The region of Burgundy has become synonymous with high quality red wines, but in actual fact the region consistently produces a wide variety of fine wines of many different styles, rigorously protected by French wine laws designed to keep reputations and quality at a very high level. The region benefits greatly from a warm and sunny summer climate, which, coupled with the excellent quality soils which typify the region, and centuries of experience and expertise, has led to the region being known all over the world for the excellence of its produce. The majority of grapevines grown here are of the Pinot Noir varietal, which has helped Burgundy become known as the definitive region for elegant and smooth red wines, but Chardonnay grapes and many others are also grown in abundance and used to make both still and sparkling wines. The roots of Burgundy are the roots of French history. The Grand Duchy of Burgundy covered much of eastern France, and was dotted with castles and monasteries, centers of power, knowledge and wealth. It was early monks who planted the first vineyards, studied variations of soils and terroir, mapped the Cote d'Or and invented the idea of cru.
After the French Revolution, the monasteries were disbanded, and while some aristocrats managed to hold on to their vineyard properties intact, the vineyards of the common people were divided and subdivided over generations of marriage, intermarriage, and inheritance law. Modern Burgundian growers might own several small plots of vines in many different villages; the lots from each vinified and bottled into separate wines. Whereas a Bordeaux producer might sell one or two wines under his estate name, a Burgundy producer might make ten or more different wines. To give it another spin, the 125 acre Grand Cru vineyard Clos de Vougeot had one owner at the time of the Revolution. Today, it has over 80!
Burgundy has five distinct regions: from north to south they are: Chablis, Cote d'Or (divided into the Cote de Nuits in the south and Cotes de Beaune in the north), Cote Chalonaise, Maconnais and Beaujolais. The Cote d'Or has 28 different wine-producing villages or communes, surrounded by a total of 20,000 acres of vineyards. Burgundy is known for many expressions of two great varietals: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In addition, there is fruity, lively Gamay from Beaujolais and lemony-tart Aligote, planted in lesser vineyard sites. The term Domaine is commonly used in Burgundy to refer to a vine-growing and winemaking estate.
In Burgundy, more so than almost any other wine region except perhaps Alsace and Germany, classification of vineyard land depends upon terroir, and more specifically soil. The entire Cote lies on a bedrock of limestone, as opposed to the gravels and granite of the Medoc. Over the centuries, Burgundian winemakers became convinced that there are quantifiable differences in wine quality from one plot of land to another. Thus, in Burgundy one can find a Grand Cru rated vineyard a few meters from a humble Village. As a general rule, the best sites are considered to be those situated midway on well-drained hillsides, with maximum exposure to heat and light. As you drive north to south along the Route des Grand Crus, look to your right for a view of many of the finest vineyards. Cotes d'Or
Cotte d'Or: The "Golden Slope" has two distinct parts: the Cotes de Nuits and the Cotes de Beaune. The Cotes de Nuits is the northern section, beginning in on the outskirts of Dijon, with the town of Nuits-St-Georges at the center. It is 12 miles long, with 3500 acres of sloping vineyards, planted mostly to Pinot Noir. The best vineyard sites face east or southeast and are a mixture of limestone, clay and marl.
Villages of the Cotes de Nuits:
The Cotes de Beaune begins where the "Nuits" ends at the hill of Corton. The area is roughly double that of its neighbor, with about 7500 plated acres, and gentler in slope. Most of the wine is Pinot Noir, but this is where you'll also find the classic white Burgundies from Chardonnay that thrives where the limestone breaks through.
Villages of the Cotes de Beaune:
Cote Chalonnaise: An area of irregular geography between the Cote d'Or to the north and the Maconnais and Beaujolais to the south, the Cote Chalonnaise features cooler temperatures and exposures, with many lofty vineyards at 1,000 feet or more. The whites are planted to limestone soils around Montagny and Rully; the reds to the heavy clay of Mercurey and Givrey. Although conditions are more uncertain than the Cote d'Or, wines from good producers can be a great value. Along with the usual suspects Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the Cote Chalonnaise produces some Gamay and Aligote. The village of Bouzeron is considered to produce the best Aligote of Burgundy.Maconnais
Maconnais: Proceeding southward, the Maconnais features a warmer climate and the famed rock of Solutrr, which dominates the landscape overlooking the Chardonnay vineyards of Pouilly-Fuisss. Maconnais produces the same grapes as the rest of Burgundy: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gamay and Aligote. However, the wines are quite different in style from those of the Cotes d'Or, somewhat less opulent in the case of Pinot Noir, and slightly fatter and riper for Chardonnay. Some believe the origins of the varietal Chardonnay may be found in the Maconnais village of the same name.