, but for a Friday night splurge these wines are still in reach. Contrast the premier cru selections against the neighboring Montrachet expressions and you should be paying about half the price (most of the 1er cru Chassagne and Puligny editions are in the $70-$100 range). Not only are you not sacrificing much in terms of quality, you're buying in before the rush really hits. One of the best examples of 2015's continued quality is the 2015 Pierre-Yves Colin "Le Banc," a wine that showcases the talents of perhaps the region's most popular winemaker (the descendent of the aforementioned Marc Colin). Pierre-Yves has become renowned for his snappy and focused flavors, choosing not to stir up the lees for added richness so as to let the terroir's true character shine through. The "Le Banc" has a bit more oak, but it's still carrying that limey and lemony acidity right to the finish; there's almost a mineral residue on your palate minutes later. Again, you'll pay double for Colin's Montrachet expressions, but you won't necessarily get more out of them. Considering Pierre-Yves's hipster street cred, I'm surprised the wine wasn't more expensive.

But that's the secret of St. Aubin: high quality white Burgundy with more reasonable prices for everyday folks like you and me. Just don't tell too many people. These are my secrets, too.

-David Driscoll