Burgundy, located in France, is one of the most famous wine regions in the world. The wines of Burgundy can be exceptional and that’s mostly down to a favourable combination of natural factors. The climate is not too hot, or too cold, so both black and white grapes are equally successful in producing good wine.
In the cooler north, there is Chablis, responsible for the famous wine of the same name. Further south is the Côte D’Or, which is divided into Côte de Nuits in the north and Côte de Beaune in the southern part. The Côte de Nuits is almost completely planted with Pinot Noir, and is home to most of Burgundy’s Grands Crus red wines including those of Gevrey-Chambertin and Vosne-Romanée. Côte de Beaune produces a mix of red and white wines, including the famous Grand Cru white wine of Le Montrachet.
Moving south, we come to moderately priced Côte Chalonnaise. Here, the appellations of Mercurey, Givry and Rully cover both reds and dry whites, whereas Montagny produces only white wines. Next is the Mâconnais, with Pouilly-Fuissé a separate AOC below.
Furthest south is Beaujolais. Viticulturally this is a distinct region with Gamay as the main grape variety.
Climate and Terroir
The more easterly, inland location of Burgundy in France means that it is affected more by weather extremes than those areas moderated by the Atlantic. This can mean spring frost and summer hail.
However, it is the soil in Burgundy that is the greatest influence on the wines produced in the region, perhaps more so than anywhere else in France. There are several different layers of limestone underneath Burgundy’s vineyards, which are mixed with a number of different soils. So, two vineyards that are close together can produce remarkably different wines from the same grape.
A good example of the impact of terroir can be seen in Chablis. Chardonnay is grown on Kimmeridgian clay and this is what distinguishes Chablis from any other wine made from Chardonnay. Being northernmost, the climate is also cooler resulting in a more acidic wine.
The village of Pommard in the Côte de Beaune is where some of the most powerful red wines of Burgundy are produced. The higher tannins are attributed to the clay soil, and give the wines greater ageing potential. South of Pommard subtle changes in soil structure favour the growing of Chardonnay. It is here we find Burgundy’s best whites in the form of Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet. Go further south still and the soil changes once more, again favouring Pinot Noir.
In Beaujolais, granite replaces the limestone subsoil found in the rest of Burgundy. Gamay replaces Pinot Noir as the grape of choice, producing easy-to-drink red wines with a low tannin content, which are very different from the Pinot Noirs wines of northern Burgundy.
Grapes and Wines
The two main grapes of Burgundy’s appellation (Bourgogne AOC) are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. However, each district has its own individual appellation.
Chablis, of course, is responsible for producing some of the world’s most famous dry white wines from the Chardonnay grape. The wine here possesses an elegant crispness and acidity not found in other Chardonnays.
A good Côte de Nuits will appear quite pale in character compared to a Claret or Northern Rhône red, but it will possess an intense fruit character. However, depending on the vinification and barrel ageing, these wines have a structured elegance.
In Côte Challonnaise, as well as Chardonnay, a grape variety known as Aligoté is grown. This produces a crisp, acidic, dry white wine. Some sparkling wine, Crémant de Bourgogne AOC, is also produced by the méthode traditionelle using a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
The Mâconnais produces dry whites from Chardonnay and reds mainly from Gamay. The whites tend to be better than the reds and have their own designation, Mâcon-Villages AOC.
Did You Know?
Many of the vineyards in Burgundy were donated to the church in the Middle Ages. The Cistercian monks separated the land into vineyard areas producing wine of similar character. After the French Revolution these vineyards were auctioned off in small parcels, so one vineyard may have several owners producing wine. For the non-expert it is almost impossible to decipher the village and vineyard origins of wine from different producers.