I could sit here and wax lyrical about the wonders of Burgundy, but a man much more experienced than I has already said it best, so I will quote him instead;
“Only with Burgundy do the details matter so passionately…so horribly when you have a great one and there is no way to know what it is. Others have made beautiful Pinot Noirs, but none arouse the passions like a true Burgundy. And no other wine seems so French. California has produced some remarkable bottles, but California Pinot Noir is to Burgundy what the Empire State Building is to Notre-Dame.” (Kermit Lynch, “Adventures on the Wine Route”)
The Pinot Noirs of Burgundy are heralded for their silky tannins, thought provoking flavours and an incredible ability to express the terroir. The whites, considered to be the pinnacle of Chardonnay, are used as a reference point by which all other Chardonnays are compared and contrasted to. The term “Burgundian” is an oft used phrase used to compliment wine, even those not made from Chardonnay and Pinot, such is the regard for Burgundy.
Located in east-central France, north of the city of Lyon, approaching the Swiss border, the Bourgogne region has 6 major wine growing areas; Chablis, the Côte de Nuits, the Côte de Beaune, the Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais and Beaujolais
Burgundy (aka “Bourgogne”) is small in size, but its influence is large and far reaching. The complexity of Burgundy is, by far, one of France’s most complex wine regions, but we will attempt to break it down into manageable chunks.
As mentioned above, there are 2 key grape varieties in Burgundy; Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Other grapes are grown in Burgundy such as Aligoté (Bourgogne Aligoté AOC) and Gamay (Beaujolais) but Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have given the region its legendary reputation.
Chablis is the growing region located furthest north and is geographically separate. Closer to Champagne, both geographically and climatically, than the rest of Burgundy, the soils are the same as Champagne –limestone, which helps to retain the suns heat and helps to ripen the grapes.
All Chablis wines are white and made with Chardonnay grapes, famous for their salty, flinty, mineral flavours and pair fantastically with seafood, especially shellfish and oysters.
Just south of Dijon and home to 24 Grand Cru vineyards, not to mention some of the most expensive vine plantings in the world, the Côte de Nuits is famous for its red wines of Pinot Noir (roughly 80% of the regions production).
The top wines from vineyards such as Vougeot and Vosne Romanée can age for many years and can cost easily hundreds, or even thousands of pounds!
Fear not though, value can be found bottled under The Côte de Nuits-Villages appellation.
Chardonnay plays a more important role with 7 of the 8 Grand Cru vineyards producing white wine.
Look for the Côte de Beaune Village and Premier Cru wines from Chassagne-Montratchet, Santenay, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, St. Aubin for the best Chardonnays and Volnay, Pommard, and Beaune for Pinot Noir.
There are no Grand Cru vineyards in the Côte Chalonnaise, so this is an area to seek value. Ripe, smooth Chardonnays with a touch of oak to delicious Pinot Noirs with earth nuances and strawberry/cherry flavours. Keep your eyes peeled for wines from the villages of Mercurey and Montagny.
The largest and most southern region of Burgundy, the Mâconnais is home to some seriously good value wines. The climate is much warmer (harvest begins two weeks earlier than Chablis) and this is apparent in the wines; full-bodied Chardonnays with ripe stone fruits, honeysuckle, citrus and herbs.
Long considered Burgundy’s red-headed step-child, Beaujolais has recently shed the reputation it once had (cheap, poor quality, “bubble-gum and bananas”), and is showing the world that it can produce serious reds that offer phenomenal value when compared to its northern neighbours. The wines of Beaujolais are made from Gamay noir, now known to be a cross of Pinot noir and the ancient white variety Gouais. Cheaper wines are known to be light, fresh and fruity, perfect with French bistro fare, while the wines from the 10 Crus (St-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-a-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly, and Côte de Brouilly) are considered to be of very high quality, and in good vintages can rival the 1er crus of the Cote D’or!