Along with Bordeaux, the big heavy hitter amongst famous French wines is the Bourgogne, also known as the Burgundy region. If you are looking for fancy, (and who isn’t?), Burgundy wines can go toe-to-toe with the best wines in the world.
Red wines from Burgundy are usually made from pinot noir grapes, while white Burgundy wines made from chardonnay grapes.
Note: While Beaujolais wines are technically part of Burgundy, but its wines are treated differently. You can read more about Beaujolais wines here.
Even excluding Beaujolais, the Burgundy region has the highest number of AOCs in France, with no less than 37 Grand Crus. Some of the most famous names in French wines like Chablis Grand Cru, Corton, and Clos de Vougeot come from Burgundy.
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Classifications: How to pick a bottle
There are over 160 types of Burgundy wines, so here is what to look at when looking at wines from this region. First up, is the initials that are listed on a Burgundy bottle of wine.
- AOC – Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée
- AOP – Appellation d’Origine Protégée
- Vin de Pays – Wine of France
Burgundy wines have the highest number of AOCs in France. Until 2017, all Burgundy wines were AOC/AOP wines, with Vin de Pays being a new appellation for this region.
The concept of “terroir”, i.e. land and soil, is very important among Burgundy wines. A specific vineyard or region will bear a given classification, regardless of the wine’s producer (unlike Bordeaux wines, which are all about the producer in the Châteaux, and Alsace wines which are all about the grapes).
Beyond the appellations, Burgundy wines follow a strict hierarchical quality classification based on location, grapes, soil, climate, and more. In order of importance, they are Grand Cru Classé, Premiers Crus, Bourgogne village, and Bourgogne. You can read more about French wine labels here.
What grapes are used?
In Burgundy, unlike many other French wine regions, no blending of grapes is performed during the wine-making process, so the wines are predominantly made of one type of grape.
Dry red wines mostly made from pinot noir grapes, with a handful using the gamay grape. White wines made mainly from chardonnay grapes, with a small variety using aligoté grapes as well.
Best wines in this region
An easy way to pick one of the best Burgundy wines is to pick a grand cru. Chablis (a white wine) is the most famous name we tend to hear from Burgundy with 7 grand crus, but the nearby Côte de Beaune also has an equivalent 7 white grand crus in the area.
For red wines, Côte de Nuits has 24 grand crus, which are mostly pinot noir reds that are some of the most expensive wines in the world.
The most expensive Burgundy wines can cost anywhere from a few thousand euros to 6-7 € figures, if it is a particularly good vintage that has been kept in storage for several years, if not decades. (Not the sort of thing you want to pair with that last-minute pasta with pesto).
If you are looking for some higher-end names in Burgundy wines, have a look at:
But never fear, there are plenty of great Burgundy wines that are more reasonably priced, even some of those with the distinction “crus” and “grand crus” ranging from €50 on up.
What makes Burgundy wine special?
Burgundy is monocépage, meaning made from one grape variety and usually one vineyard, leaving less room for error.
In addition, the ability to age well makes Burgundy wines quite sought after (and expensive). Being able to hold on to a wine that gets better with age demands a premium, which is why a good vintage increases the price.
Appellations: Types of Burgundy Wines
1. Pinot Noir
As I mentioned earlier, a pinot noir is a type of grape. It is not possible to judge the quality of the wine just from the name “Cabernet Sauvignon”, you must check the label for the appellations noted above, and the name of the estate/domaine. It could be a table wine or a high-end AOC.
Pairing: Generally Pinot noirs go well with red meats like black angus, soft white cheeses, roasted chicken wings, etc. In the Burgundy region, gougères with cheese are offered during wine tastings, so don’t hesitate to do the same.
Buy a bottle of Burgundy here.
2. Bourgogne Rouge
A Bourgogne rouge is a type of Pinot Noir. If it only says Bourgogne Rouge on the label, it is likely an AOC or the new Vin de Pays label, without any Cru or Village distinction. (Which is not to say it is a bad wine, it just isn’t an expensive wine!)
Pairing: The Bourgogne rouge goes well with meats such as andouillette sausages, beef or rabbit.
Chablis AOC wines have a hierarchy of Grand Cru, Premier Cru, and Village wines, plus a special Petit Chablis which is a level below Village Chablis. All Chablis wines are white, made with the Chardonnay grape.
The chablis tends to be rather acid, sometimes with notes of mushroom.
Buy a bottle of Chablis here.
Chardonnay is a grape that is produced in several areas like the Loire, California, Canada, etc. Notably, it is also used in Champagne.
Chardonnay is used quite regularly in white wines from Burgundy, and it is the only permitted AOC grape variety in the Chablis region. If it only says Chardonnay on the label, you have to look at the rest of the labeling to see if it is a cru, village wine, AOC, or Vin de France.
Pairing: Chardonnays are quite dry so they go well with seafood like lobster or crab.
Buy a Burgundy Discovery Gift set here.
5. Côte de Nuits
Type: Mostly Red
Côte de Nuits is part of the famous Côte d’Or of Burgundy, which produces some of the finest wines in the world. There are 24 Grand Crus coming from this area, most of them Pinot Noirs.
Most of the grand cru vineyards are around the villages of Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St-Denis, Chambolle-Musigny, Vougeot, Vosne-Romanee, Flagey-Echezeaux, and Nuits-St-Georges.
Pairing: A full-bodied wine, the Côte de Nuits (red) goes well with meats like porc and beef. Also goes well with a fondue bourguignonne (beef fondue) and other local specialties.
6. Côte de Beaune
Type: Mostly White
The other part of Côte d’Or is the Côte de Beaune. Seven out of 8 Grand Crus from this area are white, and this area is known as one of the best in the world for white wines. With a hint of caramel, wines from this area tend to be quite smooth and fresh.
Pairing: Côte de Beaune wines go well with chicken, soft cheeses, seafood in sauce, etc.
Buy a bottle of Beaune here.
7. Côte Chalonnaise
Type: Red, White and Sparkling
Côte Chalonnaise is one of the more down-to-earth wine regions, where there are no Grand Crus. The area tends to produce a bit of everything, red wines from Mercurey and Givry, and white wines and crémants from Rully.
Buy a Burgundy Classic Gift set here.
Type: Mostly white
Wines from Mâcon are mostly white made from Chardonnay, with some big names among them: Pouilly-Fuissé , Pouilly-Vinzelles , Pouilly-Loché , Saint-Véran and Viré-Clessé. The wines are all quite diverse and of differing quality, ranging from crus to regular AOCs.
Pairing: Mâcon wines usually go well with lighter dishes like chicken or salmon in hollandaise sauce, ratatouille, or goat cheeses.
Buy a bottle of Macon wines here.
9. Pouilly Fuissé
The Pouilly Fuissé is a type of wine from Maçon, which often gets mixed up with the Pouilly Fumé from the Loire Valley. The Pouilly Fuissé is made from the Chardonnay grape (rather than the Fumé’s Sauvignon blanc grape).
The Pouilly Fuissé is a more complex wine with notes of flower, almonds, hazelnut.
Pairing: Pouilly Fuissé goes well with richer dishes like blanquette de veau, charcuterie, pâtés and terrines, and soft cheeses like camembert. (Try pairing it with an appetizer like baked camembert.)
Buy a bottle of Pouilly Fuissé here.
Another grape found in the region is the Aligoté which is used in white wine that is higher in acidity. Aligoté is usually floral with a touch of citrus.
These wines are a bit cheaper and so tend to be used in drinks like the apéritif Kir, where the wine is mixed with black currant liqueur.
Pairing: Aligotés go well with dishes like fried fish, hard cheeses like comté, escargot in puff pastry, etc.
Taste: Are Burgundies high in tannins?
The Burgundy red usually uses pinot noir grapes which have a thin skin, which is where the colour and tannins reside. Thus these wines have less tannins than most red wines, especially when you compare them to Bordeaux wines.
Even though they may be lower in tannins, the Burgundies still have the structure, acidity and flavor to do well when aged.
Burgundy wines are usually dry red wines (meaning they are not very sweet). These wines generally have full bodied, complex earthy flavors.
The white wines from Burgundy, like the Chablis and Chardonnays, tend to be light, dry, and acidic.
Should you chill your bottle?
Yes, the white wines from this region are usually served chilled. The red wines are not usually cooled, but if you do wish to, you can cool the bottle lightly in an ice bucket (avoid the fridge), to be served at slightly below room temperature.
What cheeses pair well with it?
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So do you prefer wines from Burgundy or wines from Bordeaux? Either way, as always remember to drink responsibly! If you enjoyed that article, you may want to read more about wine and cheese pairings here. A bientôt!