Burgundy is a prestigious region in Northeastern France, renowned globally for its excellent wine and grape varieties.
The wine-making traditions of Burgundy are steeped in history, tracing all the way back to the French revolution. The red wines from Burgundy are some of the most well known in the world. The Burgundy region is a must visit destination for fine wine lovers seeking to indulge in some of the finest varieties.
It is important to note that when discussing white wines from Burgundy, one can only be referring to the Chardonnay grape, while the red wines are exclusively made from Pinot Noir. When it comes to Pinot Noir, Burgundy is the most important producer of Pinot Noir in France.
The unique terroir of Burgundy, with its limestone and clay soils and its cool climate, creates the perfect conditions for Pinot Noir grapes to reach their full potential, resulting in wines of unparalleled complexity, elegance, and depth of flavor. (1)
Understanding Burgundy Wine Classification
Apart from being the most demanding region in France for cultivating grapes, Burgundy is also one of the most complex wine regions in the world and therefore, quite difficult to understand.
The Burgundy region is divided into 4 major sub-regions:
Chablis (white wine)
Côte d’Or (red and white wine, main Pinot Noir region)
Côte Chalonnaise (red and white wine, second Pinot Noir region)
Mâconnais (white wine)
*From a geographical perspective, Beaujolais is also a part of Burgundy but is considered a wine region on its own, distinct from the rest of Burgundy wine.
Burgundy wines are categorized into four classes, ranging from the most basic, inexpensive wines to the most refined and costly:
Burgundy Red And White
Burgundy Red And White
In France, Bourgogne Rouge and Bourgogne Blanc are known as basic wines from Burgundy, typically made by blending the same grape varieties grown anywhere in the region.
Bourgogne Rouge may lack the specific environmental characteristics that Burgundy is revered for, but they do produce wines that contribute to a fundamental regional identity.
From this moment forward, the wines of Burgundy become incredibly notable. The grapes sourced to make village wines come solely from the village and its surrounding areas.
Village wines are of higher quality and at a higher cost than regional wines, as the grapes come from a more specific, smaller area.
Labels of the wine typically feature the name of the village such as Gevrey-Chambertin, Pommard, Chambolle-Musigny, Meursault, Nuits-St.-Georges, and so on.
In 1861, the most renowned vineyards of Burgundy were classified as Premier Cru or even higher – as Grand Cru wines. Premier Cru translates to “first growth” and indicates the superior terroir of a vineyard. A total of 629 vineyards in the region of Burgundy have been classified as Premier Cru.
Premier Cru wines are always on the more expensive side, and these wines always have the name of the vineyard on the label after the village’s name e.g. Beaune “Clos de la Mousse” or Gevrey-Chambertin “Aux Combottes.”
From all the wines produced in Burgundy France, 10% is composed of Premier Cru wines.
Grand Cru (French for Great Growth) is the highest level of classification for a Burgundy vineyard, and wines from these vineyards are typically considered the most honored as well as pricey in Burgundy along with being some of the most expensive wines in the world. Grand Cru represents only 1 percent of the Burgundy wine.
32 out of 33 Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy are from Côte d’Or, and one is located in Chablis.
Only 2% of Burgundy’s wines come from the vineyards of Grand Cru.
Burgundy Pinot Noir
As we’ve mentioned before, a red Burgundy wine is always made of 100 % Pinot Noir, and never blended.
Bourgogne Pinot Noir’s main production is located in two main regions, Côte d’Or and and Côte Chalonnaise.
The most well-known wine district in Burgundy is Côte d’Or which is a long, thin ridge made up of limestone split nearly in half.
Out of the 33 Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy, 32 are located in The Côte d’Or, and 1 in Chablis.
The northern region, known as Côte de Nuits, produces only red Pinot Noir wines. The southern region, the Côte de Beaune, is known for both red and white wines, with white wines like Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet being particularly famous.
Côte d’Or villages are all said to have their own distinct characteristics. Generally, the top Pinot Noir wines from Côte de Nuits are more intense and have a stronger structure than Pinot Noirs from Côte de Beaune, which are softer.
Côte d’Or Pinot Noirs are well-known for their earthy flavors, accompanied by notes of spices, mushrooms, and licorice.
Some of the most notable producing villages in the region are Chambolle-Musigny, Gevrey-Chambertin, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Vosne-Romanée, and Vougeot.
A few miles south sits the subregion of Côte Chalonnaise, the second major wine-producing region in Burgundy. Both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines are produced there, with no Grand Cru villages in the region, yet the region has many Premier Cru wines.
The Côte Chalonnaise wines are often less expensive than the wines of the Côte d’Or, making it the perfect region for wine lovers exploring Burgundy on a budget.
Some of the most sought after wines come from Mercurey, the most well-known and largest village in the area, is known for producing high-quality Pinot Noir wine with a strong spicy cherry flavor.
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
When it comes to Burgundy wine, one you simply must know is Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Perhaps the most recognized and high-priced wines in the world come from this producer.
The estate consists of seven vineyards, all of which are Grand Crus, and all vineyards are located in and around the village of Vosne-Romanée. 6 of the vineyards are planted with Pinot Noir, and one with Chardonnay.
There are only 6000 bottles of DRC’s wines produced annually.
In October 2018, two bottles of 1945 vintage Romanée Conti were sold for $558,000 at a Sotheby’s auction in New York.
New World Pinot Noir vs Burgundy Pinot Noir
What makes the difference between Burgundy Pinot Noir and Pinot Noir that is grown in the rest of the world is the TERROIR, which primarily refers to the region and its characteristics.
The specific type of the soil in Burgundy, the position of the slopes, and the cool climate are the main factors that influence the Burgundy Terroir.
The cool climate in Burgundy allows the grapes to ripen slowly over a long period of time, and as a result, the grapes produce wines that possess finesse, nuance, and complexity.
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