Burgundy (Bourgogne) is predominately known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. In fact, 80% of production goes into those to grapes, with most of the remaining effort going to the production of Gamay and a splash of white wines on the Aligoté grape.
In Burgundy there are 84 appellations and a total of 50.000 hectares of vines – with a further 20.000 hectares of vine in Beaujolais. Beaujolais is technically part of Burgundy, but is most commonly seen as a stand-alone region.
In terms of the largest wine growing regions in France Burgundy comes as number three – a position they share with Rhône and Loire. Languedoc-Roussillon is the largest (220.000 hectares) followed by Bordeaux (120.000 hectares).
Pinot Noir came with the Romans
Bourgogne Pinot Noir is in the hall of fame of French grapes. But did you know that it was actually the Romans that brought Pinot Noir to the region? That said, the Cistercian monks of Bourgogne had a lot to do with elevating the winemaking of great Pinot Noirs.
The monks believed hard work would bring them closer to God so they worked diligently to develop winemaking techniques and practices. Pinot Noir is a difficult grape to grow – one of the most difficult actually. The thin skin remains the main challenge.
Too much sun and you end up with sunburnt raisins. Too much water and you end up with rot and fungus. And at the same time, Pinot Noir is a low yielding grape. So, one can understand why the monks sought divine intervention.
Chardonnay – the native grape to Burgundy
Unlike Pinot Noir, Chardonnay is believed to have its native roots in Bourgogne. The grapes are believed to have been growing wild and cultivated in Burgundy for thousands of years.
Though once again it was the Cistercian monks that from the 11th century took it upon themselves to elevate Chardonnay winemaking. They did this in a surprisingly organized way, cataloguing the best vineyards. These special sites remain almost unchanged to this day.
Terroir is about climate, soil, terrain and tradition – or in another sense the “place” or “sense of place”. It is about feeling – when tasting a wine – you become transported to growing area, to the uniqueness of a wine region.
Bourgogne has a lot going for it in terms of diversity in terroir. Here a continental climate meets the Mediterranean climate - and soil types include everything from limestone, clay, gravel and sand, often separated by mere metres.
It is this rich diversity and generations of hard work that produce wines with a true sense of place: The crisp Chardonnays of Chablis and the oak-aged richer yet mineral and multi-layered Chardonnays of Côte de Beaune. As for Pinots the choices are unlimited and that it is only the beginning with the hallmarks from Côte de Nuit and Côte de Beaune.
Main styles of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
It is the diversity in terroir that make it possible to produce such distinct and diverse styles of wine, even if they are predominately made on just two grapes.
Chardonnay is most often produced in four styles: There is the Bourgogne Blanc, an unoaked easy to drink wine with indisputable notes of minerality and apple. Then there is the Chablis, also mostly unoaked but with leaner, lime-like mineral flavours. Wines in the Mâconnais styles are usually unoaked but with more tropical fruit-forward flavours (think melon and starfruit). And then there is the Côte de Beaune style that – because of the oak-aging – is richer adding sensations of fleshy yellow apple and tones of truffle, hazelnut and vanilla.
Pinot Noirs are more difficult to group. They are almost entirely aged on oak. To best appreciate and enjoy great Burgundy Pinot Noirs look for elegance, nuances and layers in the aroma. Young vintages can appear restrained so a bit of patience is recommended.
Enjoying Burgundy Pinot Noirs is travelling without a destination. Burgundy Pinots when compared to “New World” Pinots less bold, less in-your-face, more individual, and less fruity.
Beaujolais is located south of Burgundy. While technically classified as AOC Bourgogne, the grape variety (Gamay) and winemaking techniques and practices in Beaujolais are very different from its northern neighbours.
99% of Beaujolais vineyards are planted with the black grape Gamay. So, Beaujolais charters its own path and it is for this reason that we at Avelyn have dedicated Beaujolais its own chapter. Take a wine trip in Beaujolais.
Century old viticultural centre of excellence and influence. A reference point for terroir-driven wines.What are the most popular grape varieties in Burgundy?
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.What types of food works well with wines from Burgundy?
Chardonnays are for the sea, white meats and fatty cheeses. Pinot Noir for duck, casserole, grilled salmon and steak tartare.