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Burgundy (Bourgogne)

One fourth the size of Bordeaux, Burgundy is no less famous.  Some of the world's best and most expensive wines hail from the five sub-regions that comprise Burgundy.  According to sales data the wine with the highest average sales price is Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Romanee-Conti Grand Cru, a Pinot Noir from the Cote de Nuits region of Burgundy that averages over $10,000 per bottle! 

Most of Burgundy is comprised of very small vineyards, a result of years of subdivision under French law.  For this reason, many growers sell their grapes to Negociants,

The tiny vineyard of Romanee Conti
The tiny vineyard of Romanee Conti
who are essentially brokers who buy grapes from farmers and produce a blended wine.  Nearly three quarters of all Burgundy wine is produced in this manner.

Burgundy wines follow the Vin de Table, Vin de Pays, and Appellation Origine Controlee classification scheme.  But, that is where the simplicity ends.  Burgundy is divided into more AOCs than any other wine region in France, with more than 100.  Another form of geographic delineation are climats which are parcels (vineyards) delineated by a specific terroir.  There are over 1,200 climats in Burgundy.  Confused yet?  AOCs in Burgundy can be delimited by region, village or vineyard and are often nested.  Some but not all AOCs are further classified into Grand Cru (of which there are 33 including Chablis) and Premier Cru of which there are over six hundred.  Put all this together and reading  a wine label from a Burgundy wine requires a lot of help unless you have been in the wine business for 40 years.  My advice – as the Sommelier, or your local wine merchant for a good recommendation!

The Wines of Burgundy

The wines of Burgundy are generally dry still wines made primarily from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  The Burgundian style, as it is known, produces wines with moderate alcohol, acidity, and tannin yet rich with earthiness and aromas from the grapes.  While oak is used, it is not the driving force behind the flavors.

Burgundy is comprised of five geographically distinct areas – Chablis, Cote de Nuits, Cote de Beaune, Cote Chalonnaise, and Maconnais.  Each area has a distinctive style and unique terroir that form the backbone of the successful wines of the region.

Chablis - Chablis is the northernmost region in Burgundy, and is best known for producing crisp, acidic, mineral tasting Chardonnay wine, labeled as Chablis.  In fact over 99% of the production from Chablis is Chardonnay and the three AOCs of the region require 100% Chardonnay grapes.  The leading AOC is Chablis Grand Cru, comprised of seven climats overlooking the village of Chablis.  Only about 3% of all Chablis is Grand Cru.  Lower down the quality scale is the Chablis AOC where the majority of Chablis wine is labeled, and lastly Petit Chablis, a small geographically distinct area added in 1944.

Cote de Nuits - Of all of the wine regions in the world, this is the one where wine quality has been studied the longest – at least since the 12th century - when the Benedictine and Cistercian monks got their quills going in earnest.  This small region (only 420 acres) produces tiny amounts of highly sought-after wines, so they are not easy to find in your local wine shop or grocery store.  Every single Grand Cru designation in Burgundy comes from either the Cote de Nuits or the Cote de Beaune with the exception of the Chablis Grand Cru.  Cote de Nuits is better known for Pinot Noir and Cote de Beaune, Chardonnay.  Some of the well-known wines from this area are: Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Morey-Saint-Denis, Vougeout, Vósne-Romanée and Nuit San-Georges.

Cote de Beaune – Surrounding the city of Beaune, and slightly further south, the Cote de Beaune region produces the world famous White Burgundy from Chardonnay grapes.  Even though there is slightly more red wine produced than white, all but one of the grand crus produce only white wine.  Some of the well-known wines are: Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet, and Meursault.

Cote Chalonnaise – A lesser known part of Burgundy Cote Chalonnaise produces both red and white wines, including a grape variety known as Aligote, used in a sparkling wine from the region.

Maconnais – Maconnais is in the southernmost part of Burgundy, bordered by Beaujolais to the South.  Maconnais produces primarily white wine with a small amount of red – in this case Gamay, not Pinot Noir.  Wine from Maconnais is relatively easy to identify as most of the wine is labeled under the Macon-Village appellation

Growing grapes in Burgundy

No place in the wine world is the emphasis on terroir so dominant in wine production.  Whether in the matching of grapes with vineyard, viticultural practices, wine making process, labeling, or designation of AOC (some as small as 2 acres) Burgundy is all about terroir.  After all they have had hundreds of year to perfect the practice.

In general the Burgundy region runs from the North (Chablis) to south (Maconnais).  The climate ranges from harsh winters in Chablis, with an average temperature of 51 degrees, and a growing season barely long enough to ripen the grapes, to the warm sun drenched southern regions of Maconnais.  Here the average temperatures approaches 60 and the risk of the early frosts so prevalent in Chablis are nearly nonexistent

Fast Facts:

World famous wine region in central France
Main sub regions are Chablis, Cote de Nuits, Cote de Beaune, Cote Chalonnaise, and Maconnais.
The best wines are made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

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·  Cote de Nuits
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