Burgundy Wines for Beginners
This is a real basic primer on a complicated topic. Burgundy is like next level confusing. Yes, I’ve cried at times when studying Burgundy. Just, like, a little tear. Just one…
I’m here to tell you some foundational information you need to know about the Burgundy wine region and why it’s one of the most amazing wine regions on the planet. (Also, one of the most expensive! For example, recent vintages from the iconic Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, often abbreviated to DRC, go for tens of thousands of dollars per bottle!
Firstly, Burgundy is an area of France. You can only call wine a Burgundy if it comes from the area of Burgundy. Over 200 million years ago, there was a tropical sea where Burgundy is today, and it left millions of fossils that created a soil that’s unique and rich in limestone. The soil actually makes the wine taste brighter and more mineral. It’s like this rocky thing that you can’t really describe, nor find, anywhere else in the world.
What regular person needs to know about wines from Burgundy.
Chardonnay is the major white grape in Burgundy, and Pinot Noir is the major red grape in Burgundy. Burgundy is a big, general area of France that has a lot of different places in it that you’ve probably heard of, a lot of really famous areas.
You also might notice that a lot of Burgundy producers have the exact same last name. That’s not a coincidence. They’re probably related. Napoleonic inheritance laws in France basically said that if a man owned property, like a vineyard, when he died, it would be split evenly among his children. A couple of generations later, each kid had, like, two rows of vines each. Not exactly conducive to excellent wine making…
So, some winemakers, called negociants, would go up to all of the little vineyards, the little, tiny parcels, buy all of their wine, and create their own wine under their own name. Efficiency!
Styles in the major areas.
Chablis is the northernmost area of Burgundy. Known for super-crisp, minerally white wines made of Chardonnay with a little to no oak. Next area is the Cote d’Or. “Cote” means slope or hill, and Cote d’Or means “golden slopes” in French. Sounds fancy already. The Cote d’Or is divided into two areas, the Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune.
(Editors Note: This is a great intro Chablis that’s sure to please most any wine drinker. It’s a Premier Cru for $35 – delicate, no butter-bomb here, flowers, lemon, and that Burgundy minerality. Take a sip here!)
Cote de Nuits, or “Hill of Nights” is known for Pinot Noir. Super famous areas for Pinot Noir include Gevrey-Chambertin and Vosne-Romanee are in the Cote de Nuits, so that’s kind of easy to remember. The Cote de Beaune is known for Chardonnay – easy to remember, because it sounds like bone, which is white. Cote de Beaune. Super famous areas for oaked Chardonnays like Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet all are in the Cote de Beaune.
Feelin’ fancy yet?
(Editors Note: Giving Vosne-Romanee a try can be a bit pricey, but well worth the exploration. Do it in the name of discovery! For around $70 try a Louis Latour Vosne-Romanee. Enjoy this while listening to Khalid’s layered, soulful, and addicting voice while enjoying a pleasant conversation with a couple of friends. Take a sip here!)
Beneath the Cote d’Or is the area of Cote Chalonnaise, which makes a really great range of red, white, and sparkling. Below that is the Maconnais, which is known for a more full-bodied Chardonnays, because as we get closer to the equator, it’s hotter. Just bigger, riper styles. Maconnais is probably best known for the area of Pouilly-Fuisse, and not to be confused with the area of Pouilly-Fume.
(Editors Note: For a great expression of the chardonnay grape from the Pouilly-Fuisse region, look no further than most any bottle produced by the Drouhin family. They’ve been producing top quality Burgundy wines for over 130 years, and the house is now run by the their 4th generation. Try Joseph Drouhin Pouilly-Fuisse 2015. For around $26 you’re getting a delicious, solid representation of the region by a top quality producer. Take a sip here!)
The last thing that you need to know about Burgundy if you want to be a serious, certified wine geek is the area of Beaujolais. Is that fun to say? Beaujolais. Beaujolais. Beaujolais. Beaujolais. The area of Beaujolais actually doesn’t use Pinot Noir. It uses the grape, Gamay. It’s lighter-bodied like Pinot Noir, but it has more of a grapey flavor.
Beaujolais is made in a lot of different styles. There’s Nouveau that comes out in November every year, and it’s meant to drink young. Then there’s Cru Beaujolais that is made from really, really special producers that are meant to age. Beaujolais is a gateway wine. It’s delicious. You’ve got to try it.
(Editor’s Note: Cru Beaujolais wines come from 1 of 10 designated areas. So when searching for Cru Beaujolais look for these 10 areas; Brouilly, Régnié, Chiroubles. These three are known to be lighter in body. For medium body Cru Beaujolais, look for Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, and Saint-Amour. For bolder, heavier Cru Beaujolais that can age in your cellar go for these regions: Chénas, Juliénas, Morgon, and Moulin-à-Vent. For under $20, go for a critically acclaimed Duboeuf Morgon Domaine Mont Chavy 2015. Take a sip here!)
That’s it, my super-basic entry to Burgundy. I hope that wasn’t too overwhelming. I know there’s a whole lot more to cover. We’ll get there. Don’t worry.
Now, check out my video episode below on Burgundy!
Cristie Norman is a certified sommelier and currently helps diners at the acclaimed Spago Beverly Hills as a resident Sommelier. She’s a bikini athlete and her wine creds include CMS and WSET Level 3. Check out her Instagram!