Burgundy is probably the most important French wine region, not only for the value of its products but also for the historicity that characterizes the territory. Let's see why this area is so special.
120,000 hectares representing a true championship of biodiversity and renewable energy sources, with large pastures intended for the breeding of the prized Charolaise cattle breed. It is in this context that Burgundy viticulture has carved out a segment of territory for itself, with wines that rightfully enter the great world wine list and are the very symbol of the French art de vivre .
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir define the splendid Burgundian wine profile and express the essence and excellence of everything that these vines can give. Despite the absolute dominance of these vines, Burgundy wines are not monotonous, because two parallel paths can be recognized, one that follows the cold path of steel, the other the warm one of wood.
The history of wine in Burgundy
It was the Greeks who introduced the cultivation of vines in this area in 600 BC although it was the Romans who gave impetus to viticulture. After the crisis of the Early Middle Ages, it was from the 10th century AD that the monks of the Cistercian and Benedictine abbeys were the true architects of the rebirth of viticulture: names such as those of Cîteaux and Cluny left an indelible mark on the winemaking path of Burgundy. The activity of the monks is responsible for the vineyards of Mâconnais, Chalonnais and Côte-d'Or, as well as the birth of the clos, not just a vineyard surrounded by walls but a true mark of quality.
Historical highlights of Burgundy wine
Over the centuries, Burgundy has had a variable physiognomy because its borders have undergone many changes around the central nucleus, which has remained stable , around Beaune and Dijon. What is certain is that the region was once a place of passage.
Another strong point has some internal variability , with three of the best French wine areas: Côte d'Or, Yonne, Saône-et-Loire.
The fact is that the first AOC of Burgundy, Morey-Saint-Denis , was established in 1936 while the hundredth, Bourgogne Tonnerre, dates back to 17 July 2006.
The climate and soil of Burgundy
The Burgundy vineyards stretch for approximately 250 km between Chablis to the north and Mâconnais to the south, bordering the Rhône valley. The climate is predominantly continental , with light maritime influences in the western area up to Dijon and Mediterranean in the southernmost area. Winters are cold, frosts are quite frequent, sometimes even in spring; rainfall is minimal during the budding period but intense between May and June, and this can compromise flowering and therefore the harvest.
The soil of Burgundy is formed by marine sedimentations mixed with limestone, marl and clay , with a prevalence of limestone in the Côte, from Dijon to Chagny.
The territory is divided into these large sub-regions; the Auxerrois , the Chablis to the north in the Yonne, then the Côte-d'Or , the Chalonnais and the Mâconnais and the Beaujolais . In Chablis and Auxerrois, calcareous-marly soils prevail, in the Côte d'Or the soil richer in limestone allows Pinot Noir to express all its class, while in the southern area clay and marl give great elegance to Chardonnay. In Chalonnais and Chalonnais limestone, marl and clay reign, while in Beaujolais the soil is calcareous, shale and clay.
The vines and wines of Burgundy
In Burgundy it seems that two grapes have divided the territory with a tacit agreement, based on their needs with respect to the different terroirs, without uncomfortable overlaps or useless antagonisms. The two protagonists are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir although if you look closely Burgundy is able to offer other varieties that are well suited to these very special soils.
Pinot Noir is a grape variety that Burgundians like to consider native. Demanding and sophisticated, it occupies over 38% of the vineyard surface, but gives exceptional results especially when it ripens in the northern part of the Côte d'Or, where it expresses its full potential. The combination of the not very deep color load, with ruby hues, the dominant fruity and floral notes that fade into redcurrants, blackberries and raspberries make these wines easily identifiable. The confirmation of the class of Pinot Noir from Burgundy is expressed on the nose with a broad bouquet enriched with spices and undergrowth, truffles and humus, and on tasting with freshness and flavor that are more incisive than tannins. And then for the extraordinary taste-olfactory persistence.
Chardonnay represents 45% of the vineyard area, especially widespread in the Chablis area, in the Yonne, and in the southern part of the Côte d'Or, south of Beaune, in the territories of Mersault and Montrachet. Here, thanks to the marly soil, it produces white wines that are a point of reference for all Chardonnays in the world. But be careful: the production philosophy of Chardonnay is not the same throughout the territory. In Chablis the use of steel preserves fragrant aromas of flowers and fruits, acacia and hawthorn, apple, grapefruit and pineapple. In Côte d'Or the barrels (pièce bourgignonne) are used both during fermentation and maturation, and after a few years of aging the Chardonnay enhances the complexity of the aroma, with notes of toasted almond and peanut, melted butter and honey, yellow flowers and spices.
Gamay is a vine with constant and high productivity, which covers 11% of the vineyard surface. It is produced in the Beaujolais area and gives wines to be appreciated within 1-2 years at most. Fruity and floral, with notes of cherry and raspberry, they are lightly structured, fresh wines with particularly gentle tannins.
Aligoté represents 5% of Burgundy vineyards and has found a qualitative dimension in clayey, marly and granitic soils. It gives lively and slightly tart wines, with hints of green apple and white peach.
César and sauvignon are the other vines grown in Burgundy, albeit minimally. The first gives very colorful wines, with clear hints of cherry and a sour tannin. The second expresses a less snappy acidity and more nuanced vegetal and fruity accents than those of Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre from the nearby Loire Valley.
The soil and climate conditions of Burgundy, combined with a special savoir-faire of the vignerons, due to centuries of quality agronomic practices, determine a unique terroir .
The care and specificities in this region lead to the definition of climat , a heritage protected by UNESCO. The concept can be understood as a single well-defined vineyard , of which the specific characteristics of soil, climate and exposure are recognised.
The concept is linked to that of terroir : a French term that defines the meaning of an oenological place , because the intersection of climate, type of soil, topography, exposure and human work influences the direct way the wine that in that place you get it. Climat is an even more precise and localized term than terroir.
These are precisely delimited plots of Burgundy vineyards on the slopes of the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune, south of the city of Dijon. These vineyards differ from each other due to particular geological and exposure conditions, as well as the types of vines and processes.
The concept is that of a cultural and productive landscape at the same time , where ideal conditions from a natural and climatic point of view, a geological history of great variety, are associated with careful and quality production since ancient times.
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The wine-growing areas of Burgundy
- Yonne : it is a vast territory, famous for Chablis. Chabis is a town that identifies with its wine, so appreciated that it boasts numerous attempts at imitation around the world. The vineyards extend for 20 km in the Serein valley, on ideal soil for Chardonnay, with marl alternating with small limestone whites. The AOC Chablis is divided into four well-defined production areas: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru. Although with various organoleptic differences, what these wines have in common are minerality, elegance, fruity notes and vegetal finish, as well as the ability to age. The Yonne does not end with Chablis, but other AOCs form a district called Le vignoble du Grand Auxerrois, which perpetuates the ancient winemaking tradition of this area. Also near Auxerre, the AOC Irancy vineyards are located on marly soils, where the Pinot Noir reaches good maturation. César can also be added to the blend, which enriches it with tannin and guarantees good longevity.
- Côte-d'Or : extends for 50 km south of Dijon in a strip of vineyards maximum 3 km wide, in which the rows are aligned on the sides of the hills called côte, with an exposure from north-east to south -west. The Côte d'Or is divided into: Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune. The Côte de Nuits extends from Chenove to Corgolin and its vineyards are distributed on hill slopes that rise up to 300 m, with optimal exposure (east and south-east), a condition which, together with the limestone-rich soil, It offers Pinot Noir the chance to give its best, with elegant aromas and a powerful structure. Although it cannot be defined as a white wine area, the soils rich in marl and clay allow Chardonnay to produce wines with excellent structure, also capable of evolving well over the years. From north to south the Municipal Appelations are Marsannay-la Cote, Fixin, Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-Saint-Denis, Chambolle-Musigny, Vougeot, Vosne-Romanée, Nuits-Saint-Georges and Premeaux. To these we must add the Premier Crus and Grand Crus, expressions of excellence from this territory, famous throughout the world. The Côte de Beaune stretches for 26 km, from the small village of Ladoix-Serrigny to the municipality of Saternay. The vineyards are arranged on a succession of hills with soils rich in marl in the upper part, mixed with alluvial deposits from the Saone valley. Here, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir divide the territory in a more balanced way than in the Côte de Nuits: the former dominates in the so-called Côte de Blancs, from Mersault to Puligny-Montrachet and partly to Chassagne-Montrachet, rising to a point of reference for all the Chardonnays of the world, while the latter reigns supreme in the surroundings of Beaune and in the southern part, in Saternay and Chassagne-Montrachet, where it reaches balance more quickly. From north to south the Municipal Appelations are Aloxe-Corton, Pernard Vangelesses, Ladoix Serrigny, Savigny-lès-Beaune, Chorey-lès-Beaune, Pommard, Volnay, Meursault, Blagny, Puligny-Montrachet, Saternay, Saint-Romain and Maranges.
- Côte Chalonnaise : a 35 km long strip of vineyards, with a geological formation similar to that of the Côte d'Or, with a south and south-east exposure, the Côte Chalonnaise includes the AOCs Bourgogne Cote du Couchois, Bourgogne Cote Chalonnaise, Bouzeron , Rully, Mercurey, Givry and Montagny. Pinot Noir , Chardonnay , Gamay and Aligoté are grown.
- Maconnais : it is a macro-region of 6,500 hectares, with chardonnay vineyards while pinot noir gives way to gamay . Thanks to the characteristic calcareous soil covered by a clayey and alluvial layer, it is ideal for white grape varieties. One of the best Chardonnays produced outside the Côte d'Or is produced in the Maconnais, AOC Pouilly-Fuissè: an extraordinary wine, which on the nose expresses itself with hints of pineapple and grapefruit, completed by flavors of fresh almond and hazelnut, a discreet initial freshness, which over the course of 5-10 years is replaced by a balanced balance between softness and flavour .
- Beaujolais : is a territory of 18,000 hectares located on the right of the Saone river, between Mâcon and Lyon. The granitic soils, covered by a sandy clay layer, are perfect for gamay , and the climate is influenced by the continental influence in winter and the Mediterranean influence in summer. Beaujolais is a particular oenological universe, which has founded its fame on wines obtained with partial carbonic maceration (i.e. filling the container in which the film maceration is carried out with carbon dioxide). Immediate, exuberant in its purple color and vinous aromas, with notes of fresh fruit, enamel and violets, with a barely noticeable tannin and a pleasant finish of red fruits.
Burgundy foods and wines
The local cuisine has particular accents and offers interesting pairing possibilities with Burgundy wines. In particular, the spicy accents of Dijon mustard and the aromatic ones of garlic, as in escargot à la bourgignonne, make local dishes perfect for example with a Savagny Blanc.
Many aromatic herbs also enrich various Pinot Noir sauces, served with the excellent red meats from Charollais and Auxois farms, such as boeuf à la bourgignonne, perfect with a Mercurey.
Other suggestions? The traditional coq au vin can be paired with the same wine used in cooking, the fantastic jambon persillé with a Pinot Noir and César, the andouillette chablisienne with a fresh Petit Chablis, and a varied plate of Burgundy cured meats with Beaujolais Nouveau.
And again, Burgundy cheeses such as epoisses and citeaux can be served with a Pinot Noir Grand Cru.
And finally, the pain d'epice and the aniseed friandise from Flavigny pair perfectly with a Chardonnay from Maconnais.