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March 03, 2020
For the first edition of Butlers wine guides we are going to start with the mammoth task of talking about one of the most complex regions in France, Burgundy. It is a topic that could easily require a 10 volume book series so I will try to keep it simple.
Burgundy is not one big set of vineyards, its split into five distinct areas. At the top is Chablis then heading south east is the Côte d'Or further south is Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais and Beaujolais. For this article we are going to focus on the first four on that list and come back to tackle Beaujolais another time.
The most important region in burgundy, this region is split into to areas, a north and a south. To the north is Côte de Nuits and to the south is the Côte de Beaune, in side these two areas there are many villages and towns. The name of these towns will feature on the label to indicate where the fruit comes from, it may also be followed by premier cru or grand cru. These indicate to the specific site within the village, only a few sites are given the status of Premier Cru, even less are Grand Cru. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Aligoté are the only grape varieties grown in the Côte d'Or
What makes Burgundy different to other regions in France? The region has a rustic feel, it is the definition of a simple life, a relationship between a grower and his vines. It does not feature any grand chateaus and unlike larger regions the average grower has only 4 hectares (10 acres) to work with.
Côte de Nuits vs Côte de Beaune, the former is the king of Grand Cru Pinot Noir and the later is the king of Grand Cru Chardonnay. Both varieties are grown through out the Côte d'Or each having a focus on one or the other. Each area has key villages with top sites, in the north there is Gevrey-Chambertin and Vosne-Romanée. These two are just a pick of the top sites for producing some of the worlds best Pinot Noir but there are a few more that are worth looking into. In the south the key villages are Meursault, Chassagne and Puligny Montrachet. In these three towns Chardonnay reins supreme with the wines having signature notes of popcorn and flint.
Here are two examples of the village system, on the left is Puligny Montrachet which is in the Côte de Beaune and on the right is Gevrey-Chambertin of the Côte de Nuits.
Heading further south of the Côte d'Or sits two regions also producing all three varieties. Similar to the Côte d'Or it has the same rustic feel, and is split into towns and villages. The wines don't have the same level of prestige as its norther counterpart but value and quality is what can be found. The regions features Premier Crus but not any Grand Crus.
In the Côte Chalonnaise the areas to look out for are Rully and Mercury, both produce quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Being further south these wines are softer with riper fruit, the whites are full of stone fruit and the reds often are lighter with red berries and earthy notes.
Below is a map of Rully, note the similar layout to the Côte d'Or with individual vineyards. Premier Crus from these towns are the ones to hunt out for a bargain.
In the northern part of the Côte Chalonnaise is a small town called Bouzeron, this town is of note for the grape variety Aligoté. Bouzeron is the only appellation which can produce a single-village Aligoté, this was granted in 1979 main to the co owner of Domaine Romanée-Conti. These wines are worth hunting out, but can be hard to do so. There are other options to try the Aligoté grape though, some producers make small quantities labeled as Bourgogne Aligoté which can be found throughout Burgundy.
Heading further south, the Mâconnais, a region stuck between Beaujolais. It suffers from not having an identity, it is dominated by large co-operatives making average wines in the shadow of what's possible further north. There are some exceptions to this rule, in the south is a small town called Pouilly-Fussié, from here well priced easy drinking styles of Chardonnay can be found. This is very much producer dependant though, so try looking out for wines with suffix highlighting a particular village or site. For example 'Roche de Solutré', these may be the way to drink quality at a lower price and could be a good starting point for anyone looking into drinking more Chardonnay.
Chablis sits about 100 miles north of the rest of Burgundy, this means it is actually closer to Paris. Originally it was part of a larger region that had 50'000 hectares of vines, this was one of the main regions supplying wine into Paris. Due to a louse called Phylloxera that attacks the vines, then the change in technology introducing trains and motorways transporting goods a different way and then the two world wars this left Chablis is a bad place. By 1945 it was reduced to 1'000 hectares, there has been lots of growth in the last twenty years, the reason it survived was the name. It meant something to have Chablis on the label.
There are four classifications for Chablis, at the top is Grand Cru then going down is Premier Cru, Chablis and Petit Chablis all are 100% Chardonnay. These indicate how well the vineyard is positioned, the Grand Cru sites all sit south facing on the side of the valley, this is important for sun exposure. Many say that the best Grand Cru site is 'Le Clos', it is 24 hectares of vines just to the east of the town. These wines are very sought after, especially in good vintages.
Whats this clay all the winos are talking about? Kimmeridgean clay is said to give Chablis its edge. Its an Ancient layer of limestone soil, lots of oyster shells have been found in the soil. This is what is said to give Chablis is minerals and stone like characteristics.
The map below shows how each of the sites that are of Cru status are on the southern side of the hills.
Tips for buying Burgundy and what Butler recommends trying.
Below are three wines well worth reading all of this blog for.
Domaine Henri Gouges is one of the most important domaines in Nuits St.Georges. The Gouges family have been there since 1919, now the domaine has 14.5 hectares including vines on 6 different Premier Crus in Nuits St.Georges. Production is small, with demand invariably outstripping supply and consequently wines from this domaine are becoming increasingly difficult to find.
Puligny has had its name on labels since 1879 and the history of this village is legendary. The ones to look out for are the ones that comes from its four Grand Cru sites are considered the best white wine in the world. Philippe (grandson of Meursault legend Paul Pernot) and his wife established this domaine in 2009 from her inherited vineyards. From this he creates terroir expressive styles, the oak is kept to a minimum to give the wines freshness. At its best it has an intensity, complexity and elegance that make you wonder how such a wine could be made from mere grape.
François took over from his father in 1990 with his wife Emmanuelle. The history for the estate goes back a few more generations that your average family, records show that François is the 11th generation to make wine in Mercurey.
With eleven Hectares under vine, reduced yields and the introduction of higher quality oak barrels, the wine from this domaine has never been so good.
'La Brigadiere' is a proper grown up Burgundy, with serious aromas of rich fruit and nuts, with a delightful lift of citrus.
Thanks for reading,
Written by Dan Orton
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