Burgundy is an area south of Paris in eastern France, which was formerly part of the independent realm of the Duke of Burgundy. Some of the greatest red and white wines of the world are produced there. The Climats of the Burgundy vineyard are recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Landscape Site.
The four Departments from which Burgundy wines may come are Yonne, Côte d’Or, Saone et Loire, and Rhone, but only those wines that qualify under the National Institute of the Controlled Appellations of Origin qualify to be called Burgundy. The names of the generally accepted Burgundy Wine Regions are Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Chalonnais, Mâconnais, and Beaujolais.
The name Côte d’Or originates from the Autumn colouring of the 37-mile-long and half mile-wide ripening vineyards which look like a continuous slope of gold. The Côte d’Or is divided into two regions, the Côte de Nuits which is north of the town of Beaune, is home of the most famous reds, and the Côte de Beaune, which is south of Beaune, and is famous principally for its white wines. The only Grand Cru red that is produced in the Côte de Beaune is Corton.
Located farther north are the regions of Chablis and Auxerrois. South of the Côte d’Or are the regions of Côte Chalonnais and Mâconnais which are important wine growing regions, although historically a level or more below the Côte d’Or. Even though there are no Grand Crus, the villages of Mercurey and Givry in the Chalonnais, and Pouilly-Fuisse in the Mâconnais are well known for producing premier wines.
Some of the villages that have become famous for producing burgundy are Vougeot, Chambolle-Musigny, Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St-Denis, Vosne-Romanée, Nuits-St-George, Aloxe-Corton, Puligny-Montrachet, and Chassagne-Montrachet, Pommard, Santenay, Fixin, and Meursault.
Pinot Noir is the principal red wine grape used in the Côte d’Or, and it is used in the Chalonnais and Mâconnais. Gamay is the principal red wine grape used in the Beaujolais and Mâconnais. Chardonnay grapes are used throughout Burgundy for white wine. The Aligoté is a secondary quality grape which produces an agreeable wine for local consumption. It used to be served before the Tastevin dinners many years ago, it is the favorite wine growers’ wine to be drunk in the vineyards.
For nearly two thousand years these great burgundy wines have been celebrated throughout the civilized world. The poet Petrarch wrote of the wines of Beaune; Erasmus said that he would rather drink burgundy than command all the armies of France, and Chambertin was the favorite wine of Napoleon. Fine burgundy is neither very easy to come by, nor very cheap. The vineyards are pitifully small (Romanée Conti, for example, consists of five acres). The best burgundies are those bottled by the little vignerons who own the vineyards and cultivate the vines.
The Grand Cru wines that are produced in the Côte de Nuits by village are:
- Gevrey-Chambertin: Chambertin, Chambertin-Clos de Beze, Chapelle-Chambertin, Charmes (or Mazoyeres)-Chambertin, Griotte-Chambertin, Latricieres-Chambertin, Mazis-Chambertin, Ruchottes-Chambertin
- Morey-St-Denis: Clos Saint-Denis, Clos de la Roche, Clos des Lambrays, Clos de Tart
- Chambolle-Musigny: Musigny (red and white), Bonnes Mares
- Vougeot: Clos de Vougeot
- Flagey-Echézeaux: Grand Echézeaux, and Echézeaux
- Vosne-Romanée: Romanée-Conti, La Romanée, Richebourg, La Tàche, Romanée St Vivant, La Grand Rue
The Grand Cru wines that are produced in the Côte de Beaune by village are:
- Aloxe-Corton: Corton, Corton Clos du Roi (and Bressandes, Renardes, Pougets, Vigne au Saint+20 others) for the reds, and Corton-Charlemagne for the white Cru
- Puligny-Montrachet: Batard-Montrachet, Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet, Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet
- Chassagne-Montrachet: Montrachet, Batard-Montrachet, Criots-Batard-Montrachet
A few white Burgundies which deserve a Grand Cru rating are Clos des Mouches, Meursault Les Perrières, Puligny-Montrachet Le Cailleret, Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot, Les Embrazees, Les Ruchottes, and Les Caillerets. Other red wines from the Cote de Beaune are Pommard, Beaune, Volnay, Savigny-Les Beaune, Auxey-Duresses, and Santenay.
Chablis is a white burgundy from the Yonne Department located about 75 miles northwest of the Côte d’Or. Chablis is made from Chardonnay, locally called Beaunois. Its Classifications are Chablis Grand Cru, Chablis Premier Cru, Chablis, and Petit Chablis. The best wine comes from the 250 acres of the seven Grand Crus vineyards- Blanchots, Valmur, Grenouilles, Les Preuses, Vaudésir, Les Clos, and Bougros. Some of the better known Premier Crus are Fourchaume, Montée de Tonnerre, Mont de Milieu, Vaillons, Montmains, Mélinots, Côte de Léchet, Beauroy, Vaucoupin, Vosgros, Les Fourneaux, and Vau de Vey.
The best-known wines produced in Côte Chalonnais are from Mercurey, Rully, Givry, and Montagny. Good sound red and white wines are produced from the classic grapes, plus modest white wines from the Aligoté grape. The Mâconnais produces Pouilly Fuisse, and the surrounding villages produce Mâcon-Villages wine from Chardonnay. The red and rose wines from Macon are produced from the Gamay or Pinot Noir grape but are somewhat lighter than those from the Côte d’Or.
The word “Villages” following a region name means that the wine ranks high in the region, just below the estate or first growth wines. The number of parishes that are permitted to use the designation of “Villages” is only 5 in the Côte de Nuits, 16 in Côte de Beaune, and 39 in Beaujolais. The four classifications of Beaujolais are Beaujolais Cru, Beaujolais Villages, Beaujolais Superior, and Beaujolais.
Beaujolais is often grouped with burgundy and is famous for very light red wines made from the grape Gamay. The simplest wines are just called Beaujolais, those with a bit more character are Beaujolais-Villages. The 9 villages that are considered crus du Beaujolais are: Moulin-a-Vent, Chenas, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgan, Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly, Saint-Amour and Julienas.
Reading a Burgundy label is no easy task. If you know the villages above, it will be much easier. A wine that does not come from a designated vineyard is referred to as an AC Class wine. It will have the name of the Village on it, or Cote-de-something-Villages.
Next step up is a single vineyard designate. Almost always this wine will be a Premier Cru (1er Cru) Class wine. It will have the name of the Village and the name of the vineyard on it There are three hundred or so Premier Cru vineyards. These wines can on occasion approach and even surpass the Grand Crus but they are generally less spectacularly brilliant, albeit wonderful wines. In the Côte de Beaune their labels carry the village name followed in smaller type by the name of the vineyard, or simply “Premier Cru” if the wine is a blend from more than one vineyard. In Chablis, they have “Chablis Premier Cru” followed by the vineyard name.
Grand Cru Classe is the top, a single vineyard of such distinction, the name of the village does not even appear on the label.