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A Quick and (Somewhat) Easy Guide to Burgundy

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Burgundy has been a headache for wine enthusiasts since the Romans. This small but exceptional region is best known for its two ruling grapes (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), the importance of vintage variation (every year is drastically different), and most of all, its terroir.

The concept of terroir, now worldwide, may well have first emerged in Burgundy, where soils can vary greatly from this side of the fence to the other. The whole region runs along an ancient ridge, the Côte d’Or, that exposes a huge variety of soil types, from sand to clay, limestone to schist. And more so than any other, Burgundy has quantified these unique characteristics into climats, carefully defined plots of land with particular soils, slope, exposure, etc. Some of these plots are miniscule, and the winemakers insist that they are each unique, and although that climat is five feet away from this one, it may as well be a world apart.

We can’t go into all the tiny microclimates of every vineyard in Burgundy (nor do we want to), but in broad strokes, there are five main regions in Burgundy:

Chablis - Northernmost in Burgundy, this area is actually about 60 miles from the rest of the winemaking regions, giving it a very distinct climate. Cool and maritime, it has a good deal in common with Champagne, producing lean, acidic wines. Its famous Kimmeridge clay soils host its best vineyards and give the wines a characteristic “flinty” note.

Côte d’Or - This internationally famous limestone ridge is home to all of the Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy (except Chablis), and its wines are some of the most recognized and most expensive in the world. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir dominate, but occasionally wines are made from Gamay and Aligoté, two indigenous varietals. Literally the “Golden Slope,” the region was named for how the hillsides look in the fall during harvest, with the beautiful golden color of the vines.

Côte de Nuits - The northern part of the Côte d’Or, this region is best known for its red wines from Pinot Noir, though it does produce some white and rosé as well. It also holds most of the grand crus for red Burgundy, including Romanée-Conti, La Tâche, Clos Vougeot, and Charmes-Chambertin. These wines are known to be supremely structured and austere, with powerful tannins, intense fruit and earth, and the ability to age for at least a decade.

Côte de Beaune - South of the Côte de Nuits is the Côte de Beaune, centered around the town of Beaune. This region produces a greater mix of red and white, but the reds tend to be lighter and more fragrant than in the Côte de Nuits, only earning one grand cru, albeit the largest in Burgundy, Corton. Chardonnay, however, finds its best expression here, with crus like Bâtard-Montrachet and Charlemagne, but also exceptional villages like Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, and Chassagne Montrachet. It’s not all about cru status, friends.

Côte Chalonnais - South of the Côte de Beaune, the Côte Chalonnais lies on flatter slopes on the valley of the River Saône. It is best known not only for its excellent reds, primarily from Mercurey and Givry, but also for crémant production (sparkling wine) and Bourgogne Aligoté, a lean, summery white wine.

The Maconnais - Flatter and warmer than any of its northern neighbors, Macon makes friendly, everyday white wines from Chardonnay, along with a bit of red. The warmer climate lends riper fruit and softer acidity to the wines - a bit more what we think of when we think of Chadonnay. However, the village of Pouilly-Fuissé is renowned for full-bodied wines that combine fruit with structure and minerality comparable to some of the Côte d’Or's top offerings.

It’s impossible to know everything there is to know about Burgundy, but we think this is a good place to start. And if you still want to know more, don’t miss our Burgundy tasting, Friday, September 15th from 6-8 PM. We'll be tasting Domaine des Moirots Bourgogne Blanc "Côtes Chalonnaise" 2014, Domaine Guerrin Mâcon-Vergisson "Les Rochers" Blanc 2015, and Domaine Michel Caillot Santenay Blanc "Les Bras" 2012, our favorites so far of this year's releases. Stop by and you’ll get the chance to put your new knowledge to work! See you there!

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