By: Amy UllmanDeep thoughts… If wine were a work of art, the winemaker would be the painter, the soil would be the canvas and the grapes would be the paint. In Bourgogne, aka Burgundy, the analogy gets turned sideways. There, the soil (or terroir) is the artist, the grapes act as the canvas, and the winemaker as the paint. Mind blown? Read on for more educational musings about this noble wine region.
Burgundy has many faces, but only two major grape varieties: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. So, if it says Bourgogne and it is white, it is most likely Chardonnay; if red, then probably Pinot Noir. But these two grapes produce a rather wide range of variety.Red: Silky, sleek and mineral driven, with beautiful red berry fruit, a touch of gameyness (think bacon drippings) and, when made well, gorgeously complex.
White: Unoaked, fresh and crunchy with mineral and apples in the case of Chablis. Warm, fleshy and toasty when aged in oak.
Sparkling: Champagne not produced in Champagne is called Cremant. Burgundy’s sparkling wines are made using the exact same production method as Champagne, but without the hefty price tag.
Burgundy Wine Regions
The cool continental climate contributes much to the character of these wines. It also allows Pinot Noir grapes that are notoriously difficult to grow, a place to shine.It is not a very large region by size, but there are hundreds of small appellations and producers due to the Microclimate and The Napoleanic Law of Succession.
Microclimate:The effect of a subtle shift in temperature should not be underestimated. Wines produced right around the corner from each other can taste wildly different. Think of your flower bed: one hydrangea can shine, but four plants down another is suffering from lack of sun. That’s the influence of microclimate and Burgundy is chock full of it.
Napoleonic Law of Succession:
The law was enacted in the early 19th century, dictating that property should be equally divided among siblings, rather than go to the first born only. This law resulted in hundreds of producers with the same or similar last name, making it challenging to keep everyone straight.
Reading a Burgundy Wine Label
AOC: Appellation D’origine Controlée translates to “controlled designation of origin”. It is the French certification for any wine, cheese, butter, and other agricultural products made in France.
Burgundy Wine Hierarchy
These grapes can only come from the finest vineyard sites
Grand Cru Accounts for 2% of production– 33 AOCs
Example: Chambertin-Clos de Bèze
These grapes can only come from a small selection of very good vineyard sites
10% of Production– 570 AOCs
Example: Clos Saint-Jacques 1er Cru
These grapes can come from anywhere within the 42 traditional regional appellations
Accounts for 35% of Burgundy’s production– 44 AOCs
Example: Gevrey Chambertin
These grapes can be sourced from anywhere in Burgundy
Accounts for 52% of all wine that is produced in Burgundy– 23 AOCs
Example: Bourgogne Rouge or Bourgogne Blanc
Popular Producers: Superior Bang for the Buck
Producers will make regional AND grand cru wines- keep an eye on these AOCs!
Cote Challonaise (reds & whites)
Macon and Chablis (unoakedwhites)
St Aubin (oaked whites)
Hautes-Côtes de Nuits and Hautes-Côtes de Beaune
Oftentimes the best values in Burgundy, are from negociants, who buy grapes from vineyards to make wine, rather growing their own. For example:
The simplicity of the grape varieties used in Burgundy makes it particularly fun to explore wines from the region. More than most other areas, it is an exploration of the region’s terroir and its expression in the wine. Wines aretruly influenced by the soil their grown in, the climate the year’s weather produces, and crucial decisions made by the vineyard managers and winemakers of the estates.
For this, and much more, it is known as one of the finest wine-producing areas in the world. There is so much to talk about, we’ll be sure to delve in more. Stay tuned for future posts!
Writer Amy Ullman is the irrationally exuberant founder of Wine for Rookies. She received a Bachelor of Liberal Arts from Harvard University in 2009 with concentrations in Economics and French. She holds the title of Certified Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers, a Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators, and is currently working on her Diploma of Wine and Spirits via the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.