There are many reasons why people are obsessed with the Burgundy wine region in France. Two of the main ones are the taste signatures of the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grape varieties grown there. With these grapes, the variety of styles and the classification tiers, this place can be both hedonistic and intellectual at the same time.
Needless to say, this wine region has been exhaustively studied and chronicled by every generation since the time of Charlemagne, so I do not intend to attempt to explain the mystique of Burgundy and its classification complexities in this post. However, I would like to at least open the door a little for you.
I don’t think it is a stretch to say that Burgundy is a highly symbolic wine region. Its land produces some of the greatest wines in France (and the world), both white and red. While a complex layout of its estates and its diverse hierarchical structure is part of its charm, sometimes understanding it can be too much of a challenge for the ordinary wine drinker.
Hopefully this post will help with that challenge and you will be encouraged to experiment with the wines of Burgundy.
Dijon is the region’s capital and over the centuries, Burgundy has referred to many kingdoms and duchies. Nowadays, of course, it is a French political entity that forms the administrative region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. One of the ways that Burgundy differs from Bordeaux, its traditional rival in France, is because many producers own patches of the same vineyard, rather than existing in self-contained chateaux.
Wines from the wider Burgundy regions are labelled as Bourgogne AC, while the best come from the Cote d’Or – divided into the Cote de Nuit in the north and the Cote de Beaune in the south.
Burgundy – the Spiritual Home of Terroir.
The name Burgundy is said to come from the Burgundians, people of East German origin who moved west during the late Roman period. It is believed that the vine developed in the Beaunois region as early as 200AD. What really established Burgundy was the location of monasteries in the Middle Ages there, whose monks produced sacramental wine.
It was those monks that patiently selected the plots (or “climats”) that would produce the best wines, based on local ecology. Thus, the French word ‘terroir’ was born. Since then there has been many scientific and philosophical theories on that term – and not one I’m going to discuss here. Suffice to say, for me the word terroir works to describe a place or set of conditions – not a wine’s taste.
To protect their most precious plots (and to border their area), the said monks built stone walls and thereby created the famous Burgundy clos or enclosed vineyard. The French Revolution ended up with the fragmentation of estates.
In 1791 some large estates such as Clos de Vouget and Romanée-Conti were sold off. By 1861 the Agricultural Committee of the District of Beaune prefigured the modern system of appellation controlee. Burgundy’s patchwork quilt of vineyards and associated terroirs – or ‘climats‘ – gained UNESCO world heritage status in July 2015.
Burgundy Wine has a Complex Classification System.
It’s easy to get a hang of the 100 appellations of Burgundy. Until you start to scratch the surface, that is.
There are four levels – regional, communal (or village), premier cru and grand cru. As you move up the ladder the regulations get stricter, the prices higher and, in most cases, the quality better. Sounds simple right? Well it’s when you dig deeper and run into all the exceptions and inconsistencies you realise that this will require some work. Here is a link to Beaune Tourism which explains the classification system.
Regional – 52% of the total production
(This is the lowest level of classification. These are created from a combination of vineyards from a variety of villages within Burgundy as opposed to a single village. The label will just read Bourgogne. These wines are meant to be drunk now rather than storing for a later date).
Village – 35.6% of the total production
(These are produced from grapes from several vineyards in 1 of the 42 villages in Burgundy. The name of the village will appear on the label. The funny thing is that some of these vineyards are right beside those classified as Premier/Grand Cru but for some reason didn’t get that classification. Accordingly, there are some excellent value Village wines).
Premier Cru – 11% of the total production
(These are wines considered to be of stellar quality and just a small step below a Grand Cru).
Grand Cru – 1.4% of the total production
(This classification is reserved for the best vineyards. They are also the most expensive and are highly sought after by wine collectors around the world).
Altogether the Burgundy vines cover a little more than 29,000 hectares, which is just three percent of the whole French vignoble. At the bottom of the scale you have the regional appellations – Bourgogne rouge, Bourgogne blanc and Bourgogne rosé.
Here are also the appellations where the village name, the grape variety, the production method, the region or the climat may be added to Bourgogne. In total there are 23 regional appellations in Burgundy and 44 village appellations.
There are a total of 562 premier crus in Burgundy. Technically the premier crus are part of the village appellations, not appellations in their own right. As mentioned above, while generic Bourgogne can come from large areas throughout Burgundy; a village wine is restricted to certain areas close to the village which name it bears.
Once you reach grand cru level the name of the village disappears. Instead the bottles are labelled only with the name of the grand cru – Musigny, Montrachet, etc. All but one of the 33 grand crus are in the Côte d’Or
The best way to come to terms with the 100 Burgundian appellations is to visit the region yourself. You need to get first-hand experience if you want more than just a basic understanding. Myself and James O’Connor do this at least twice a year to visit our friends and suppliers.
Burgundy Wine Producers.
I referred to the term terroir above, and it is this that separates Burgundy wines from other Pinot Noir and Chardonnay growers around the world. Of course, terroir includes the soil yes, but also the human impact is a paramount factor in the character of a Burgundy wine.
It is too simple to brand all red Burgundy as Pinot Noir or even white Burgundy as Chardonnay. Burgundy is much more mystical and diverse than that. The various and different styles of Pinot Noir are poles apart and vary greatly from producer to producer and even from vine to vine.
I list below some of the producers that we are delighted to partner with and visit them whenever we can.
Producers exclusive to Green Acres:
Producers of predominately White Burgundy, exclusive to Green Acres:
Domaine Benoit Ente wines from Puligny Montrachet are new to our portfolio this year. Their wines are highly sought after the world over. Benoit is one of the earliest harvesters in Puligny Montrachet, he believes this adds a freshness and acidic style to his wines.
A contrasting style is Henri Boillot, also very highly sought after, his wines are also fresh, yet he aims to get more richness and power into his wines.
For Marc Morey, it is all about minerality.
With the reds, Dugat Py produces very big, rich and full bodied style of Pinot Noir that need age to reveal itself – even his basic Bourgogne would be best kept for 10 years
Robert Groffier’s Pinot Noirs are more polished and refined and more about elegance and perfume.
Hubert Lignier produces a huge range of Pinot Noirs, yet his style is very pure and each vineyard represents the terroir in which it comes from.
Burgundy Wine Aromas
Thank you to Bourgogne Wines for the use of the infographics in this post.
8 Things You Might Not Know About Burgundy
CHARDONNAY ISN’T THE ONLY WHITE GRAPE IN BURGUNDY.
It may be the most famous, but Burgundy vineyards can—and do—also grow lesser known Aligoté, which tends to miss out on access to the most coveted terroir but does produce a nice, light, younger white wine. They also blend Pinot Blanc into their white wines – a good example of this is included in our burgundy offer (see below) – Bruno Clair, Marsannay Sources de Roches 2017 (75% chardonnay, 25% Pinot Blanc).
PINOT NOIR ISN’T THE ONLY RED GRAPE IN BURGUNDY.
As mentioned, Pinot Noir dominates Burgundian reds, but there’s also Gamay, and even a wine called Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains which can have Pinot Noir, Gamay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay in the blend.
BURGUNDY MAKES MORE THAN RED AND WHITE WINES.
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay dominate the Burgundy vineyards, but the region also produces Crémant de Bourgogne and tiny amount of rosé. Despite the commercial appeal of red burgundy, the region produces almost twice as much white wine as red.
BURGUNDIAN WINE ISN’T ALWAYS SUPER EXPENSIVE.
It usually fills the top spots in World’s 50 Most Expensive Wines, but there are still affordable, decent Burgundies. In fact, Grand Cru vineyards—the most expensive Burgundies, based on terroir—make up only 2% of the Burgundy wine region.
THERE IS NOT ONE ENCOMPASSING BURGUNDIAN TERROIR.
Burgundy is basically a patchwork of vineyards. And the soil and styles can vary from vineyard to vineyard, even vineyards as close as five minutes apart.
BURGUNDY DOESN’T REALLY PRODUCE A LOT OF WINE.
For a region that’s so incredibly well known, Burgundy produces a surprisingly tiny amount of wine: about 3% of France’s overall wine production.
BURGUNDY VS BORDEAUX
Bordeaux is like “old money,” a wine region founded by the Romans with a focal point port city and access to trading, wine distribution, and growth. Burgundy, on the other hand, is land-locked up in France’s north-eastern region, and much smaller, about 74,000 acres of vineyards to Bordeaux’s roughly 300,000. Bordeaux is a blend i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the main. Burgundy is single varietal terroir, aka Pinot Noir.
PINOT NOIR – THE GRAPE
Today, over 40 mutations of Pinot Noir exist, and they all taste different. From earth-scented bottlings with firm tannins, to intensely ripe and raspberry-fruited wines there seems to be a Pinot Noir for every palate and nearly every meal.
I hope that I haven’t overloaded on information above. It is extremely hard to encapsulate Burgundy in a blog post, to be honest. The one thing I would like you to take away is that even at the lowest regional level, they are all still wines made in one of the best wine regions in all the world. Both red and white Burgundies are the wines that made Pinot Noir and Chardonnay famous and they are worth enjoying no matter what level you purchase.
Whatever you fancy, whatever the season, whatever the occasion, there is always a Burgundy wine to suit your mood. Here, you will find our current Burgundy 2017 En Primeur offer from Green Acres. Pick any of them and taste the Bourgogne appellations at the perfect moment, with friends or family.
One last thing – did you know that we launched the Green Acres mobile app recently? Now you can bring us home in your pocket. Book tables, learn of special offers, check events, connect with us, earn loyalty rewards and much more. We would really appreciate if you would click on either of the tabs below to download for free.
As usual, you can contact us if you would like to discuss anything about any wines but particularly wines from Burgundy. Also, if you’d like to receive future blog posts from us, directly to your email, just ‘click’ here.
Talk to you soon – Cheers, Donal.