Burgundy wine region
Burgundy is a highly symbolic wine region in France - well known for both white and red wines but also for its monks, clos and for having a complex classification.
History and wine classification
First evidence of vinyards in the region dates back to AD 312 under the Emperor Constantine. The real "boom" in Burgundy wine production came with Christianity, the demand for sacramental wine and its closiness to several monasteries.
The appellation system was established only in 1935 (Bordeaux was classified already in 1855) which was divided into:
- Grands Crus: The highest rating - small but famous appelation where the name is followed by "Appellation Grand Cru Contrôlée" - Normally, the shorter the name the better is the wine (e.g. Musigny is better than Chambolle-Musigny). There are 32 Grands Crus vineyards in Burgundy, accounting for less than 5% of all Burgundy wine production.
- Premiers Crus (also written as 1er Cru): Normally combining the name of the village and a specific plot (e.g. Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St. Jacques). The 1er Cru account for about 18% of the total production.
- Village wine: wine from a terroir around a specific village.
- Regional appellation: wines from different vineyards.
Grape varieties and wine production
The principal grapes are Chardonnay for white, and both Pinot Noir and Gamay for red wines.
Chardonnay - This is certainly an international grape and it is particularly fond of limestone - which is present in Burgundy. Flavor can vary depending on winemaking and soil - e.g. if aged in wood barrels particular notes of butter and toast are developed.
Pinot Noir - A delicate variety which is difficult to cultivate, especially in Burgundy which represent the northern limit of cultivation. Yet, it produces exceptional wines as in Côte d'Or famous red grand crus.
Gamay - The grape has usally a bad reputation due to overproduction but if the harvest is restricted wines can be delicious, fresh and light. Gamay is rarely cultivated elsewehere, except in the Loire Valley.Typical Gamay wine are Beaujolais.
Red wines, especially for grands crus, are usually aged in oak, but new oak is used less frequently than in Bordeaux. Also filtration is less prevalent.
White wines, both for premier or grands crus in the Côte d'Or and Chablis region are produced in small oak barrels. Usally the ageing, until the end of the malolactic fermentation, also takes place in oak barrels. In addition, the grands crus generally undergo stirring (mixing of lees) to add further complexity.
Burgundy has over 100 different appellations, numerous individual vineyards and more than 3,000 individual producers. The vinyards surface is normally very limited (1 to 5 ha) and so its production.
Burgundy is located in eastern France, southeast of Paris. It consists of five major regions: Chablis, Côte d’Or, Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais and Beaujolais. The Côte d’Or is further divided into two well-known sections, Côte de Nuits in the north and Côte de Beaune in the south.
Viticultural Burgundy covers five regions in three departments:
- Chablis & the Auxerrois - Yonne
- Côte de Nuits - Côte d'Or
- Côte de Beaune - Côte d'Or
- Côte Chalonnaise - Saone-et-Loire
- Maconnais - Saone-et-Loire
Total production from 26,500 hectares of vines is 1.5m hectolitres, which equates to 200 million bottles of wine. Production is two thirds white wine to one third red wine.
The world's most famous white wine grape may have originated in Burgundy, where there is a village called Chardonnay (near Mâcon). The heartland for white burgundy is the Côte de Beaune with its three great villages, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet.
The great red wines of Burgundy are found in the Côte d'Or. The line of magical villages which constitutes the Côte de Nuits, Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey St Denis, Chambolle-Musigny, Vougeot, Vosne-Romanée and Nuits-St Georges is like a roll call of great names. The Côte de Beaune competes through such gems as Volnay and Pommard.