There are no doubts you have heard the word “Burgundy” many times and probably it calls upon some visions of wine bottles or specific dishes like Escargots or Gougeres. But would you be surprised if I told you that Burgundy is the wine-producing region where the best, most expensive wines out there have been crafted for centuries?
Burgundy, which is located in eastern France is now part of the administrative region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, created in 2016 through the integration of Bourgogne and the Franche-Comté. But within this article, I will refer to the historical Burgundy region – a noble home to the finest vineyards in the world.
What is interesting, this region produces about 3 percent of France’s overall wine production, embracing quality over quantity.
Beginning around sixty miles (about a hundred kilometers) from Paris and spreading down to Lyon, Burgundy occupies a total area of 12,194 sq miles (31,582 km2) that comprises the following wine-growing sub- and sub-sub-regions:
- Côte de Nuits (the Night Slope) - the northern half of the Cote d'Or wine region
- Côte de Beaune (the Slope of Beaune) - the southern half of the Cote d'Or wine region
- Côte Chalonnaise (the Chalon Slope)
- Mâconnais (the region of Mâcon)
All these renowned sub-regions offer the endless choice of supreme, magnificent wines and if you want to kick start your exploration of them, we've got you covered.
The whopping majority of wines are made from grapes, but not from those delicious varieties like Sweet Jubilee, Cotton Candy, Moon Drops, or Crimson Seedless that you buy as a healthy snack to enjoy on their own.
Wine grapes are smaller, more berry-sized; they have very thick skins, lots of juice, and many large and hard seeds in them. And while there are about 10,000 types of grapes out there, only around 1,300 varieties are used in wine production.
If we narrow this number down to the varietals grown in Burgundy, this is what we’ll get 👇
From not too long ago, the Burgundy region has decided to reclaim its French name — Bourgogne — in international export markets and the term ‘Burgundy’ that was used on the labels previously is now being phased out.
The taste profiles of Bourgogne Rouge (red Burgundy) and Bourgogne Blanc (white Burgundy) are determined by a powerful fusion of color, flavors, aromas, and texture. One of the main factors that result in distinctive wine’s characteristics is rendered in the word “terroir”. This term derived from the Roman word "terratorium", which is a deformation of the word "terriorium", or territory.
The concept of terroir is based on the idea that the region's geography, climate, geology, topography, soil chemistry, and even microorganisms that live in the soil and on the vines are the unique elements that affect the qualities of the grapes and, combined with human actions, allow winemakers to produce the desired wine styles. This approach has made Bourgogne the absolute benchmark for terroir-based viniculture.
Another Burgundian term - “Climat” is the true expression of the notion of terroir. Climats are the precisely demarcated plots of grapes, which have been recognized by their names over the centuries. Each one has its unique relief, aspect (it refers to the direction — north vs south, east vs west — that a vineyard faces), elevation, vegetation, and soil composition.
There are several thousand Climats in Bourgogne and some got their start over 1,300 years ago. The varietals that grow on these discrete plots are vinified apart and the wine gets the name of the Climat to connect wine production to its place of origin. Bourgogne is the only wine region in the world that links its wines to their place of origin very thoroughly through such meticulous classifications.
In 2015 the Climats de Bourgogne were designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Famed for its wines and gastronomy, Bourgogne is also held in esteem for its exceptionally beautiful rivers and channels. The Saône river running down the slopes of the purple Vosges Mountains creates a majestic natural border of the region joining the Rhône in Lyon. Canal du Nivernais, that links the Loire and Yonne rivers and Canal de Bourgogne, are known for the most exciting cruising experience to be found in France. Plenty of other channels and small rivers, lush forests, rocky hills covered with grapevines, and beautiful green valleys convert Burgundy into a real Elysium for dedicated nature lovers.
Considering the importance of the natural factors in the concept of vinicultural terroir, let’s take a look at Burgundy’s geography and climate.
Burgundy Wine Region: Geography & Climate
At the very beginning, before the Mesozoic Era, the ground of the current Burgundy territory was composed of granite. During the Jurassic period, for millions and millions of years, this region was covered by the tropical sea rich in corals and seashell lifeforms.
About 65 million years ago, the sea retreated leaving behind vast limestone deposits. After that, the territory of Burgundy was affected by the formation of the Alps and major tectonic shifts. Those shifts caused the north-south fault line that crosses the region. Since then, Burgundy’s landscape has remained more or less unchanged.
All these geological processes defined the complex ground composition of Bourgogne and gave its grapes a platform to shine as brightly and purely as no other wine does.
Chalky and lime-rich in the northern areas where Chardonnay has thrived through the centuries and marled on the other side, which is great for Pinot Noir, Burgundy’s soils transmit their unique traits to the region’s wines, assuring their bright and truly distinctive characteristics.
Another natural factor contributing to wine’s quality is climate. The climate of Bourgogne is characterized by warm summers, cold and nippy winters, cool and rainy springs, and chill and crispy falls. At the same time, both the Mediterranean sea and the Atlantic Ocean act in sequence determining the amount of sunshine and rainfalls over the region and therefore, affecting the vines throughout the growing season.
Too much rain and clouds prevent grapes from achieving full ripeness, while if the summer is too hot and sunny, grapes may start dehydrating, resulting in wines that lack structure and can be too heavy or have bitter tannins (a type of astringent chemical compounds naturally occurring in some plants including grapes).
Most of the time, weather conditions in Burgundy allow grapes to grow to the perfect ripeness required for producing great wines.
But sometimes the northern areas of the region suffer from spring frosts which pose a real threat for Chardonnay vines in Chablis. Also, accidental hailstorms and summer rainfalls can be a real menace to the grapes over the entire region.
Geology, geography, and climate combined with other factors give a vineyard its specific qualities and, as you are already aware of, this mix is known as terroir - a method of representing the unique character of a place that influences the wine.
The concept of terroir was developed and implemented by the members of the Benedictine and Cistercian orders back in the Middle Ages.
For centuries, devoted monks had been cultivating grapes on their sizable landholdings, dedicating a lot of time to the meticulous observations of the effects that different parts of the land had on the wine. These observations resulted in the appearance of tiny patches of land separated by stone walls. Grapes from individual plots gave their wines a distinguished taste even if there were just two hundred feet between the demarcation lines.
Today, the wines of terroir-driven Bourgogne are classified into 84 Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée (AOCs), and 14 Géographiques Complémentaires (DGCs) within the Bourgogne AOC that can be considered as identification of more restricted areas than that specified in the AOC in which they are included.
The current AOS system delineates very strict appellation characteristics to help guide the consumer, identify the levels of quality, and invigorate vignerons into creating the best possible wines. Accordingly to AOS system classification, vineyards in Bourgogne are organized in a hierarchical structure. Best vineyards within the top two appellations are defined as distinctive Climats.
Burgundy Wines Classification
Because appellations guarantee the authenticity and the quality of the wines, it is very important to understand how the AOS classification system works.
As little as 2 percent of Bourgogne vineyards belong to the “Grand Cru” tier – 33 highly acclaimed wines from Grand Cru appellations express the unique characteristics of most exceptional plots.
Almost every Grand Cru vineyard is concentrated in the Côtes de Nuit and Côtes de Beaune sub-regions except for Chablis Grand Cru presented by seven Climats.
Only the name of the Climat such as La Grande Rue, Clos de Vougeot, or Montrachet figures on the wine label of Bourgogne “Grand Cru”. Synonymous with sophistication and uniqueness, these appellations Grands Crus are to be kept for years and enjoyed on exceptional occasions.
Wines to consider:
- Domaine Leroy Chambertin Grand Cru 1985, Burgundy Red, France
- Lalou Bize-Leroy Domaine d'Auvenay Les Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru, Cote de Nuits, France
- Domaine Leroy Romanee-Saint-Vivant Grand Cru 1997, Burgundy Red, France
Chablis Grand Cru vines grow on one southwest-facing slope above the right side of the Serein river which enables ideal ripeness due to the maximum sunlight exposure and closeness to the water.
But it is not the only reason why the Grand Cru vineyards in Chablis are called “Grand”. Expert judges of French wine assess Chablis’ Grand Cru Climats as the best example of terroir because Chablis Grand Cru Chardonnays demonstrate not only the most desirable balance between liveliness, dryness, and acidity but unique aromas and unrepeatable flavors compositions.
Wines produced from Les Clos Climat are the most powerful and intense among all Chablis Grand Crus so, I recommend trying one of these magnificent wines:
- Vincent Dauvissat, Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2010
- Domaine William Fevre, Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2010
- Raveneau, Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 1997
Premier Cru wines are produced from specific individual vineyards within the appellations Village. These 635 vineyards account for about 12 percent of all vineyards in Burgundy.
On the label, the name of the Climat manifests itself after the name of the village, for example, Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Clos Saint-Jacques or Gouges Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Les Saints-Georges.
Some finest Premier Crus are as good as Grand Crus in the remit of terroirs. One example is wines from Volnay village – the best red Burgundies you can find in Côte de Beaune.
There are 40 named Chablis Premier Cru Сlimats, but many have several sub-vineyards within them, bringing the total number of named Chablis Premier Cru vineyards to around 80.
Winemakers who produce this wine do not always place the name of vineyards on labels. Some do that because they have such an option, the others just follow the regulation instructing to label wine without the name of a vineyard if this wine is made from the grapes of more than one Climat.
Wines to consider:
- William Fevre Chablis Fourchaume 1er Cru 2012
- Bernard Defaix Chablis 1er Cru Cote de Lechet 2018
- Chablis 1er Cru Mont de Milieu, Domaine Droin 2019
The 44 Village appellations including Chablis, Nuits-St-Georges, and Mâcon-Villages represent 36 percent of all Burgundy vineyards.
Wines in this category are made from grapes that grow on various vineyards within a village territory, not on a single Climat but they can be outstandingly good and easy to enjoy.
It’s explained by the fact that wines in Burgundy are created by people who possess incredible winegrowing and winemaking skills. One producer's $50 Village Puligny-Montrachet Chardonnay can be as good as another's $300 Premier Cru wine.
On the label, you will see the village name, e.g. Gevrey-Chambertin, Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Denis Bachelet. Gevrey-Chambertin, the village in the Côte de Nuits district, is home to nine Grand Cru vineyards and wines produced within Gevrey-Chambertin appellation can be insanely good and hard to find depending on the vintage.
Vieilles Vignes is a common note that appears on wine labels if wine is the product of notably old grapevines and if you are looking for the best experience with Chablis – as Chablis Village Appellation is labeled on the bottle, you should try the wines with the “Vieilles Vignes” description.
Also, the vintage is important as well. All Chablis wines were meant to be consumed after at least six years of aging otherwise you can get a greenish tinge to the wine if you drink it upon release.
I recommend keeping an eye on the Chablis wines from the vineyards that produce the best quality grapes. For example, Raveneau Chablis 2016 - Domaine Francois Raveneau, or Chablis Village Domaine 2015 - Domaine William Fevre.
Regional wines are produced from a combination of vineyards from different villages across the region therefore, these wines are not represented under area-specific AOCs.
There are just seven appellations Régionale in the region but they cover 50 percent of all wines produced in Burgundy. You will find these wines labeled as:
- Bourgogne Rouge
- Bourgogne Blanc
- Bourgogne Rose
- Bourgogne Aligote
- Crément de Bourgogne (sparkling wine)
- Macon” (“Macon Villages”)
- Coteaux Bourguignons
Although it’s an entry-level wine, some Pinot Noir and Chardonnay can be just superb depending on the grapes and producer, and yet at a very reasonable price.
White Burgundy Grape Varietals
Compared to Bordeaux wines, Burgundy’s whites and reds are almost exclusively varietal wines which means that typically, the region’s grapes are used to produce self-contained wines excluding the traditional blend between Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for creating Champagne and exquisite sparkling wines.
DNA research has shown that Chardonnay appeared in Burgundy due to a sole pair of parents - the Pinot grape and almost vanished Gouais Blanc.
This explains why Chardonnay and Pinot Noir always grow close to each other.
Chardonnay grape berries are nicely-rounded with a green-skin that gets more golden-yellow on ripening and produce very sweet and rich juice at the end. But since the Chardonnay grape has a neutral flavor, all flavors that its wines offer depend on the terroirs and winemaking techniques.
Due to the cool climate of Burgundy, Chardonnay wines created in the region have a lighter body, crisp and elegant character, beautifully balanced acidity, and captivating minerality. The aromatic complexity of these wines is quite powerful and delightful. The wines convey the citric and pomaceous aromas, delicate floral notes, and captivating herbal traits.
The impact of terroir on Chardonnay’s taste can be detected more noticeably in Chablis. Filled with marine fossils that remained from the Jurassic period, Kimmeridgian soils of that northern sub-region are responsible for the distinguished touch of chalk, wet stones, and crushed seashells combined with vibrant acidity.
Since Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines come with excellent keeping properties, bottle aging of ten years or more will only enhance the intensity of their aromas.
So pay attention to the vintage when you decide that you are ready for this exceptional tasting experience.
Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault, and Corton-Charlemagne located in the Côte de Beaune sub-region are some of Burgundy's greatest Chardonnay appellations that produce the finest white wines in the world.
Montrachet Chardonnays have a clean, pure, and distinguished character. These wines are designed for long aging that brings the strong aromas of yellow fruits, vanilla, honey, and salted butter caramel.
While Corton-Charlemagne wines offer buttery notes of baked apple, citrus fruits, pineapple, lime, cinnamon, and flint. The young Meursault Chardonnays show mineral, floral, and citrus aromas while aged wines deliver the flavors of butter and honey, and the notes of baked almonds and hazelnuts.
Wines to consider:
- Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles 1er Cru Domaine Leflaive
- Corton-Vergennes Grand Cru Chateau de Meursault
- Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru Domaine Bonneau du Martray
If you like sparkling wines, you should give Burgundian Blanc de Blancs a shot.
“Blanc de Blancs” means that such wine is not just a “Chardonnay Champagne”, but a super-premium Champagne from a great vineyard.
Due to high acidity, Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs is ideal for keeping and conveys amazing taste and flavors at the end. If you are thinking about getting a bottle of vintage sparkling Chardonnay, Delamotte Collection 1999 Blanc de Blancs or Pol Roger Grand Cru Brut Blanc de Blancs 2012 would be a great investment or amazing gift for someone special.
Another white grape varietal flourishing in Burgundy is Aligoté. It shares its roots with Chardonnay and is the result of a cross between Gouais Blanc and Pinot Noir that looks and tastes differently. Chardonnay grapes are green-skinned, and Aligoté grapes are pale yellow with a touch of gold.
Aligoté used to grow everywhere in Bourgogne before phylloxera – a deadly pest that destroyed most vineyards across France and some other countries during the late 19th century. Disease-resistant American rootstock helped to solve the problems, but Budgundy winemakers decided to concentrate their attention on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir which resulted in lessening Aligoté as a varietal.
Luckily, Aligoté made its way to the 20th century and received the first sign of recognition in 1937 with the creation of the Régionale AOC - “Bourgogne Aligoté”.
Made from grapes mainly planted in the less-valued soils of the Burgundy region, Bourgogne Aligoté wines are pretty simple comparing to Chardonnays from the same appellation.
Whereas hillside Aligotés produced by some notable growers show beautiful floral aromas, and notes of peach, lemon, linden, acacia, vanilla, hazelnut, green apple, and sometimes even citrus. Rocky hillside soils with the presence of white marl give these wines remarkable freshness, flinty minerality, and zesty mouthwatering acidity.
The appellation most devoted to creating quality Aligoté is Bouzeron, a small village on the Côte Chalonnaise. I recommend trying Bouzeron Bourgogne Aligote Domaine de Villaine 2016 or 2013 Morey-St-Denis 1er Cru Clos des Monts Luisants, Domaine Ponsot 2017 – the only 100-percent Aligoté Premier Cru wine in Burgundy.
Red Burgundy Grape Varietals
Pinot Noir – a noble grape with a long history – is native to the Bourgogne region. It can be really hard to grow but the results are rewarding because we are talking about some of the finest wines in the known Universe.
Though the most popular version suggests that the grape's name was derived from a pinecone (the French call it an “apple of the pine” or “pomme de pin”), the name could also reflect a toponym of the place where the varietal used to grow.
The first known written reference to Pinot goes back to a Burgundian text from 1375. It used to be called Morillon, Morillon Noir, and Mourillon previously and there’s a mention of the grape spelled as “Moreillon” that dates back to 1283.
The monks from the Cistercian order who put a lot of effort into mastering the art of viniculture were enchanted by Pinot Noir’s fascinating ability to reflect the quality of its terroir. It explains why this grape is used to produce a fine single varietal wine and it doesn’t get blended as its Bordeaux counterparts Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot.
This idiosyncratic varietal is very susceptible to vine diseases caused by fungal pathogens and besides, the growth of the fruit in a cluster form makes it vulnerable to weather hazards including wind, hail, rain, and frost. Pinot Noir cultivation requires constant care but it is definitely worth it.
Just recently, a private collector set a new record for the highest amount ever paid for a single bottle of Pinot Noir at Sotheby’s auction in October 2018, paying $558,000 for a bottle of 1945 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
Depending on the vintage, the price for a bottle of Pinot Noir wine from one of the best vineyards can get high. For example, the current price for 2015 Domaine Leroy, Musigny, France, Burgundy, Musigny Grand Cru is €99,663.00.
Typically, Pinot Noirs produced from well-respected Burgundy vineyards are medium or full-bodied; they are ruby or deep crimson, with soft and delicate tannins and distinctive aromas that include such dominating flavors as raspberries, strawberries, mulberries, blueberries, blackberries, and cherries, plus the notes of truffles, mushrooms, pebbles, autumn leaves, and savory spices.
If you want to enjoy the amazing taste and outstanding perfumed richness of some great Pinot Noirs, I recommend investing in the following wines:
- 2013 Domaine Louis Jadot, Chambertin-Clos de Beze Grand Cru
- 2014 Armand Rousseau Chambertin Grand Cru
- 2003 Domaine Armand Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze Grand Cru
- 2014 Armand Rousseau, Gevrey Chambertin Clos St Jacques 1er Cru
- 2014 Vosne Romanee Les Beaux Monts, Domaine Leroy 1er Cru
A very old grape variety, Gamay derived its name from a small settlement near Saint-Aubin on the Côte de Beaune. Like Chardonnay and Aligoté, it is related to Pinot Noir. This strong and high-yielding varietal became quite popular in the Middle Ages as everyday wine and lots of vignerons started producing it in whopping quantities.
In 1395, the Dukes of Bourgogne – the first ambassadors for the region’s wines, took a bold decision to ban Gamay from Bourgogne to stimulate the cultivation of finicky but exclusive Pinot Noir.
Regardless of that ban, winegrowers of Burgundy slowly but surely returned to growing Gamay and producing inexpensive, vibrant, and easy-drinking wines with prominent red fruit flavors of cherry and raspberry, powerful tannins, and impressive acidity.
Today, Gamay is the varietal of choice for the great red wines in Mâconnais where it performs at its best on the granite and siliceous sub-soils of the region. Luckily for this grape, it was not obliterated in that area by the decision of the Dukes of Bourgogne because the Mâconnais didn’t belong to the Duchy of the day.
Wines to consider:
- Domaine Guillot-Broux, Beaumont 2018, Macon-Cruzilles
- Louis Latour - Bourgogne Gamay 2018 , France, Burgund
There are 22 regional and district appellations in Burgundy which represent about 50 percent of total wine production. District appellations do not use the word “Bourgogne” in their names (e.g. Mâcon or Hautes-Cotes-de Nuits).
The most generic regional appellations are Bourgogne Rouge and Bourgogne Blanc.
The name Bourgogne Rouge applies to red wines which are produced by over 350 individual villages across the Burgundy which accounts for about 1854 hectares of land – twice as much as used for the production of Bourgogne Blanc wines.
Quite often, the grapes for generic Bourgogne Rouge and Bourgogne Blanc grow near the prestigious terroirs, along the foot of the slopes, on soils that may be rich in clay, limestone, and marls which contributes a lot to the wine’s quality.
Within the Bourgogne AOC, you can find 14 “identified” Bourgogne wines that have complementary geographical denominations (DGC - dénomination géographique complémentaire) which means that these appellations produce slightly better quality wine than the rest:
- Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise
- Bourgogne Côte d’Or
- Bourgogne Côte Saint-Jacques
- Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre
- Bourgogne Côtes du Couchois
- Bourgogne Coulanges-la-Vineuse
- Bourgogne Épineuil
- Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune
- Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits
- Bourgogne La Chapelle Notre-Dame
- Bourgogne Le Chapitre
- Bourgogne Montrecul
- Bourgogne Tonnerre
Within the Mâcon AOC, you can find 27 additional geographical denominations:
- Mâcon-La Roche-Vineuse
These wines make an exciting starting point for an endless exploration into the world of red and white wines of Burgundy so, you should keep their names for future reference.
Village/Communal Appellations & Premier Cru Vineyards
These wines are named after the village where their grapes were grown. As was mentioned above, some plots, concerning the consistency of their quality, have a right to add geographical denomination for identifying the specific Climats within a Village AOC what distinguishes them as Village Premier Crus.
There are 44 Village AOCs and 585 Premier Cru vineyards in the Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, and Côte Chalonnaise. They represent 18% of Burgundy's total production.
There are 40 Chablis Premier Cru Сlimats, but many of them include sub-vineyards (called lieux-dits in French), bringing the total number of named Chablis Premier Cru vineyards to around 80.
Here is the list of the Villages with the most prestigious Premier Cru vineyards:
- Clos des Mouches
- Les Greves
- Les Perrières
- Clos du Roi
- Les Cras
- Les Bressandes
- Côte de Léchet
- Mont de Millieu
- Montee de Tonnerre
- La Forets
- Les Amoureuses
- Les Beaux-Bruns
- Les Cras
- Les Fuées
- Les Véroilles
- Côte de Beaune
- Côte de Beaune-Villages
- Côte de Nuits-Villages
- Combe au Moine
- Les Cazetiers
- Estournelles St Jacques
- Clos St Jacques
- Aux Combottes
- Marsannay Rosé
- Les Ruchots
- La Bussière
- La Faconnières
- Les Cailles
- Les Vaucrains
- Les St Georges
- Aux Murgers
- Aux Boudots
- Petit Chablis
- Les Epenots
- Les Jarollières
- Les Fremiers
- Les Charmots
- Les Combes,
- Les Pézerolles
- Champ Canet
- Clos de la Mouchere
- Clos de la Truffiere
- Le Cailleret
- Les Combettes
- Les Folatieres
- Les Perrieres
- Les Pucelles
- Les Lavières
- Aux Vergelesses
- Les Narbantons
- Les Grands Liards
- Les Perrières
- Les Fourneux
- Les Caillerets
- Les Angles
- Clos des Chênes
- Clos de la Pousse d'Or
- Les Pluchots
- La Gigotte
- Aux Raignots,
- Les Chaumes,
- Les Suchots,
- Aux Brûlées,
- Les Beaux Monts,
- Combe Brûlée.
Grand Cru Appellations
Only 33 vineyards in Burgundy are entitled to the most prominent Grand Cru category. They are the best among the best:
- Chablis Grand Cru
- Chambertin-Clos de Bèze
- Clos de la Roche
- Clos de Tart
- Clos de Vougeot
- Clos des Lambrays
- Clos Saint Denis
- Grands Échezeaux
- La Grande Rue
- La Romanée
- La Tâche
Now, let’s take a closer look at the “big three” of red Burgundy - Vosne-Romanee, Gevrey-Chambertin, and Chambolle-Musigny communes.
The Pinot Noirs from the vineyards of these appellations are the brightest stars on Burgundy’s wine scene that have an extraordinary intensity of fruit, incredible depth and richness, and striking, almost magnificent elegance.
Vosne-Romanée which is situated just north of Nuits St Georges is a small village in Côte de Nuits that boasts six Grand Cru vineyards:
- La Grande Rue
- La Romanée
- La Tâche
Premier Cru wines produced in Vosne-Romanée also display a huge concentration of flavors and their quality level is just outstanding. The leading vineyards that are seen as perfect candidates for Grand Cru are:
- Clos des Réas
- Les Malconsorts
- Les Chaumes
- Cros Parantoux
- Les Beaux Monts
- Les Suchots
Wines to consider:
- 1997 La Tâche, Grand Cru, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Burgundy
- 2014 Richebourg, Grand Cru Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
- 2015 La Grande Rue, Grand Cru, Domaine Lamarche
- 2016 Romanée-St Vivant, Grand Cru, Domaine Sylvain Cathiard
- 2016 Vosne-Romanée, Aux Malconsorts, 1er Cru, Domaine Sylvain Cathiard, Burgundy
Gevrey-Chambertin is the largest wine-producing village in Burgundy’s Côte d'Or located in the far north of Côte de Nuit that have earned the historic title of the 'King of Burgundy'.
Until October 17, 1847, the village’s name used to be Gevrey-en-Montagne but on that day it was renamed after its best vineyard.
Classic Pinot Noir from Gevrey-Chambertin is deeper in color, denser in body, and offers more tannins than most Bourgogne Rouge wines.
The best Gevrey-Chambertin Pinot Noirs produced from the vines that grow on the iron-rich clay soils demonstrated unparalleled keeping abilities and can evolve into the most utter and enduring wines in the world.
Gevrey is home to magnificent nine Grands Crus:
- Le Chambertin
- Chambertin Clos de Bèze
- Mazis- (or Mazy-) Chambertin
Remarkably, some of the village’s Premier Crus seem to be as good (or maybe even better) as their upper league counterparts. Among them is the fabulous and most prestigious Clos Saint-Jacques Climat which is ahead of many Grand Crus with the next best vineyards that contribute to the world-renowned fame of the finest Burgundy wines:
- Les Cazetiers
- Lavaut Saint-Jacques (often written Lavaux-Saint-Jacques)
Wines to consider:
- 2012 Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru, Domaine Faiveley
- 2012 Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru, Vieilles Vignes Domaine Joseph Roty
- 2015 Griotte-Chambertin, Grand Cru, Domaine Fourrier
- 2016 Ruchottes-Chambertin, Grand Cru, Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg, Burgundy
- 2016 Chambertin, Clos de Bèze, Les Ouvrées Rodin, Domaine Faiveley
- 2017 Mazoyères-Chambertin, Grand Cru, Arnaud Mortet
- 2017 Charmes-Chambertin, Grand Cru, Domaine Sérafin Père & Fils
- 2017 Gevrey-Chambertin, Clos St Jacques, 1er Cru, Domaine Sylvie Esmonin
This small village has attracted a lot of attention from Pinot Noir admirers. Called “the Queen of Burgundy”, it produces the most elegant wines in Côte d'Or thanks to excessive chalk content and lesser amounts of clay in the soil comparing to other villages.
Chambolle Musigny Pinot Noirs are lighter in color and structure than Gevrey-Chambertin wines but their sensual fruitiness and magical velvety character may cast a real spell upon you.
The village boasts two Grand Cru Climats: Bonnes Mares and Le Musigny. It is noteworthy that Le Musigny is one of only two Grand Cru vineyards across Burgundy that creates both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. The other vineyard is Corton – the Grand Cru Climat that locates on the slopes of the Montagne de Corton hill in Côte de Beaune.
Chambolle Musigny Premier Cru wines are produced solely from Pinot Noir grapes within the twenty-four village's Premier Cru Climats. Most praised by wine enthusiasts Les Amoureuses vineyard can be translated as “The lovers” and though no one knows if there was a romantic story behind the name, wine lovers agree that aged “Les Amoureuses” wines can be as good as Grand Crus due to their intense yet balanced character, amazing tannins, and delightfully perfumed aromas.
Among other great Premier Crus Climats within Chambolle Musigny there are:
- Les Charmes
- Les Fuées
- Les Cras
- Les Baudes
- Les Sentiers
Wines to consider:
- 1993 Chambolle-Musigny, Amoureuses, 1er Cru, Domaine Georges Roumier
- 2009 Le Musigny, Grand Cru Domaine J F Mugnier
- 2016 Chambolle Musigny, Amoureuses, 1er Cru, Domaine Georges Roumier
- 2016 Bonnes-Mares, Grand Cru, Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé
- 2017 Chambolle-Musigny, Les Baudes, 1er Cru, Domaine Christian Sérafin
The second “big red trio” includes Premier Cru appellations of three villages: Nuits-Saint-Georges (Côte de Nuit), Volnay (Côte de Beaune), and Pommard (Côte de Beaune).
It makes sense to mention that there are no Grand Crus in these communes but the finest Premier Crus are on the same level as Grand Crus in regards to the terroirs and wine’s quality.
Nuits Saint Georges
The small town of Nuits-Saint-Georges, previously called Nuits-sous-Ravières (till May 1892), gave its name to Côte d'Or’s sub-region Cote de Nuits. With forty-one Primer Cru vineyards within its territory, Nuits St Georges is a sheer leader among other communes.
Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Crus wines are mostly red, although there is a tiny quantity of white wines made from Chardonnay. Well-structured and long-lived, Pinot Noirs from the Saint-Georges vineyard can be the best example of excellent Premier Cru wines of Grand Cru quality.
There is a noticeable style difference between the Premier Cru Climats to the south of the Nuits-Saint-Georges and those to the north where the hamlet of Prémeaux is located.
Wines from the northern vineyards are lighter, more floral, and more elegant than the wines from the opposite side of the Saint-Georges site where Les Vaucrains, Les Cailles, and Les St Georges itself produce the richest and most fancied Pinot Noir wines within the village.
Wines to consider:
- 2010 Nuits St Georges, Aux Lavieres, Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair
- 2014 Nuits-St Georges, Les Vaucrains, 1er Cru, Domaine Jean Chauvenet
Volnay is a village in the Côte de Beaune sub-region of Burgundy where twenty-nine Premier Crus appellations are known for their most delicate, feminine, multi-layered, smoothest Pinot Noir wines of the southern Côte d'Or.
The finest Volnay’s Climats among the total amount of thirty-four Premier Cru village’s vineyards are can be found in a narrow strip stretching from Pommard to Meursault - right across the Volnay’s appellation.
This strip is a part of the mid-slope of the limestone Côte d'Or escarpment which runs from Dijon in the north to the river Dheune to the south allowing vines to fully profit from its well-drained soils and adequate sunlight exposure.
One of the most highly-regarded Volnay’s Climat is Clos des Ducs that produces delicate, vibrant wines rich with red-fruit aromas and zesty, floral overtones.
Another vineyard that sets the highest standards for Premier Cru’s wine quality is Clos des Chenes. Clos des Chenes wines show brilliant fruit character along with sublime tannins, perfect acidity, and tons of elegance.
Les Caillerets is another foremost Premier Cru Climat of the Volnay appellation that is capable of producing fine, elegant wines that exhibit wonderful structure and complexity that are complemented by red berries aromas along with the prominent notes of spice.
The last Volnay vineyard I would like to draw attention to is Santenots-du-Milieu - one of the four lieux-dits of Santenots Climat. The soil composition in Santenots is different compared to soils in the rest of Volnay. Richer in iron and clay, and with harder limestone, it gives wines density and good structure, ripe tannins, and impressive ability to age.
Wines to consider:
- 2016 Volnay, Caillerets, 1er Cru, Domaine Bitouzet-Prieur
- 2017 Volnay, Clos des Chênes, 1er Cru, Domaine Bitouzet-Prieur
- 2006 Volnay, Santenots-du-Milieu, 1er Cru, Domaine des Comtes Lafon
Home to the most powerful red wines of the Côte de Beaune, Pommard shares some similarity with Gevrey-Chambertin. The clay soils of the village vineyards are iron-rich what makes Pommard’s wines deep-colored, lush, and tannic.
The most exceptionally good vineyards of Pommard: the lower part of Les Rugiens - Les Rugiens Bas, which is considered by wine experts as a prime candidate for the Grand Cru status, as well as Eponots that is made up of three Climats: Clos des Epeneaux, Les Petits Épenots, and Les Grands Épenots.
Pinot Noirs wines made at Eponots are bright, vibrant, and elegant, with distinguished body and structure, indulging red fruit aromas, and classical spicy tones.
As for Les Rugiens Bas wines, they usually present an intense concentration of flavors including smoky, spicy aromas.
Wines from both Eponots and Les Rugiens demonstrate great aging potential and are worth investing in for cellaring purposes.
Wines to consider:
- 2018 Pommard, Les Rugiens-bas, 1er Cru, Domaine de Montille, Burgundy
- 2007 Pommard, Clos des Epeneaux, 1er Cru Domaine du Comte Armand
Let’s do not forget about white Burgundy wines. Where can the finest Bourgogne Chardonnays be found nowadays? Actually, in the same sub-region where we have visited virtually three prominent Pinot Noir’s Village Appellations.
While Côte de Nuits is predominantly a red wine paradise, Côte de Beaune is a place where the world’s most precious Chardonnay grapes are cultivated and Chardonnay wines are crafted.
This Grand Cru Appellation was introduced in 1937 and covers three surrounding villages - Aloxe-Corton, Ladoix-Serrigny, and Pernand-Vergelesses.
Clay-limestone soil of Corton-Charlemagne produces powerful, steely wines with distinguished minerality and exceptional aging capability that have a lot in common with the best Grand Cru Chablis wines.
Corton-Charlemagne wines feature buttery notes of baked apple, citrus fruits, pineapple, lime, cinnamon, and flint. Bottle aging makes them even richer revealing strong flavors of leather and truffle.
Both Grand Cru Corton-Charlemagne and Grand Cru Chablis possess profound character for long aging and once you finally uncork them, these wines will over-deliver all your expectations.
Wines to consider:
- 2013 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru Domaine Bonneau du Martray
- 2015 Chablis, Les Clos, Grand Cru, Domaine William Fèvre
- 2018 Corton-Charlemagne, Grand Cru, Benjamin Leroux, Burgundy
Although Meursault is legally empowered to make Bourgogne Rouge wines, most vignerons historically concentrated on growing Chardonnay vines. When Thomas Jefferson – America’s First True Wine Lover – was a Foreign Minister to France in 1785, he spent a few months traveling around the country, and while in Burgundy, he was presented with several bottles of Meursault, which he mentions in his writings.
Today, with 437 ha of vineyards committed to Village and Premier Cru appellations, Meursault has the most extensive area permitted to cultivate white grapes in the Cote-d'Or. Chalky and marled soil, favorable vineyard locations in terms of sun exposure, and other contributing factors create exceptional Meursault terroirs where Chardonnay vines flourish to perfection.
Though Mersault doesn’t have Grand Cru vineyards, the best of its Premier Crus can be as good as Corton-Charlemagne or Montrachet wines. The young Meursault Chardonnay carries mineral, floral, citrus aromas, and a hint of nuttiness; and time brings the signature notes of toasted almonds and hazelnuts coupled with a honeyed richness and buttery texture that balances the explicit mineral character of Meursault.
Wines to consider:
- 2000 Meursault, Perrieres, 1er Cru Domaine Jean François Coche Dury
- 2008 Meursault, Les Genevrières, Domaine Coche-Dury
- 2017 Meursault, Les Genevrières Domaine Roulot, Burgundy
- 2017 Meursault, Clos les Bouchères, 1er Cru, Domaine Roulot, Burgundy
- 2014 Meursault, Bouchard Père et Fils, Burgundy
Puligny-Montrachet is a village in Côte de Beaune that is home to four Grand Cru vineyards and seventeen Premier Cru Climats.
Le Montrachet, Bâtard-Montrachet, Chevalier Montrachet, and Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet are the names of these four Grand Cru appellations and the first two are divided by the village boundary between the Puligny and Chassagne communes.
The limestone slopes of the Cote d'Or in combination with other elements are not the only reason the Grand Cru Puligny-Montrachet terroirs are often regarded as terroirs that produce Chardonnay with the ultimate expression of the variety.
There is also something unexplainable, something magical in this place that allows Montrachet to tower above the other Grand Crus vineyards that produce Chardonnays in Côte de Beaune.
Montrachet Chardonnays are structured, full-bodied, intense, refined, slow to mature, and overpowering wine capable of long aging that brings the delightful aromas of yellow fruits, vanilla, honey, and salted butter caramel.
Complex, with amazing minerality, great length of acidity, outstanding depth and finish these wines allow us to see what a great terroir of Montrachcan can deliver.
Wines to consider:
- 2018 Chevalier-Montrachet, Grand Cru, Domaine de Montille, Burgundy
- 2013 Chevalier-Montrachet, La Cabotte, Grand Cru, Bouchard Père et Fils
- 2018 Bâtard-Montrachet, Grand Cru, Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard, Burgundy
- 1997 Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet, Grand Cru Domaine Leflaive
- 2017 Bâtard-Montrachet, Grand Cru, Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard
Burgundy Winemaking Techniques & Traditions
The traditional method of making Pinot Noir suggests the following procedure 👇
- The beginning of harvesting is based on the development of phenolic compounds and flavors as well as desired levels of glucose and fructose, and acidity;
- Grapes should be handled with extreme care starting with picking the clusters by hand;
- 100% destemming: stems contain tannins and spicy aromas. Adding them affects the tannic structure and flavors; also stems increase the weight and body of the wine. Some winemakers prefer to keep up to 20% of stems for adding hay-like aromas and increasing tannins.
- Cold maceration if possible: cold maceration or "cold soak" is a process of soaking grapes in cold water at about 4-10°C (39-50°F) for 3-7 days for extracting colors and aromas. Some winemakers tend to prolong this period up to 10 days.
- Use of wild yeast: making Pinot Noir wine often requires the usage of wild yeast. It is believed that it helps with earthy mushroom-like flavors, complexity, and creamy texture.
- 10-day fermentation in compact open-top vats (containers) with punching cap (the mass of solid matter) down every 6-8 hours to ensure better extraction:
- Can last up to 18 days depending on the level of extraction needed.
- Aging in French oak between 12-18 months (Grand Crus and Premier Crus).
- Protein fining: finning helps to reduce tannins in Pinot Noir. Egg whites seem to be one of the most popular fining agents. The active ingredient in egg whites is protein albumin. During the finning, albumin sticks to tannins through an electric charge and then ooze out of the wine.
- No filtration: Pinot Noir is a delicate grape that produces delicate wine and any kind of filtration is considered a harsh procedure that can affect aromas and color.
Some nowadays winemakers disagree with the traditional prescriptions and therefore, make some changes within the entire process. For example, winemakers from Maison Louis Jadot winery carry out a long fermentation maceration at high temperatures. Domaine Leroy keeps the stems. Also, some producers avoid fining and prefer to add tannin powder to stabilize color and steer clear of oxidation.
The traditional method of making Chardonnay wine is a bit different. Upon harvesting, grapes are taken to the press and after the must is obtained, the clear juice is transferred either to stainless-steel vats or oak barrels for the fermentation to begin.
The process continues for about three weeks at a temperature between 15-18°C (59.0 - 64.4°F.). This is the stage when the yeasts transform sugars in the juice into alcohol.
Most Grand Cru and Premier Cru Chardonnays benefit from the second fermentation called "malolactic". Lactic bacteria transform the malic acid - an organic compound that exists naturally in fruits and contributes to the sour taste - into lactic acid. This process lessens the acidity of the wine and stabilizes it.
The next step is aging, which is done either in vats or barrels. This period varies depending on the type of wine and its future profile. Aging in the oak barrels happens only with certain wines and mainly with the use of the old barrels in the interest of preserving the expression of the terroir.
A Brief Dive Into The History Of Burgundy
When Clovis, “the first king of what would become France” King converted to Christianity in 496 – mainly because of his wife Clotilde, a Burgundian princess, Burgundy became the epicenter of Catholicism and canonical power.
Over a thousand years, Cluniac and Cistercian Orders controlled most parts of the region. From the very beginning, educated and pedantic monks began to study and classify the land owned by the abbeys and monasteries, aiming to find the best plots for the grapevines. At first, the monks were going to produce wine for their use and the celebration of mass.
Slowly, through their dedicated work and meticulous studies of the land, they had identified the plots capable of producing high-quality wines with distinguished characteristics.
Lots of highly-rewarded Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards that cover the limestone slopes of the Côte d'Or today were selected and named by that monks many centuries ago.
With time, monks began to sell their wine within the region and beyond its borders.
In the XIVth century, the Dukes of Bourgogne - Philippe le Hardi, Jean sans Peur, Philippe le Bon, and Charles le Téméraire - issued a few edicts that boosted the production of Pinot Noir. Soon after that, Bourgogne Rouge appeared on the tables of the King of France in Versailles, and the Pontiff, in Avignon.
After the French Revolution of 1789, lots of Burgundy lands were seized from the Church and divided equally among the farmers who worked on the vineyard sites. According to the Napoleonic code of 1804, the feodal laws that dictated that estates be inherited by the firstborn sons were repealed and the rule declaring equally partitioned inheritance among all sons came into force. Hence, the vineyards in Burgundy got fragmented through several generations into smaller and smaller plots.
This situation caused the rise of négociants who bought the grapes from winegrowers, and made the wine themselves or bought wines for aging and sold them under their label.
In the second part of the XIXth century, when the wines of Bourgogne were enjoying great success across the world, the deadly phylloxera virus native to the Mississippi Valley, managed to escape the eastern United States and practically destroyed all the world’s vineyards including France.
In 1888, the French winemakers embraced the only real and permanent solution: grafting – a horticultural method by which a portion of one plant, such as a bud or scion, is placed into or on a stem, root, or branch of another plant. Within a few years, two-thirds of French vines were grafted onto American rootstock, resistant to the phylloxera pest.
In Burgundy, during the phylloxera crisis, many less eminent or Gamay-dominated vineyards were left to go into a decline, as only the top winegrowers could afford the expensive grafting solution and replant their vineyards onto grafted vines.
Thirty years later, the Bourgogne winegrowing region had been reorganized and vines were replanted into the well-arranged rows, as it is today. That helped with providing better care for grapes including the installation of a protective canopy over the vines and allowed the use of agricultural machinery.
Today, there are two current trends among vineyards owners of Burgundy:
- To make their own wines under their label.
- And to switch to environmental approach and biodynamic farming to preserve the uniqueness of their terroirs and produce the purest, most acclaimed wines.
If you read the novel ‘Around the Moon’ by Jules Verne – a XIXth-century French author, you might remember that three fearless travelers – Barbicane, Nicholl, and Michael Ardan got to the Moon where they celebrated their space-traveling success by opening a bottle of wine from Nuits-Saint-Georges vineyard.
Remarkably, three American astronauts led by Neil Armstrong brought a label from a bottle of Nuits-Saint-Georges wine to the Moon and left it there in 1969.
I am wondering now, what wine will Elon Musk enjoy on Mars when he finally gets there? Maybe, some classical Grand Cru Bourgogne Rouge? Why not continue the tradition?
Q: What is a good Burgundy wine?
A good Burgundy wine is the one that expresses its terroir.
If you are looking for the best experience, do some research online before committing to investing in a pricy bottle. There are many wine-related websites with lots and lots of reviews by trusted wine-aficionados who will give you a few pointers when it comes to selecting a perfect wine.
If you are not ready for $500+ Grund Crus and Premier Crus, the good news is that wines from Village appellation can be outstandingly good and easy to enjoy. But again, some research is required.
Bourgogne Rouge or Bourgogne Blanc wines can be good as well depending on the grapes and producer, and yet at a very reasonable price. Quite often, the grapes for these generic wines grow near the prestigious terroirs, on soils that may be rich in clay, limestone, and marls which contributes a lot to the wine’s quality.
I recommend trying Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise, Bourgogne Côte d’Or, Bourgogne Côte Saint-Jacques, Mâcon-Solutré-Pouilly, and Mâcon-Chardonnay.
These wines make an exciting starting point for an endless exploration into the world of Burgundy wines and I am sure, you will not be disappointed.
Q: Why is Burgundy wine so expensive?
Not all Burgundy wines are expensive. As little as 2% of Burgundy vineyards belong to the “Grand Cru” tier what gives us 33 highly acclaimed wines from Grand Cru appellations that express the unique characteristics of most exceptional plots.
Premier Cru wines are also produced from specific individual vineyards within the appellations Village. These 635 vineyards account for about 12% of all vineyards in Burgundy.
Grand Cru and Premier Cru Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays are expensive due to their outstanding quality and exceptional winegrowing and winemaking skills required for creating these highly acclaimed wines.
Generic Burgundy wines known as Bourgogne Rouge or Bourgogne Blanc, are priced very reasonably as well as Village appellation wines and can be recommended for different occasions.
Q: What are the best years for Burgundy wines?
The Burgundy Vintage Chart for Burgundy Reds from Côte de Beaune:
- 2017, 2005 (vintage rating 95)
- 2016 (vintage rating 94)
- 2017, 2014, 2009 (vintage rating 93)
- 2012, 2002 (vintage rating 92)
- 2010 (vintage rating 91)
- 2011, 2003 (vintage rating 90)
The Burgundy Vintage Chart for Burgundy Reds from Côtes de Nuits:
- 2015, 2005 (vintage rating 98)
- 2016 (vintage rating 97)
- 2002 (vintage rating 96)
- 2014, 2012, 2009 (vintage rating 95)
- 2017, 2010 (vintage rating 94)
- 2003 (vintage rating 93)
- 2013 (vintage rating 92)
- 2011, 2008, 2006 (vintage rating 91)
- 2007 (vintage rating 90)
The Burgundy Vintage Chart for Burgundy whites:
- 2014 (vintage rating 96)
- 2015, 2002 (vintage rating 95)
- 2017 (vintage rating 94)
- 2010, 2008, 2005 (vintage rating 93)
- 2016, 2012, 2011, 2007, 20018 (vintage rating 92)
- 2006, 2018 (vintage rating 91)
- 2018, 2013, 2004, 2000 (vintage rating 90)
Q: Which is better: Bordeaux or Burgundy?
Both are great. The difference is that Burgundy wines are made of a single varietal like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gamay, or Aligote, while Bordeaux wines are blended and usually combine two or more of the classic Bordeaux varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Carmenère and Malbec.