Burgundy, or Bourgogne as we must now properly refer to it as, can be quite an inaccessible wine region physically, financially and in terms of trying to get to grips with understanding all its sacred village names and individual vineyard plots or crus.
- There is no international airport nearby so it’s either a question of driving or taking a train from Paris, making it a lengthy, but oh, so worthwhile, journey.
- The prices of the wines sit well above the UK average price spend of £5.31 per bottle and can set you back quite serious sums of money for the top wines.
- It is an area of 100 appellations with difficult to pronounce names, thousands of producers each making many different cuvées and, because the region can sometimes be prone to far from ideal growing conditions, it’s helpful if you know your vintages.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that overcoming these obstacles can lead to a lifetime of wine enjoyment that is hard to beat. To simplify Bourgogne, the main wines and famous names are made as single varietal wines either from Chardonnay for the whites or Pinot Noir for the reds. The 100 appellations can be divided 23 regional wines, 44 Villages and Premiers Crus and 33 Grands Crus, which altogether account for 7% of all the AOC wines of France. Helpfully, the region can be split into five distinct areas.
The most northerly of Bourgogne’s areas, Chablis, is situated about 85 miles North West of the region’s capital Dijon, it’s actually nearer to Paris, and is a little pocket of some 4500ha of vineyards, all planted to Chardonnay, so only white wine is made from Petit-Chablis through to world-class, age worthy, complex Grand Cru at the top end. If you claim to be a member of the ABC brigade (Anything But Chardonnay), don’t be put off. These are not the golden yellow, oaky, buttery wines you hate; they’re bone-dry, steely and lively and off-set, say, a fish pie perfectly.
Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune together form part of the Cote d’Or, the golden slopes, and it is nowhere more than here in this narrow strip of land only about 35 miles long, that Burgundy’s jigsaw of geological terrain dictates the style and quality each village or cru produces. The Côte de Nuits produces mostly red, and is home to some of the most sought after (read expensive) wines accounting for over 65% of the Burgundy’s Grands Crus, such as Chambertin, Musigny, Richebourg and Romanée-Conti. The Côte de Beaune is known for whites such as Meursault and Montrachet, but with world-class reds too, made from Pinot Noir, of course, from, for instance, Corton, Volnay and Pommard.
Côte Chalonnaise produces more affordable though obviously less remarkable reds including Rully, Givry and Mercurey as well as approachable whites such as Montagny.
At the most southerly point, without including Beaujolais which for me is a separate entity altogether, the Mâconnais can produce some good quality fruity whites in Pouilly-Fuissé and everyday reds and whites under the names Mâcon or Mâcon-Villages. They may add a little Gamay in the reds here making the wines lighter in an easy-drinking style.
If, or more likely when, you fall in love with Bourgogne wines, you may find them a fickle mistress – utterly compelling one day, sharp and tarty the next. It is worth reading up about producers and making a note of those with a following. Tim Atkin has a reliable list on his site www.timatkin.com or talk to your wine-merchant.
Photos from www.bourgogne-wines.com