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Spotlight: The Burgundy Wine Region

Ask any wine buff what springs to mind when they think of Pinot Noir and they’re almost certain to reply ‘Burgundy!’ — and not for nothing. This historical region of France, interlaced with idyllic canals and polka-dotted with grand chateaus, is the beating heart of Pinot Noir production. Here, some of the most elegant and refined Pinot Noirs emerge year after year from world-famous Burgundy domaines.

Located in the eastern centre of France, Burgundy grows four different grape varietals — two black and two white. Predominantly producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at the highest standard, this tranquil region also delivers Gamay and Aligoté. Notably, very little blending or experimentation is done during the Burgundy wine-making process; however, some exceptions are made in places such as Côteaux Bourguignons, where Pinot Noir and Gamay are sometimes mixed.

Below, we’ll meander through this extraordinary region, taking a look at the defining factors, distinct regions and notable domaine that together make Burgundy wines so unique.

Soil (Terroir)

What makes Burgundy interesting is that the soil can vary dramatically from one vineyard to the next — so dramatically in fact that just a few metres can separate a classification from a ‘Grand Cru’ to a ‘Premier Cru’. That said, most Burgundy soils will typically contain a mix of limestone, clay, gravel and sand. Two particular types of soil dominate the landscape and help the wine-makers to determine which grapes should be planted where.

Jurassic Limestone is a unique soil formed by the fossilised remains of sea creatures of many million years ago; it suits Chardonnay exceptionally well.

Marl is a harmonious collaboration between limestone and clay that produces the finest Pinot Noir in the world.

Classification

The classification system of Burgundy contains a total of 33 Grand Cru vineyards, which are based in the Côtes de Nuit and Côtes de Beaune. These two AOCs (Appellation d’origine Controlle) come together and hold the name Côte D’Or.

Typically, vineyards that have a Grand Cru classification have the good fortune of being based on the slopes of the region, where the vines have excellent drainage and a more direct consistency of sunlight. Premier Cru vineyards are usually found just above or below these Grand Cru locations, while village and regional vineyards are located on the bed of the valley.

Burgundy contains five primary regions spread across a 75-mile stretch. Starting just south of Dijon and finishing down in Macon, each sub region hosts many AOCs, which all bring unique characteristics representative of the ‘terroir’ where each wine is grown and made.

The Five Regions

Chablis

The sub region of Chablis is the northernmost wine growing area in Burgundy; as a result, the weather is considerably cooler than the sub regions of the south. Chablis is very well known for its ‘Kemmeridgian’ limestone that maintains and reflects the heat from the sun, helping the grapes ripen.

The only grape varietal grown to be found in Chablis is Chardonnay. Globally recognised for its bright, intense and crisp character and fresh acidity, Chablis always delivers its trademark mineral finish on the palate.

Côte de Nuits

As you wind your way up the hillsides of Burgundy and into the Grand Cru vineyards, the soil becomes lighter in colour because it has a larger ratio of limestone. This allows the vines to have better drainage, which in turn produces a very high quality of grape. As such, Côte de Nuits enjoys a global recognition for producing some of the world’s best and most expensive wines; this sub-region is home to 24 of the most revered Grand Crus — Vosne Romanee, Nuits St Georges, Gevry Chambertin and Echezeaux, to name a few.

There is, however, an immense variety in the Côte de Nuits soil, and this is why wines from the region can vary widely in their characteristics; a Gevrey–Chambertin wine, for example, will taste utterly different to a Morey St. Denis, despite both hailing from the same area. And yet whatever the grape, the Grand Cru wines of this region enjoy a reputation for being powerful, pure and rich, and many fine wine collectors desire them over all others.

Côte de Beaune

The Côte de Beaune region is well known for its classic Burgundy Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Thanks to the rolling hills and flat, open valleys in the northern part of the region, the land is dominated by Pinot Noir. However, as you head south the vineyards begin to produce a lighter, more perfumed wine; of course you then encounter places like Meursault and Chassagne-Montrachet, known for making incredibly rich and buttery but bone-dry Chardonnay.

In the Côte de Beaune you’ll find 7 out of 8 of the remaining Grand Cru vineyards, mostly dedicated to Chardonnay. Aloxe-Corton in Côte de Beaune is the only place in Burgundy where Grand Cru red wine is produced.

Côte Chalonnaise

This verdant area has no Grand Cru vineyards but is notable for producing good-value wines, from easy-drinking, oak-influenced Chardonnays to earthy Pinot Noirs with dried cherry and strawberry notes; although these are the grapes most associated with Côte Chalonnaise, the region also produces Aligoté, Gamay, Melon de Bourgogne, Pinot blanc and Pinot gris to a lesser extent.

Wines produced in this region are often characterised as being ‘early drinking wines’ that do not require much ageing before they can be enjoyed. And although the wines from Côte Chalonnaise are not as high quality as some other Burgundy regions, they have the benefit of being affordable and, with their fruity, smokey flavour, enjoyable to drink.

Mâconnais

The southernmost wine-producing region of Burgundy has endured a troubled history: during the great depression and over the course of the two world wars, many local producers were forced to sell their grapes to co-operatives just to survive. Nowadays, the region thrives, producing wines influenced by the region’s sun-soaked climate and limestone and granite soil.

Wines from Mâcconais are made from the Chardonnay grape and are notable for their extraordinary pineapple, peach and apple fruit flavours; wild herb, honeysuckle and citrus notes; and robust, fresh structure. The most famous nook of this region is by far Pouilly-Fuissé, which produces a delicate, fresh white wine with an oak influence.

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC) is legendary — famous not just for being one of the greatest domaines in the world but also for producing the best expression of Pinot Noir globally. Under the majestic Domaine Romanee Conti umbrella you will find the following 7 Grand Cru vineyards:

Romanée-Conti – Production circa 450 cases per annum
La Tâche – Production circa 1,800 cases per annum
Richebourg – Production circa 1,000 cases per annum
Romanée-St-Vivant- Production circa 1,450 cases per annum
Grands Échezeaux – Production circa 1,100 cases per annum
Échezeaux – Production circa 1,300 cases per annum
Montrachet – Production circa 240 cases per annum

DRC wines are generally regarded as the most expensive on the planet. In 2019 you can find a bottle of DRC Romanée-Conti 1990 on sale for up to £20,000; if you break this down to price per grape, it would amount to a staggering £30.00 for each single fruit!

Each year DRC produce wines on new French oak, which naturally bumps up the price since the barrels are so expensive, but there are other factors that make their vintages so costly. One of these factors is consistency: DRC have been receiving high scores across the board for decades. Even their ‘off vintages’ overshadow the wines of other domaines. To put this into perspective, over the last 60 years the lowest Robert Parker has ever scored a DRC Romanée-Conti was 90/100 Points (this was in the 2002 Vintage). Another factor is availability: DRC has a tiny average production of just 8,000 bottles per year. So with tens of thousands of people around the globe wanting to sample arguably one of the greatest wines ever made, it is easy to see how the prices have become so high.

What next for your Burgundy bottles?

If you are interested in discussing your special bottles from the Burgundy region to discover their value and perhaps cash them in for a competitive price, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at The London Wine Cellar. Our team has decades of wine-buying expertise and specialist knowledge of the Burgundy region. Call us on 020 7377 8097, fill out the form below to send us a message or drop by our tranquil north London wine cellar to enjoy a glass of wine while we agree a price for your bottles.