When talking about French wines, Burgundy can be a difficult wine region to understand. One thing is easy to understand, however. This French wine region is home to some of the finest Pinot Noir wines in the world.
The Burgundy Region
The Burgundy region sits almost in the dead center of France, edging towards the Eastern side of the country. In total, the region is about 110 miles, running south from Chablis to the suburbs of Lyon. The weather there is described as "moderate continental," which means that in the hottest summer months, temperature averages about 68ºF. This is quite a bit cooler than the average summer temperatures in Pinot Noir country in the US.
There are six appellations in Burgundy, including Chablis, Côte Chalonnaise, Côte Mâconnais, Beaujolais, Côte de Nuits, and Côte de Beaune.
The Wine and Grapes
There are only three grape varieties that are cultivated in the region. They are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Gamay, which is the primary grape in Beaujolais. All red Burgundies are Pinot Noir wines except for Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveaux, which are Gamay. White Burgundies are made exclusively from the Chardonnay grape.
The AOC (or appellation) system in France sets very strict rules on the types of grapes and wines grown in each wine region. It also establishes quality of the wines. In Burgundy, this is based on the vineyard sites as opposed to the winemakers. Because of this, there may be a number of winemakers who make wines labeled with the same vineyard name, which can be confusing when reading labels from Burgundy.
Wines in the AOC system are rated in four tiers. From lowest quality to highest quality, the tiers are:
- Regional appellation (often referred to as either Bourguignon rouge or Bourguignon blanc)
- Premier Cru
- Grand Cru
Reading the Label
There is a great deal of information that you can learn from a Burgundy wine label. Typically the largest lettering on the label refers to the area where the wine is grown. This may be something like Vosne-Romanée,Gevrey-Chambertin or Macon-Vliiages. Directly above this in smaller print will be the estate where the grapes were grown. At the top of the label, the winemaker is listed. Also on the label, you will find the vintage, the alcohol content as a percentage and the AOC statement.
Burgundy made by top producers (Comte de Vogüé, Roumier, Leroy, Romanée-Conti, etc.) is meant to be aged. Actually, red and white Burgundies can both age for a very long time because the cooler climate leads to more acidic wines which are built for aging.
Burgundy wines taste of mineral, earth, mushrooms, leather, cherry, smoke, and other red fruits. The wines are often soft and refined, with a great deal of subtlety and finesse. The Burgundy Pinot Noir wines are quite different from their New World Counterparts from Oregon and California. While those wines are bold and powerful with fruit forward, voluptuous flavors, Burgundies are often delicate. As you drink them, the wine opens up, revealing layers of flavor.
White Burgundies, which are made from the Chardonnay grape, are redolent with floral notes and a hint of hazelnuts.
If you are new to Burgundies, talk to your local wine shop to find a quality wine that will fit within your budget. They can help you to find an accessible wine from this region that drinks well and suits your personal palate.
One of the quintessential food pairings with Burgundy is lamb. Try it with a rack of lamb for a sublime meal. Burgundies also work well with foods that have a slightly earthy flavor, such as duck, turkey, salmon, mushroom risotto or truffles. Another classic pairing is Beef Boeurginnone, because traditional cooks also use Burgundy wine in the preparation of the dish. It also pairs remarkably well with the red meat and mushroom duxelles of beef Wellington.
Although by no means is this list comprehensive, these are some great Burgundy wines (red and white) to try:
- Verget - This producer makes magnificent, inexpensive, white burgundies (among other things) that are crisp, citrusy, and have nice mineral components. Try their Macon Villages (usually around $12-$16).
- Maison Louis Jadot - This is a fairly large producer in France, making everything from inexpensive regional wines, to grand cru wines selling for hundreds of dollars. They are consistently well-made wines, and you can find them where most wines are sold.
- Joseph Roty - These wines are among the best values coming out of the region right now. The basic Bourguignon (red) sells for around $15, but if you want to start trying some other Pinot Noir wines, he makes some from the Gevrey village that are lovely, great acidity and floral components with dark cherry fruit.
Taste Burgundy Wine
While the world of Burgundy wine may appear confusing at times, once you taste a Burgundy you will realize that there is nothing like it in the world. These delicious Old World wines harken back to a breadth of flavors and subtlety absent from many of the New World flavor bombs. Visit your local wine shop for a Burgundy recommendation, and prepare yourself for a revelation. You'll be glad you did.