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Region in Focus: Burgundy

Wine Regions  /  Jun 23  /  BY VIVANT

Region in Focus: Burgundy

by VIVANT

Burgundy is home to some of the best, most terroir-driven wines in the world. It was here, actually, that the concept of terroir was born; in the Middle Ages, Benedictine and Cistercian monks—the region’s first vignerons—studied and documented nuances in the soil. Burgundy’s prestigious bottles command high prices, and producers are fiercely protective of the area’s traditions and reputation. Located in eastern France, the region is a narrow strip that stretches from the south of Champagne to the north of Beaujolais. Burgundy’s influence, however, is global; its lauded Pinot Noir and Chardonnay have inspired winemakers all over the world, particularly in California and Oregon. Read on for a deep-dive on the region. 

History 

In the first century B.C., the Romans conquered Gaul (now France) and brought vines to Burgundy. Wine production flourished in subsequent centuries, but it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that the region entered a pivotal turning point. 

The fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity brought abbeys and monasteries to Burgundy. Monks farmed the land for the Church and the dukes of Burgundy, making wine for religious reasons and developing winemaking methods that are still used today. Their efforts established a wine trade across Europe and cemented wine as a symbol of power and prestige. 

After the French revolution of the late 18th century, land confiscated from the nobility and religious institutions was broken up and auctioned off to the public. This marked the beginning of Burgundy’s modern wine industry.

Geography & Sustainability 

Burgundy follows the Saône River in eastern France; the core of the region is located between Dijon in the north and Mâcon in the south. It has a continental climate, with warm summers, cold winters, and in the early spring a high threat of hail and frost that can significantly impact a year’s harvest.

In the Mesozoic era, approximately 200 million years ago, Burgundy was part of a large inland sea. The disappearance of the sea led to limestone formations that give Burgundy wines their signature zesty minerality. The degree to which this quality shines through is dependent on a variety of factors, from altitude and erosion to the composition of the soil (which is layered with marl, limestone, sand, and clay). 

Growers in Burgundy are increasingly committed to preserving the land for future generations. In 2018, the Burgundy Wine Board and other wine-growing organizations signed a regional charter on behalf of the area’s vignerons, committing to study and limit the environmental and health risks from pest and disease control products.

According to a 2018 Agriculture Biologique en Bourgogne study, there was a 180-percent increase in certified organic domaines in Burgundy over a 10-year period beginning in 2008.

Subregions

Burgundy has five main subregions stretching from north to south, each with its own unique personality. The farther south you go, the warmer the weather, which influences the style of the wine.

The winemaking region starts with Chablis in the north. It’s so far north that it’s actually closer to Champagne than it is to the rest of Burgundy. Chablis has a cool climate and its best vineyards grow in the area’s signature Kimmeridgian soil, which is composed of limestone with marine fossils. VIVANT producers Domaine Corinne et Jean-Pierre Grossot and Domaine Isabelle et Denis Pommier, who both farm organically, make great examples of typical Chablis wines.

Then you have the central, most prestigious part of the region: the Côte d’Or, which is divided into the Côte de Nuits in the north and the Côte de Beaune in the south. This is where you’ll see the highest concentration of “Grand Cru” and “Premier Cru” vineyards, the terroir-based classification in Burgundy. Montrachet and Romanée-Conti are among the most famous examples of Grands Crus. The Côte d’Or has predominantly brown limestone soils, with some marl and clay mixed in.

To discover wines from the Côte de Nuits, check out VIVANT producers like the biodynamic Domaine Rossignol-Trapet in Gevrey-Chambertin and Domaine Antoine Lienhardt, who is certified organic and farms with biodynamic principles. In Côte de Beaune, try the biodynamic Domaine Huber-Verdereau; the organic Domaine Rougeot Père & Fils in Meursault; and Château de Pommard, which is organic and currently undergoing biodynamic conversion.

Traveling farther south, you’ll reach the Côte Chalonnaise. While Côte d’Or wines are highly sought after and expensive, the southern subregions are where you can find the best bang for your buck. The limestone here is mixed in with more sand, clay and marl. The climate is noticeably warmer than its neighbors to the north. Get a taste of this subregion by giving VIVANT producer Domaine de la Luolle a try. 

Finally, the Mâconnais is the most southerly region of Burgundy, and the warmest. Like the Côte Chalonnaise, it's a great source for good-value wines made for everyday drinking. VIVANT producer Domaine Cornin has been making aromatic Chardonnay in this area for generations. 

Key Grapes & Wine Styles 

The two main grapes in Burgundy are Chardonnay for the whites and Pinot Noir for the reds, although vignerons also grow smaller quantities of Gamay, Aligoté, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc.

Chablis exclusively makes Chardonnay. Because of the appellation’s cool climate, the wines tend to be leaner, and the Kimmeridgian soil often lends chalky minerality to the wines. Chablis winemakers don’t use much new oak, so you don’t get the plush, creamy notes found in some Chardonnays farther south.

In the Côte de Nuits, nearly all of the wine is red made from Pinot Noir (the rest is Chardonnay). This is also where most of Burgundy’s Grands Crus are located: 24 out of 33 of them are in the Côte de Nuits, such as Romanée-Conti. These wines are elegant, with fresh red fruits like cherry and strawberry and the occasional earthy or spicy note. Côte de Nuits reds can be kept for ageing for a long time and are a collector’s favorite for this reason.

The Côte de Beaune is most famous for its white wines; however, the area produces a larger quantity of Pinot Noir. The whites are generally medium- to full-bodied, with ripe orchard and stone fruit notes, some spice, round mouthfeels, and toasty, buttery details from the use of new oak. There are eight Grands Crus here, including the famous Montrachet.

Wines from the Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais also display riper fruits, spice and plush textures. They tend to have less complexity and are perfect for easy, everyday drinking. The Mâconnais produces more white wine than red, whereas the Côte Chalonnaise is more evenly split between Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

There are some outliers from the traditional Pinot Noir-Chardonnay duo that Burgundy is known for. The generic Bourgogne AOC allows the grape varieties Aligoté and Pinot Gris in its white blends, and Gamay for its reds. If you see Coteaux Bourguignons on a label, it’s likely a Gamay-Pinot Noir or Chardonnay-Aligoté blend. Single-variety Bourgogne Aligoté bottlings have also gained popularity in recent years. Another oddity, Saint-Bris, is an appellation near Chablis solely dedicated to Sauvignon Blanc.

VIVANT

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