Layover 2018 – Vol. II: Burgundy

Wine

11/04/2018

Burgundy usually occupies a place in the minds of wine lovers as one of the world’s quintessential wine regions. This is an age-old idea based on a past as rich in wine heritage as its soils are different; an area that is a kind of whimsical garden created to delight palates eager for new sensations and a lasting, eternal sensory memory.

Climate and soil: the importance of centuries of tasting

Located in north-eastern France, just two hours from Paris, Burgundy enjoys a fully continental climate, with hot summers and harsh winters, as well as frequent precipitation in fall that often coincides with the harvest.

In general, there is a predominance of clayey and chalky soils that are the usual home of Chardonnay, while Pinot Noir grows in soils with a higher limestone and marl content.

The varying slopes, sensitivity to the subtle variations of terroir, depth, drainage, heat retention, and the mineral content of the soilswhich vary drastically even within small areashave been identified in plots and wines through centuries of tastings, reaching the present day as timeless classics.

Around 30,000 ha of vineyards are spread across the main wine-growing regions: Chablis and the Grand Auxerrois; the Côte Chalonnaise and the Couchois, La Côte d’Or (Côte de Nuits, Hautes Côte de Nuits, and the Chatillonais); Côte de Beune and Hautes Côtes de Beune; the Mâconnais.

Burgundy for beginners: understanding the label

Burgundy is a kind of puzzle of appellations and vineyards, a winemaking mosaic with a richness resulting from a diversity that is at odds with such a small area, that is largely known as one of the most acclaimed regions in the industry.

It’s a micro universe of communes and villages that, at first, seem to sometimes make it difficult to be able to order the region’s wines in any sort of way. Be that as it may, Burgundy in itself represents one of the paradises for grape growing par excellence, a Garden of Eden with diverse soils and topography that make its wines something memorable.

Four concepts to (really) take into account

Without the right information, you can end up pretty lost when looking at the label on a Burgundy wine. But, armed with a few key concepts to start off with, you shouldn’t have any problems interpreting what’s inside the bottle:

  • Domain”: a producer that only uses grapes from their own vineyard.
  • Villages: In Burgundy, there are around 50 village appellations, covering wines made in the towns that give them their name: Chablis
  • 1er Cru”: This indication means the wine was made in very specific delimited areas called climats (plots). These terms usually appear on the label in the following order: town name - name of the plot the wine comes from: Nuits-Saint George - 1er Cru Les Vaucraines
  • “Grand Cru”: We’re talking about the best wines from the best plots (climats). There are around 30 Grands Crus in Burgundy, all of which express the personality of a unique terroir. The labels on these wines do not feature the name of the town, only the expanse that covers the quality of the wines from very restricted areas. Montrachet

NOTA: Below are the main appellations and terminology used on the labels, according to the grape variety:

Classic white appellations based on Chardonnay:

  • *Bourgogne AC
  • Chablis AC
  • Puligny-Montrachet AC; Meursault AC
  • Montrachet Grand Cru AC
  • Mâcon AC
  • Pouilly-Fuissé AC

Classic red appellations based on Pinot Noir:

  • *Bourgogne AC
  • Gevrey-Chambertin AC, Nuits-Saint-Georges AC
  • Beune AC, Pommard AC
  • Chambertin Grand Cru AC

*The wines from the most extensive part of the region are labeled under the appellation Bourgogne AC.

The varieties. The wines

Burgundy is defined based on its two most noble and famous varieties: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This is the quintessential pairing that makes France a good place to stick around long enough to build up a palate specifically for the wine.

Chardonnay: mother and source of the classic Burgundy white wines.

The best examples offer touches of a glyceric, creamy texture and a varietal expressiveness so intense it would almost seem chewy. The ripe grapes usually spend a short time in oak and age on their lees to give us such seductive hints of confectionery.

You can find the best and most exemplary examples in the Côte dOr, while in Mâcon, for example, the body of the wine is sought in the ripeness of the fruit.

Pinot Noir: It’s usually said that the variety in Burgundy produces the world’s highest quality wines. Pinot Noir has so much history behind it that over the years it has mutated into various clones that, in turn, have been adapted to different regions in the area, making the variety exceptionally versatile.

The classic Pinot Noir flavors are based around rich red fruit (cherry, raspberry, strawberry) when the wine is young. These flavors are recalled in more mature wines and reincarnated into complex vegetable and gamey notes. The tannins are present but gentle, the acidity is high, and the mouthfeel unmistakable and memorable.

However, you can’t really understand Burgundy without looking at the other side of the ampelographic coin, i.e. two humble yet worthy varieties that retain their simplicity, with varying degrees of success:

Aligoté: References to this variety usually include the two-dimensional nature its sensory characteristics, although the new wines have seemingly improved and it’s possible to find very commendable examples.

It usually produces thin, highly acidic wines.

Gamay: This variety has been used historically throughout Burgundy due to being easy to adapt and also for its high yields. It has a gentle, present fruit and a healthy young acidity you can also find in reds from the Mâconnais.

This short introduction should satisfy beginners’ curiosity and serve as a starting point for those who want to find out more, because, despite its size, Burgundy is a world in itself, with its own pace and a wine culture so unique it seems lost in time.

Rafa Moreno

Categorías: Wine