Wines of Burgundy: Regional Portrait

There are topics which are very dear to us. The region of Bourgogne (Burgundy) is one of them. Therefore it’s just about time for an introduction to the classy wine region of Burgundy. A region which unites tradition, cultural heritage and culinary pleasures in a unique way and brings an almost unlimited abundance of aromas to our palates.


The Basics

With 28.000 hectar Bourgogne is not leading the list of the biggest wine regions, however it does rule the list of the most influential regions of wine origins due to a strict focus on terroir and the wine styles resulting from it.

Both complex and simple at the same time: just a few grapes varietals cover the region yet shine in thousands of different expressions and tastes. Vast numbers of specific soils, micro-climates, viticulture and viniculture lead to the ever changing facets of burgundian terroir. A vineyard situated only a few meters away often bears a surprisingly different wine character than its closeby neighbor ground. Finding a way through this complex area means both torture and delightful occupation for wine lovers.


Position, Climate, Soils

The vineyards of Burgundy stretch from the eastern part of central France in Auxerre (close to Chablis) to the famous heart of the Côte d’Or over to Mâcon, which finally connects to Beaujolais. The climate is continental with oceanic influences, with its northern geographic Burgundy touches the northernmost conditions for wine growing.

In order to make great wines despite its climatic challenges, the vines are mostly planted in favorable slopes, the so called Côtes, often facing east or south-east to  spoil the vines with long hours of sun.

Additional factors are the protection of mean west winds by the central massif in the west and furthermore the soils in which the vines root deeply.  Their basis is hard limestone, coated with different soils like marl, clay and gravel which characterize the various sites, called climats in Burgundy. They are responsible for the famous mineral as well as tense style of white and red wines.



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Regions and Appellations

Burgundy is separated into many independent regions. It starts with Chablis in the north east, then around 130 kilometers south east the slopes of the Côte d’Or begin, which is divided into the subregions Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune. Further south the Côte Chalonnaise and the slightly warmer Mâconnais form the intersection into the Beaujolais region which is very distinct from the rest.

Wien labels from Burgundy are packed with a seemingly never ending number of origins, the appéllations. They may be bigger in surface, as Bourgogne Blanc (white burgundy) or Chablis, who are valid for a whole region. The more precise they are named, the stricter the guidelines of an appellation are defined by law.

From names of origin of single Villages (villages) and the surrounding vineyards – for example Gevrey-Chambertin – up to the smallest Grand Crus who often only consist of a few ares, the prestige of Burgundy and its wine has conquered the whole world over the last centuries. Munks have observed, delimited and defined the wine growing region hundreds of years ago and gave these sites prestigious names such as Clos de Vougeot or Montrachet who up until today prove right that terroir isn’t only a marketing term but reality.


Viticulture and Viniculture

Be it village wines, Premier Crus oder Grand Crus – the often small parcels are assiduously worked and treated by their wine growers. Due to napoleonic inheritance laws Burgundy is – unlike any other region – split up into tiny, sometimes minuscule properties.

Apart from its complex acreage there are many more factors for upheaval: trending organic or even biodynamic viticulture, denseness of rootstocks resulting in small yields, the fight against climatic inconveniences. Viticulture in burgundian conditions isn’t easy but absolutely worth its trouble as only healthy grapes produce fine wines.

After rigorous selections the fine wines of Burgundy – except for the Chablis region – are usually aged in small barrels called pièce. With a little help from the cellar master they usually age for one or two years before being bottled.


Grapes in Burgundy

The number of grapes in Burgundy reduces to a very manageable account: two protagonists and a few supporting roles. Chardonnay is the major player of Burgundy in general but also when it comes to white wines. This common an worldwide known grape achieves in this region – as many people claim – perfection.

However, the exact same claim is stated for the red protagonist, the diva Pinot Noir. Burgundy lovers will find the most elegant and unrivaled expressions of this sensitive grape in the Côte de Nuits, which unfortunately often come along with an unrivaled price tag.

Furthermore there is the red grape Gamay and the white variatal Aligoté which complete the overall picture of Burgundy yet are reduced the lesser renowned appellations. Now, what do all these wines taste like? 


Wine Styles

The wine styles of Bourgogne are as diverse as their appellations and terroirs. The simpler wines, mostly of regional appellations, as well as many as Crémants de Bourgogne, the sparkling wines of the region, are often of fruit focused character, no matter if made from Chardonnay, Aligoté or Pinot Noir. These wines should be enjoyed while young and one of their advantages, especially from lesser known appellations as for example Mâcon, is that they can be found at very good prices.

The classier fine wines, more likely from smaller productions and usually with the more impressive names of appellations, seduce with complexity, elegance and much more power. In their youth they tend to be quite closed and don’t open up to show their expressive characters until they have aged for a few years. The white wines very frequently show notes of yellow fruits, white flowers, almonds or marzipan. They surprise the palate with minerality and a good acidity backbone. The more aged styles develop hints of honey.

Pinot Noirs can be robust and powerful, dark-berried with smokey hints and very fine and polished yet obvious tannins. Or they present their finer, velvety, red-berried side with more delicate tannins. After a few years’ maturation they develop earthy, enticingly sweet forest soil and game notes, with silky smooth tannins. To fully get to enjoy these aged notes it’s necessary to allow the wines to age as long as they need. A hard time of waiting.



For many wine lovers Burgundy ist a mystic, in its diversity often intimidating topic. And in fact it’s not as easy as we would like to say it is. Pricey disappointments do happen: wines are often drunk too young to convince, other times the expectations on the investment are beyond the possible.

In addition the labrynth of appellations and climats seems to be daunting to epicureans looking for something new to discover. However, those thirsty for knowledge and with an inquisitive palate should risk the adventure, eventually with a few bottles from a authentic and reliable wine grower – rewards can be high and mouth-watering for the next adventure. There definitely is a reason for Bourgogne being known as classic, often copied but rarely met cradle of wines with the most intense expression of origin and place.

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Stefanie is the founder and chief editor of CUVÉE Magazine. Epicurean at heart and wine professional in life, she writes about all things wine and food that pamper her palate. Living in Champagne and holding the Champagne Master Level Certificate as well as WSET certificates, she can't stop discovering new bottles and the stories behind the labels.

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