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Burgundy

Burgundy is the most northerly of France's fine red wine producing regions and also its most complex. Situated between Champagne and the northern Rhône its traditions date back many hundreds of years. Burgundy produces some of the greatest red and white wines anywhere in the world. Historically many Burgundian vineyards were owned by monasteries, their walled boundaries reflecting this fact, but the French Revolution together with Napoleonic inheritance laws led to vineyards becoming increasingly divided into ever smaller parcels of land. Although the charitable foundation the Hospices de Beaune and some of the larger negociants have fairly large vineyard holdings much of wine-producing Burgundy comprises small-scale growers with scattered plots in a range of appellations.

vineyard slope in burgundyAs is the case in the rest of France the more precise the origin of a Burgundy wine the higher its classification; hence grand-cru wines made exclusively from either Pinot Noir or Chardonnay are potentially the very best wines and Coteaux Bourguignons, until 2011 designated Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire, can be made from a range of grapes grown anywhere in the region. In between, in descending order, are premier cru wines, village wines and so on, all governed by France's strict wine regulations.

Another factor in Burgundy's seemingly unfathomable complexity to the non-expert is its diversity of sub-regions. There are five main ones all producing wines that are clearly differentiated but the best of which are made from just two grape varieties, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In the northern department of the Yonne lies the outpost of Chablis, closer to Champagne than to Dijon. Chablis is well-known for its crisp, mineral-edged white wines the best of which are made from grapes grown on the grand-cru hill to the north-east of the the town. South of Dijon lies the Côte-d'Or (literally the golden slope) with its twin centres of Nuits-St.-Georges in the Côte de Nuits and Beaune in the Côte de Beaune.

The Côte de Nuits is famous for its red wines and the villages of Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St.-Denis, Chambolle-Musigny, Nuits-St.-Georges and Vosne-Romanée among others are world-renowned. Out of the total of fourteen communes six have one or more vineyards with grand-cru status, the highest accolade in Burgundy. These grand-cru plots are some of the smallest in the whole of France and are typically divided up between many growers. The most famous of all, La Romanée has an area of less than one hectare. So closely do these communes identify with their top grand-cru vineyards that they append their name to that of the village, hence the many hyphenated commune names in these parts. The majority of vineyards here have easterly and south-easterly aspects over the plain of Beaune stretching eastwards to the River Saône. Frost can be a big problem in the spring as can hail storms in early summer and yields can suffer greatly as a result. In addition the Pinot Noir is a notoriously capricious grape variety yet it is in Burgundy, more so than anywhere else in the world, that it achieves true greatness. In a good year a red Burgundy from a conscientious grower can be a heavenly experience – a light, silky texture, fine fruit definition with good acidity and tannins and, with a degree of maturity, a perfume that is both seductive and captivating. The best exude aromas of red fruits, pipe tobacco, leather, a fungal richness and flowers such as violets all overlain by a hint of the farmyard. These wines are able to stimulate the intellect as well as the palate but, sadly, the very best, made in tiny quantities, are sold for stratospheric prices.

A bit further south lies the Côte de Beaune, an area that, although producing many very good red wines, is most famous for its white Burgundies. In the northern part the names of Aloxe-Corton, Beaune, Pommard and Volnay are the best known and it is here that this sub-region's best red wines are produced although the grand-cru Corton-Charlemagne is a white wine of great pedigree. Further to the south are the “holy grail” of white Burgundies made in the communes of Meursault, Puligny and Chassagne, the last two appending the name of (Le) Montrachet, the most famous white wine vineyard in the whole of Burgundy if not the world, to the name of the commune. One fact about Burgundy that is constantly surprising is the ability to wander into some of the most famous vineyards in the whole world.....and dream.

Continuing south beyond the red wine village of Santenay is the Côte Chalonnaise. Here the communes of Rully and Montagny produce white wines with Mercurey and Givry the centres of red wine production. There are no grand-cru wines made in the Côte Chalonnaise but premier-cru vineyards abound. The “lesser” grapes Gamay (red) and Aligoté (white) are also grown in some volume. The sparkling Crémant de Bourgogne is made in this sub-region, principally in Rully. The best of both the red and white wines enable the average wine drinker to enjoy a good bottle of Burgundy which doesn't require either an extended period of cellaring or a large bank balance.

Further south still is the sub-region of the Mâconnais, a source of predominantly white wine production. The weather is warmer here in the summer than further to the north, with the grape harvest beginning at least a week earlier than in either the Chalonnaise or the Côte-d'Or, but late spring frosts can still wreak havoc amongst the tender young vine shoots. Two thirds of plantings in the Mâconnais are Chardonnay and the white wines display the best quality. In fact in the north of this sub-region lies the village of Chardonnay itself which is thought to have given its name to the grape variety. Most famous are the wines of Pouilly-Fuissé the best of which are compared with some wines from the Côte de Beaune but more reasonably priced. Pinot Noir and Gamay are also grown although the former makes wine here that in no way compares to those made further north and, likewise, the Gamay wines often lack the softness and charm of those made in Beaujolais to the south.

 

Videos: The Red and White Wines of Burgundy

  1. Ghislaine Barthod 1er Cru Les Chatelots, Chambolle-Musigny, 2000

    Ghislaine Barthod 1er Cru Les Chatelots, Chambolle-Musigny, 2000

    Ghislaine Barthod's 1er Cru Les Chatelots, Chambolle-Musigny, 2000, is a well-balanced and harmonious Burgundy. Refined and perfumed, this wine has a wonderful mix of richness and elegance. Hints of oak can be found hiding behind prominent notes of red cherry, raspberry along with a touch of cinnamon.

    Details
    Colour Red Wine
    Grape Variety Pinot Noir
    Country France

    Out of stock

  2. La Croix Domaine Robert-Denogent, Pouilly-Fuissé, 2010

    La Croix Domaine Robert-Denogent, Pouilly-Fuissé, 2010

    A great Pouilly-Fuissé made from the fruit of old vines showing just how good white wines from southern Burgundy can be.

    Details
    Colour White Wine
    Grape Variety Chardonnay
    Country France

    Out of stock

  3. La Pucelle Domaine Roux, Saint-Aubin, 2010

    La Pucelle Domaine Roux, Saint-Aubin, 2010

    Saint Aubin is a less well-known village in the Côte de Beaune and, as such, offers extremely good value compared with the more famous villages.

    Details
    Colour White Wine
    Grape Variety Chardonnay
    Country France

    Out of stock

  4. Maison Nicolas Potel, Chablis 1er Cru, 2009

    With grapes picked by hand from only Premier Cru vineyards, this is a simply delicious premier cru Chablis from the 2009 vintage, pure and fresh, with rich, complex aromas starting to resemble those of a grand cru vineyard. The nose has lovely buttery notes along with grapefruit and orange peel.

    Details
    Colour White Wine
    Grape Variety Chardonnay
    Country France

    Out of stock

  5. Maison Nicolas Potel, Clos de la Roche Grand Cru, 2005

    Maison Nicolas Potel, Clos de la Roche Grand Cru, 2005

    This is the best year for Burgundy since records began and this Clos de la Roche from Maison Nicolas Potel is a winner. This simply outstanding wine gives expresses its famous terroir with precision and style. Notes of violets and fruits with breathtaking texture. A stunning red Burgundy.

    Details
    Colour Red Wine
    Grape Variety Pinot Noir
    Country France

    Regular Price: £174.99

    Special Price:

    £109.99

    Out of stock

  6. Maison Nicolas Potel, Gevrey-Chambertin, 2010

    Maison Nicolas Potel, Gevrey-Chambertin, 2010

    A very nice example of a village wine from the Côte de Nuits' most highly regarded appellation. Wines from Gevrey mature very nicely to reveal complexity both on the nose and palate.

    Details
    Colour Red Wine
    Grape Variety Pinot Noir
    Country France

    Out of stock

  7. Maison Nicolas Potel, Montagny 1er Cru, 2006

    Maison Nicolas Potel, Montagny 1er Cru, 2006

    Maison Nicolas Potel's Montagny 1er Cru, 2006 is a really great white Burgundy with a good bit of age behind it and well matured flavours. It has a wonderfully expressive nose full of citrus notes, orange peel, fresh almonds but also hints of exotic fruits and vanilla. The colour is pale golden yellow still with greenish tints. This is a well-rounded, fresh white, a great match for any shellfish, oyster or poultry dish.

    Details
    Colour White Wine
    Grape Variety Chardonnay
    Country France

    Out of stock

  8. Maison Nicolas Potel, Nuits-St-Georges, 2011

    Maison Nicolas Potel, Nuits-St-Georges, 2011

    Well-structured, well-balanced and with a great capacity to age in the cellar, this big, powerful and complex Nuits-St-Georges 2001 vintage from Maison Nicolas Potel can be stowed away to mature or drunk now. Its power and complexity stands out alongside flavours of undergrowth, spice and liquorice coated with ripe dark fruits, red cherries and raspberries.

    Details
    Colour Red Wine
    Grape Variety Pinot Noir
    Country France

    Out of stock

  9. Maison Nicolas Potel, Santenay, 1976

    A mature Pinot Noir from the 1976 vintage having a lovely ruby colour with an amber tint. The nose has spice, tobacco and fig notes and the wine attacks the palate with great flavours of dried fruit, blackberries and a hint of liquorice. Its complexity is due both to its great age and well-crafted nature.

    Details
    Colour Red Wine
    Grape Variety Pinot Noir
    Country France

    Out of stock

  10. Petit Chablis, Patrick Piuze, 2012

    Petit Chablis, Patrick Piuze, 2012

    Patrick Piuze's Petit Chablis is made from hand-picked grapes sourced on the plateau above the grand cru hill, which overlooks the small town of Chablis, from a specific site known as La Petite Preuses.

    Details
    Colour White Wine
    Grape Variety Chardonnay
    Country France

    Out of stock

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