Burgundy is one of the most prestigious wine regions in the world. Its capital city, Dijon, lies in north-central France along the valley of the river Saône and has been inhabited since at least 4200 BC. The region is home to several different grape varietals including Pinot Noir, Gamay, Chardonnay, and a tiny bit of Aligoté. These grapes are used to make red, white, and sparkling wines. Some of the most expensive wines in the world come from the region of Burgundy, especially from the subregion of Côte d’Or.
Buying a Burgundy Bottle
Burgundy is best known for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The land is respected and seen as indispensable in the production of red and white Burgundy wines. The vineyards and the wines made from them are classified into four quality levels in much of the Burgundy region, (there are some changes to this system in certain subregions of Burgundy). When purchasing a bottle of Burgundy, it will be marked with one of these four classes.
- Grand Cru: This classification is only reserved for the vineyards with the best terroir, that have been proven to make exceptional wine. Only around 2% of all vineyards are classified as Grand Cru in Burgundy.
- Premier Cru: These wines come from vineyards of excellent quality, yet are slightly below the level of a Grand Cru vineyard. Premier Cru vineyards represent around 12% of all vineyards in Burgundy.
- Village Wines: These are Burgundian wines made with grapes from vineyards in one of Burgundy’s 42 villages. All the grapes in the bottle must come from the same village, and the name of that village is then written on the bottle. This category represents 36% of all of Burgundy’s production.
- Regional Wines: Regional wines are the lowest-ranked wines. These wines are often produced using a blend of grapes from vineyards across numerous villages around Burgundy. As opposed to taking grapes from one village to make ‘Village’ wines. Accordingly, wines in this category are labeled with ‘Bourgogne’ (Bourgogne is Burgundy in French) on the bottle. These wines represent half of the wine production in Burgundy.
Burgundy was once covered by an ocean, creating limestone and marl soils in the region. These soil types contribute to the famous minerality often tasted in Burgundian wine. Burgundy has a long and interesting history with wine. It is unknown when wine production started here, but the Celts were already producing wine when the Romans took over the area in 51 BC. The Romans continued and grew the already existing industry until their collapse. After the Romans, the Catholic church took up wine production in the area.
Benedictine monks possessed and cultivated a significant part of the land in the area around 900. However, it was Cistercian monks that greatly improved the quality of Burgundian wines two centuries later. Cistercians felt that manual labor was a necessary and important part of daily life in a monastery. Because of this Cistercian monks were very skilled farmers, and developed many new technologies that helped improve quality on farms and vineyards. They kept exact records and were some of the first to notice the effect of “terroir” on wine. Terroir refers to everything that impacts the vineyards and later the wine, including rainfall, soils, wind, sunlight, and more. They meticulously noted which vineyards produced the best wines year after year. Many of the Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy were noted as exceptional quality by the Cistercian monks first. Clos de Vougeot, the first encased Burgundian vineyard, was laid out in 1336 by the Cistercian monks and is today classified as a Grand Cru vineyard.
Burgundy is the home of Pinot Noir, which represents 34% of the area’s vineyards and 29% of the total wine yield. This red grape shows its true potential on Burgundy’s limestone soils, which adds to its complexity. Chardonnay is Burgundy’s most well-known white wine varietal, representing 48% of plantings and 68% of the wine made. Burgundy’s unique soils also benefit Chardonnay, giving it wonderful mineral aromas and tastes. Aligoté is the second most famous white grape, representing 6% of all the wine produced.
Did you know: Burgundy is subdivided into five subregions: Chablis, Côte d’Or, Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais, and Beaujolias. The Côte d’Or has made Burgundy famous, but their wines are now often too expensive for the average consumer. Venture into Chablis, Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais, or Beaujolais to find more accessible wines, that are still very high quality.
On This Day
1336: The Cistercians were the first to recognize that various grape plots produced dependably distinct wines.
591: Burgundy wines were praised for the first time in history.
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