Burgundy France

Burgundy wine is made in the valleys and on the slopes west of the Saône, a tributary of the Rhône. Image: Adobe Stock

Wine regions of the world: Discover beautiful Burgundy

If Paris is France’s head and Champagne its soul, then Burgundy is its stomach.

Burgundy France

Burgundy wine is made in the valleys and on the slopes west of the Saône, a tributary of the Rhône. Image: Adobe Stock

The very name Burgundy has a ring of richness about it. It is a land of long meals, being well supplied with the very best produce: Charolais beef to the west and Bresse chickens to the east.

It is the most famous of the ancient duchies of France. But, long before even Christianity came to France, Burgundy, a region in the East of the country, was already famous for its wine. 

Burgundy is not one big vineyard, as some might believe, but the name of a province that contains at least three of France’s best vineyards.

Burgundy’s best vineyards

By far the richest and most important is the Côte d’Or, in the centre, which is composed of the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune. But Chablis and Beaujolais and the Mâcconais have old reputations, too, which owe nothing to their older brothers. 

For all its ancient fame and riches, Burgundy still seems curiously simple and rustic. There is hardly a grand house from end to end of the Côte d’Or – none of the elegant country houses of, say, the Médoc, as a creation of leisure and wealth in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Some of the few big holdings of land were broken up by Napolean. Even today, Burgundy is one of the most fragmented of the famous wine-growing districts of France. 

Burgundy wine known for its surprises

Burgundy town
Though picturesque, Burgundy is never ostentatious. This is the town of Semur-en-Auxois. Image: Adobe Stock

The fragmentation of Burgundy is the cause of one of the great drawbacks of its wine: unpredictability.  From the geographer’s point of view the human factor is unmappable and in Burgundy, more so than in most places, it needs to be given the limelight.

Even when you have pinned down a wine to one particular climat (field of vines) in one particular finage (village), in one particular year, it could still, in many cases, have been made by any one of six or seven people who own small parcels of the land and/or cellars. 

Burgundy is often seen as the most terroir-conscious winemaking region of France.

Many growers concentrated in small areas

Monopolies of whole vineyards in the hands of one grower are exceptions in Burgundy. Even the smallest producer has parcels of two or three vineyards. The bigger ones may own a total of 16 to 20 hectares, all spread out in smaller lots in a score of vineyards from one end of the Côte to the other.

For example, the Clos de Vougeot has more than 60 growers in its 50 hectares under vine. 

For this reason the majority of Burgundy wine is bought in the barrel from the producer. Négociants (shippers) blend it with other wines from the region to achieve marketable quantities in tune with the region.

It is offered to the world not as the product of a particular grower, whose production of that wine may only be a cask or two,  but as the wine of a given district (be it as specific as a vineyard or as vague as a village). 

When the wines go to market, a detailed description on its label will almost always include the name of the proprietor of the vineyard and whether the wine has been bottled in the proprietor’s own cellars.

Burgundy’s most famous wines

Beaujolais tends to produce a light-bodied red wine with relatively high acidity. Image: Adobe Stock

The most famous wines produced in Burgundy are dry red wines made from pinor noir grapes and white wines made from chardonnay grapes.

Red and white wines are also made from other varieties like gamay and aligoté respectively. Small amounts of rosé and sparkling wines are also produced.

And though chardonnay-dominated Chablis and gamay-dominated Beaujolais are officially part of the Burgundy wine region, wines from thEse sub-regions are usually referred to by their own names rather than as Burgundy wines.

There are 100 appellations in Burgundy and these are classified into four quality categories: Bourgogne, village, premier cru and grand cru.

An appellation is a legally defined, protected geographical indication of where the grapes for a wine have been grown.

The Côte d’Or is where Burgundy’s most famous and most expensive wines come from, and where all grand cru vineyards of Burgundy, apart from Chablis grand cru, are situated.