The Burgundy Wine Region
Burgundy is one of the most prestigious wine regions in the world. Its capital city, Dijon, lies in northeastern France along the valley of the Saône River and has been inhabited since at least 4200 BC.
The region is home to several different grape varietals, including Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Chardonnay. They use these grapes to make red, white, and sparkling wines. Its one of France’s best-known wine regions, and is famous for producing very high-quality wines.
Reading a Burgundy Wine Label
The wine is classified into four levels throughout the Burgundy region. When purchasing a bottle of Burgundy, it will be marked with one of these four classes.
- Grand Cru: If a bottle says Grand Cru all the grapes used to make that wine come from a single Grand Cru designated vineyard. Only the best vineyards are designated as Grand Cru. These vineyards produce the highest quality grapes and wine in all of Burgundy. This assignment is given to around 1% of all vineyards in Burgundy.
- Premier Cru: If a bottle says Premier Cru all the grapes used to make that wine come from a single Premier Cru designated vineyard. These wines also come from vineyards of excellent quality but are slightly below the Grand Cru level. Premier Cru vineyards represent around 10% of all plants in Burgundy.
- Village Wines: There are 44 villages in within Burgundy that is determined to produce sufficiently high-quality grapes and wine to be able to use the name of their village on the wine’s label. In order to have the name of the village all the grapes used to make the wine must come from that village. This represents 37% of Burgundy’s wine.
- Regional Wines: Regional wines are the lowest-ranked product. These are wines are produced using a blend of grapes from vineyards located in either an unrecognized village or a blend of villages. Wines in this category are labeled as Bourgogne, which is the French translation of Burgundy. These wines represent just over half of all of Burgundy’s wine.
Burgundy has a very long history with wine, dating back to at least 50 BC. When the Romans attacked Burgundy, the Celts were already fabricating wine. But when the Roman Empire fell, the Catholic Church took control of wine production in the area.
The Church needed a large quantity of wine for their traditions and rituals. So it was mostly the job of priests and monks to tend the vineyards and produce the wine needed. Benedictine monks, a monastic order of the Catholic Church, possessed and cultivated a significant part of the land in the area around 900. However, Cistercian monks, another Catholic monastic order, improved Burgundian wines two centuries later. Cistercian monks believed that labor brought them closer to God, and spent many hours laboring to improve vineyards and wine production. They kept exact records and took careful notes about which vineyards produced the best grapes and wine. Many of the vineyards they designated as top quality are still recognized as such today. For instance, Clos Vougeot, one of the most famous vineyards in the world today was first recognized by these monks as excellent quality in the Middle Ages.
Burgundy is the home of Pinot Noir, which represents 34% of the area’s vineyards and 29% of the total wine yield. Burgundy Pinot Noir often has flavors of cherry, black currant, mushroom, and cloves with a light to medium body. Gamay is the only other red grape grown in Burgundy, but it is exclusively grown in the subregion of Beaujolais in the most southern part of Burgundy.
Chardonnay is Burgundy’s most well-known white wine grape, representing 48% of plantings and 68% of the total yield. Burgundy Chardonnay is known for producing wonderful botanical, natural, and mineral fragrances along with a medium to full body. Aligoté is the other white grape grown in Burgundy, but only in one tiny subregion and represents just 6% of all the wine produced in Burgundy.
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
591 BC: Burgundy wines were praised for the first time in history.
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For Further Study