Enigmatic Burgundy, located in central eastern France, is one of the most famous and historic wine regions of the world, yet wine enthusiasts find it to be one of the most difficult to understand.
Although only two main grape varieties dominate production (chardonnay for white, and pinot noir for red), there are others that complete the picture, i.e (aligote, pinot blanc for whites, and gamay for reds).
The difficulty arises with the complex system of sub-regions, microclimates, appellations, villages, and vineyard sites (aka single vineyards).
Burgundy truly encapsulates the saying: “ Wine is liquid geography”. It is all about understanding individual cites (in Burgundy they are called lieu dit or climat) and system of negociants.
The classification of Burgundy’s vineyards is rooted in the Church, its work research and attention to detail that first defined individual sites or single vineyards. Cistercian monks and sisters established monasteries and worked diligently to establish vineyards, kept diaries about vineyard blocks, winemaking aging and refining their wines.
Clos de Vougeot is only one example of monasteries that accomplished what the region stands for.
In Bordeaux, the wines of large blocks (estates, here called chateaux) are known the world over as brands (Chateau Lafite, Chateau Margaux etc.). In contrast, small Burgundy vineyards gained a reputation with their distinctness of flavour, texture, and intensity of colour. Typically, Burgundy wineries are small (4000 in numbers), and own an average anywhere from two to five hectares of vineyards.
This is where one of the difficulties of assessing Burgundy wine lies – the system of negociats. They buy from small producers in bulk,
mature them, often blend different batches, and bottle to resell. Some negociants are meticulous, many others less so. This is the reason why a wine with the same name from another negociant and appellation can be more expensive than the next.
Then, to complicate matters more, there are producers and negociants at the same time. These are vineyard owners who own wineries, but also function as negociants. Often this is not clearly printed on the label. A famous winery may be selling its own vineyard’s wines for much higher prices than its negociant
product labelled the same appellation.
The classification of vineyards goes as follows: Regional Burgundy, sub-regions i.e. Chablis, Cotes de Beaune, Cote de Nuits (each also has one sub-region Haute Cote de Beaune, and Haute Cote de Nuits), Maconnais, Chalonnais, and Beaujolais. Chablis, a town located between Dijon and Paris, is famous for its steely, dry, crisp, minerally wines. (A small amount of sauvignon de St Bris is also produced here).
Cote de Nuits stretches from Dijon south to the city of Beaune. This sub-region is known for its red wines i.e. Gevrey Chambertin, Morey Saint Denis, Chambolle Musigny, Clos de Vougeot. Nuits Saint George. Cotes de Beaune stretches from Beaune south to and is famous for its towns (also appellation), Pommard, Volnay, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne Montrachet. Cotes Chalonnais is the least well-known sub-region, although there exist many wineries specializing in sparkling wines, Cremant de Bourgogne, and
a few establishments that produce fine white wines.
Maconnais is Burgundy’s largest appellation and most famous for Pouilly Fuisse, Pouilly Loche, Pouilly, Vinzelles, and Macon Vire.
The vineyards of Burgundy are currently divided into four categories.
Regional appellations – any wine produced within Burgundy is entitles to this appellation.
Village appellation applies only to vineyards located between the boundaries of the village. There are 44 village appellations in Burgundy i.e Cote de Beaune, Saint Veran, Pouilly Fuisse, ). Premier cru appellations cover single vineyards here called climats or lieu dit. There are 684 of them in Burgundy. The labels will carry names like Chassagne Montrachet Premier cru, Meursault Premier Cru.
Grand cru appellation is given to most distinguished vineyards of which there are 33, i.e Chambertin, Clos de Vougeot, Corton, Montrachet, Romanee Saint Vivent, Romanee Conti.
In Chablis there are seven grand cru vineyards Les Clos, Blanchot,Valmur, Grenoilles, Vaudesir, Les Preuses, and Bougros.
Over the centuries, the following wineries and negociants established their good reputation and fame with diligence, honesty, and quality; not only in France, but also all over the world because they could afford expenses involving inventories, packaging, marketing, and exports.
Recommended Burgundy wineries known to produce consistently fine wines pending on vintage success are – Domaine Laflaive, Louis Jadot, Bouchard Pere et Fils, Chanson Pere et Fils, Bouchard Aine et Fils, Domaine Coffin-Duverney, Oliver Laflaive, Christian Moreau Pere et Fils, Maison Roche de Bellene, Les Heritier du Compte de Lafon, Louis Latour, William Fevere, Domaine Roulot, Domaine Ravenau, Domaine Louis Moreau, Domaine Jean–Jablot, Chateau de Chamirey, Jean-Marie Brocard are only some.
Vintages matter In Burgundy because of the northerly location. The best of recent vintages are 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011.