The french wine region of Burgundy <bourgogne> may be small in size but its influence, is huge in the world of wine. It can strike fear into the heart of even a seasoned wine pro, but fear not the region need only be as complex as you want it to be. Yes, it is home to one of the most expensives wines in the known universe but there are tasty affordable wines too.
Burgundy wine history…
About two hundred years ago, the region was part of a vast, tropical sea wich created limestone soils, the secret behind the zesty minerality that´s a hallmark of Burgundy wines. In fact, if you venture, into the vineyards you can find chunks of limestone or marl <limestone mixed with clay> that have fascinating fossilized sea creatures mixed within.
Winemaking goes back to the Romans in the first century AD but it was the catholic monks that really established the vineyards in the middle ages growing grapes from the church and the aristocratic dukes of Burgundy. The French revolution gave the land back to the people who, today, pride to themselves on their atachment to the land
The easiest way to wrap brain around Burgundy is that there are just two grapes to remember:
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
To the winemaker, Burgundy is not the only original home of these grapes but the terroir that best expreses their character- elegant, aromatic, complex and highly enjoyable.
Burgundy: is located in the east central part of France. And has five wine growing areas.
- Cote de Nuits
- Cote de Beaune.
- Cote de Chalonnaise.
Is the furthes north and geographically set apart from the rest of Burgundy. The river Serein flows Through the area , moderatin the climate and grapes have been gorwn here since the cistercian monks first started the vineyards in the 12th century.
Its really close to Champagne both in terms of location and climate eith harsh cold winters, spring frost and hot summers. The dominant soil here its called “Kemmeridgian” limestone, jsut like in Champagne its white chalky texture is great and retaining and reflecting the warmth of the sun sorely needed this far north, wich helps the gapes ripen and given the wines a purity and crispness.
All of the wine in here are made with Chardonnay grapes.
CÔTE DE NUITS…
“Famous for the richest Pinot Noir”
The Côte de Nuits (named after walnut trees!) is home to 24 Grand Cru vineyards and some of the world’s most expensive vineyard real estate. The area begins just south of Dijon and ends at the village of Corgoloin. 80% of the wines produced here are Pinot Noir and the remaining 20% either Chardonnay or Rosé – a specialty of Marsannay.
The Grand Cru vineyards form a patchwork on the eastern slopes facing the valley of the Soane River starting at the village of Gevery Chambertin, past Morey St-Denis and south to Vougeot and Vosne Romanee. Most are small and can have many owners, due to the structure of post French Revolution inheritance laws. These renowned expressions of Pinot Noir can age for decades – and it might just take that long to save up for them as prices can range into the thousands of dollars.
CÔTE DE BEAUNE…
“Famous for rich Chardonnay”
Named after the medieval village tath is the heart of wine commerce in Burgundy- its quit diferent that its neighboor to the north. Here, the valleys are open and rolling, the vineyards have more of a southeasterly exposure and Chardonnay place a more important role with 7 of the 8 Grand Cru vineyards producing white wines, Corton, Corton Charlemagne, Montrachet <bald mountain>. Beeing some of the most knoen names.
“Great for Value Pinot Noir and Sparkling Crémant”
Our next stop in our tour of Burgundy is the Côte Chalonnaise situated between the towns of Chagny and Saint-Vallerin. Here there are no Grand Cru vineyards. The Dukes of Burgundy were centered in Dijon and liked to keep their holdings close to home. They considered these areas to the south to be more rural and for the peasants! What a shame, they really missed out on some superb wines!
The first village in the northern part of the region is Bouzeron, the only appellation devoted to the other white grape of Burgundy, Aligoté. This is a perfect summer sipper or choice for fish and shellfish. Aligoté is floral, citrus and flint, with perhaps a touch of honey. Delicious.
Another village that does something a bit different (do we see a pattern emerging? ) is Rully, a vibrant center of Cremant de Bourgogne production since the 19th century. These white and rosé sparklers are made in the traditional method just as in Champagne.
The villages of Mercurey, Givry and Montagny lay atop wonderful soils; layers of Jurassic limestone and marl with topsoils of eroded pebbles and clay. In fact, the area around Givry, in the middle of the Chalonnaise, has over 13 types of soil. These different plots give the wines individual character and the winemakers here really know their soils, with some having held the vineyard lands since the 17th century.
The wines from this area are good value. They range from smooth Chardonnays with subtle oak influences and ripe tree fruits to more rustic Pinot Noir filled with dried strawberry, cherry, earth and forest influences and suede-like tannins.
“Awesome Valued Chardonnay”
The most southerly region, and the largest of Burgundy, is the Mâconnais. Once thought ‘ordinary’ this region is somewhat the ‘rogue’ of the family. During hard times, like the worldwide depression of the 1920’s and two World Wars, this region felt the brunt. Many of the local growers sold their grapes to co-operatives to survive. By the 1960′s and 70′s, tastes began to change with the consumption of wine dropping. They realized they needed to improve the wines if they wanted to compete. Fruit quality standards were set and many younger growers, inheriting the family vineyards, decided to make their own wines.
Located between the town of Tournus and St. Veran it lies at the crossroads between Northern and Southern France. The change is striking. As you travel south, even the buildings appear different – more Mediterranean in color and style with curved tiles on the rooftops. The climate is decidedly warmer too; in fact harvest begins a full two weeks earlier here than in Chablis.
In the centre of the region is Viré-Clessé. Although it was declared as an appellation in 1999, outstanding wines have been made here for centuries.
The influence of the warmer climate shows in the well-structured Chardonnays with notes of ripe stone fruits, honeysuckle, citrus peel and wild herbs.
The main area, and most famous, is in the south: Pouilly-Fuissé, This region is a beautiful, open amphitheater of vineyards, with the villages in the valley bottom, lying in the shadow of Mont Solutré and Mont Vergisson.. Many of the vineyards border Beaujolais, just over the hills to the south. The soils here are limestone with some granite as well.
The wines are white, made from Chardonnay and display soft apple, pineapple and white peach aromas with wonderful structure and freshness.
How Burgundy Wine is Classified:
Find better quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Burgundy by understanding how the wines are classified. There are over 100 ‘appellations’ or approved wine growing areas and these are divided into 4 levels of quality.
- 1% Grand Cru
- e.g. Grands-Echézeaux, Montrachet
- 10% Premier Cru
- e.g. Vosne Romanée 1er Cru
- 37% Village Wines
- e.g. Savigny-Les-Beaune
- 52% Regional Wines
- e.g. Crémant de Bourgogne
Regional Wines can be made from grapes grown anywhere in Burgundy and tend to be fresh, light and lively making them terrific sippers or aperitif wines. You will find them labeled “Bourgogne Rouge” (red) or “Bourgogne Blanc (white). Don’t forget to check out the back label on these wines! They are now allowed to note the grape variety which can be really helpful.
If you like sparkling wines, the delightful “Crément de Bourgogne” is also in this category.
The next step-up are the “Village” wines named after a town near to where the grapes are sourced. These wines are still fresh and fruity, with little-to-no oak, but are a tad more complex. Look for names like “Pouilly Fuisse”, “Santenay”, “Givry” or “Mercurey”.
Premier Cru Burgundy
“Premier Cru” wines are from special vineyard areas within a village. These bits of vineyard are called “climats” (clee-mats) and produce wines that are a bit more intense than the regular old Village wines! This might be because of the type of soil, the way the vineyard faces the morning sun, longer aging in oak or a myriad of other reasons. Premier Crus are still affordable and make marvelous food wines. The label will say “Premier Cru” or “1er Cru”.
Grand Cru Burgundy
And finally, the big daddies of Bourgogne – the “Grand Cru” with famous names like Romanee Contee, La Tache, Montrachet and the label will proudly proclaim their status! Although they account for just over 1% of Burgundy’s annual production, these are the wines for which people are willing to pay top dollar. Bold, powerful, complex and made for cellaring, these are the epitome of both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There are a total of 33 Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy – some are just inches away from a Premier Cru vineyard.
Chablis Classification System
Petit Chablis Produced from grapes grown surrounding the village, which are higher in acidity and have lots of light citrus character. These are wonderful when drunk young so look for recent vintages.
Chablis These wines are a bit rounder and more minerally with grapes sourced from the limestone slopes near the village of Chablis. The majority of the wines we see on our local shelves are in this category.
Premier Cru Chablis Only about 15% of the annual production, these wines are more nuanced and elegant coming from vineyards filled with that wonderful Kimmeridgian limestone marl giving these wines a distinctive character. Look for climate names on the label like “Mont de Milieu” (“Mount in the middle”), “Côte de Léchet” (really zesty) or “Fourchaume” (fruity).
Grand Cru Chablis These vineyards are located in a beautiful arc north of the town of Chablis where the steep slopes face south-southwest. There is only, technically, one Grand Cru but there are 7 ‘climats’ inside that Grand Cru and their names will be on the label: Blanchot, Bougros, Les Clos, Grenouilles, Presuses, Valmur and Vaudésir. The Grand Cru wines in Chablis can taste dissimilar to the rest of Chablis because many are aged in oak. The Grand Cru vineyards produce wines that age beautifully with floral honey notes and a refreshing flinty acidity.