Burgundy, one of the world’s most famous wine producing areas, is located in eastern France, southeast of Paris. It consists of five major regions: Chablis, Côte d’Or, Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais and Beaujolais. The Côte d’Or is further divided into two well-known sections, Côte de Nuits in the north and Côte de Beaune in the south. Burgundy and its wines have a long and illustrious history, dating back to when the Romans dominated the area. It later developed into a rich and powerful empire, and the Dukes of Burgundy savored the region’s marvelous wines as part of their extravagant lifestyle.
The Burgundy region has established a reputation over the centuries for marvelous food as well as opulent wines. The wines vary from region to region throughout Burgundy, but the focus is on three grapes: Pinot Noir and Gamay for red wines and Chardonnay for whites. Gamay is the dominant grape in Beaujolais, while Pinot Noir prevails in the other districts. Chardonnay is planted throughout the region and reaches its zenith in the Côte de Beaune.
In some ways, the Burgundian system of identifying quality wines is more straightforward than that of Bordeaux. Burgundy uses the Appellation Contrôlée (AC) system to categorize regions, villages and individual vineyards into different classifications. The theory behind this system is the smaller and more precise the appellation, the higher the general quality of the wine. Thus, unlike Bordeaux, there are no château classifications. In the Beaujolais region, where the finest wines are crafted in the 10 Crus villages, only these villages are permitted to use their village names in identifying the wine. Recently, some producers have begun to add the domaine name to further differentiate their releases.
In northern Burgundy, the classification system is a little more complicated. The highest ranking wines are designated Grand Cru, the “great growths” from the very few select sites that traditionally produce exceptional wines. Premier Cru (1er Cru) is ranked just below Grand Cru. The wines with Premier Cru status are “first growths” and emanate from individual vineyard sites that have historically produced superior wine. Beneath the Premier Cru wines are the wines that hail from a single village, examples of which include Gevrey-Chambertin, Meursault and Pommard. The next classification is the district designation, such as Chablis or Hautes Côtes de Nuits. Finally, there is the Bourgogne appellation, which is wine made from grapes grown anywhere within the boundaries of Burgundy.
No wine is more memorable than an outstanding white or red Burgundy. These glorious wines offer finesse and elegance, a velvety texture on the palate with a marvelous balance of tannin and fruit. When these are perfectly integrated, there is simply no better wine made in the world.
Why buy a Pinot Noir or Chardonnay from Burgundy instead of California? When searching for Pinot Noir, why not go to the king with the most history for growing this delicate red-wine grape. The Pinot Noir grown in Burgundy is produced in two styles. The value-oriented wines are produced in an intense fruit, soft-tannin style with red-fruit flavors and nuances of the soil and terroir of Burgundy not found in the Pinot Noirs of California. The higher-end Pinot Noirs from Burgundy possess elegance and finesse as well as complexities not found in Pinot Noir anywhere else in the world. The lovely acidity, depth of fruit and aromas are like no others.
The Chardonnay is a relatively easy comparison. When tasting an expensive Chardonnay from California, the constant seems to be new oak influence and lots of it. These California Chardonnays are fat, rich and buttery whites with loads of oak-influenced flavors, and they always seem to compare themselves to the white Burgundies of the Côte de Beaune. However, the high-end Chardonnay in Burgundy allows the fruit to speak for itself with well-integrated oak, which is not overpowering. These whites are lush, complex and creamy with a nice crispness. They are marvelous with a variety of foods and are drinkable when released or they can be aged for a few years.
Burgundy Quality Tier System
- Grand Cru - Example: Montrachet
- Premier Cru - Example: Puligny – Montrachet Les Combettes
- Village - Example: Puligny- Montrachet
- District - Example: Hautes Côtes de Beaune
- Bourgogne - Example: Bourgogne Chardonnay