What is Burgundy wine?
Question from Rob: What’s Burgundy? I know it’s a wine from France but is there more to it than that?
In a nut shell: There is a lot to know about Burgundy and it can be very daunting but like most wines it’s only as complicated as you make it.
The first thing you need to know is that it’s from the French wine region of Burgundy (or Bourgogne if you’re French). The second thing you need to know is if it’s a white wine it’s Chardonnay and if it’s red it’s Pinot Noir. It can be that simple.
Or you can delve deeper into the five regions (or districts) within Burgundy and learn about what each produces best. The other thing you should know about is the strict way wine is classified in Burgundy (ranging from good to extraordinary and everything in between). Knowing your classifications will help you pick a bottle that’ll appeal to your taste buds as well as your budget.
In a clam shell: Let’s start at the start. Burgundy used to be part of a tropical sea with limestone soils and BOOM, there you have it, that’s why Burgundy is so damn famous because this unique soil is the secret to its very distinct (and delicious) flavours.
Like I said, there are two grape varieties in Burgundy – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – and there are five regions within the larger region of Burgundy (which is located in east-central France).
Starting at the top and moving south we have:
- Chablis – famous for zesty, mineral-driven, bone-dry, unoaked Chardonnay
- Côte de Nuits – famous for rich Pinot Noir
- Côte de Beaune – Get your rich, full bodied Chardonnay here
o The Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune = Côte d’Or (Golden Slope) but if that confuses an already confusing matter pretend I never told you that (it’s not that important, you’ll survive without that information).
- Côte Chalonnaise – this is where you’ll pick up reasonably priced Pinot Noir and the regions sparkling wine called Cremant de Bourgogne (which is made in the same way as Champagne but it’s not called Champagne because it’s from Burgundy).
- Mâconnais – famous for affordable Chardonnay
It’s worth mentioning here that:
- all these regions produce both red and white Burgundies but they’re more famous (and can get lots of money) for the wines mentioned above.
- each region within Burgundy has a heap of villages in it – like Fitzroy belongs to Melbourne (well technically they are called ‘Appellations’ but I don’t want to confuse you so let’s call them villages for simplicity. For the curious an Appellation is simply an approved wine growing area). All these villages (Appellations) can get VERY confusing because often the label on the bottle will just say the village or winery where the wine is produced, rather than the region which you are now familiar with. This is where Google becomes your friend! Unless you’re going to remember the 100 odd villages (Appellations) in Burgundy my suggestion would be to learn the regions above and use Google to find out what villages are in which regions.
Finally, let’s talk about wine classifications. There are four quality levels in Burgundy which will appear on the label of the wine and will give you a very good indication of price and obviously quality.
From cheapest to ridiculously expensive…
- Regional Wines – These wines can be made from grapes grown anywhere in Burgundy. The label will probably say ‘Bourgogne Rouge/Blanc which simply means red/white wine from Burgundy. These wines make up about 52% of all Burgundies.
- Village Wines – These wines are named after the town in which the grapes are grown. These wines make up 37% of all Burgundies.
- Premier Cru – These wines are from specific vineyards within a village. We’re starting to get pricey here, usually above $50 but less than $100. These wines make up 10% of all Burgundies.
- Grand Cru – These wines are the crème de la crème coming from specific patches of land within a vineyard. A bottle of Grand Cru Burgundy will set you back thousands, if not tens of thousands! These wines make up 1% of all Burgundies.
Now just to confuse things because it wouldn’t be a Burgundy if I didn’t, the classification for wines from Chablis is a little different but simple enough!
From cheapest to expensive…
- Petit Chablis – These wines come from grapes grown in younger soil in lesser exposed areas
- Chablis – These wines are from grapes grown in limestone soil in areas which are a little more exposed
- Premier Cru – These wines come from specific vineyards in Chablis
- Grand Cru – These wines come from specific areas within specific vineyards on steep south-southwest facing slopes
For the record, the region of Beaujolais, which is located just south of Burgundy and produces a light red wine from the Gamay grape is not part of Burgundy. Neither is Châtillonnais, which is located just north of Burgundy and produces some excellent Cremant de Bourgogne wines.