- Q & A
France - Burgundy
Burgundy is the northernmost area in the world that produces great red wines. It is quite cool, even in the growing season and very susceptible to frosts in spring and hail in autumn. Burgundians are a hearty lot, like their white counterparts in Germany, about half the vintages are good. But, when they're good, they're very good.
From 900 to the French Revolution in 1780, the vineyards of Burgundy were owned by church. After the revolution, the vineyards were broken up and sold to the workers who had tended them.
The primary grapes here are Chardonnay for whites, Pinot Noir and Gamay for red. Pinot gets its name from the term "pin," meaning "pine cone," because the clusters of grapes resemble pinecones on the vine. Noir means black. Most vines face east or Southeast to protect from the cold, wet winds from West. All great whites benefit from age. As much as 20 years is not uncommon.
Terms associated with Burgundy:
- Negocient -- Buys finished wine and usually blends different lots
from the same area to produce his wine. Since most of the premium
areas are so small and owned by so many, some own less than an
acre, no one can make money on his own production.
- Negocient-Eleveur -- Sometimes will contract with growers and
make wine from scratch. Or, will buy wine just barely fermented
and "elevate" it to premium status.
- Monopole -- A single vineyard owned by one firm and is the only
one who produces wine from there. Very rare.
- Clos -- A walled vineyard.
- Climat -- Field of vines, not necessarily walled.
- Chaptilization -- The adding of sugar in poor years to help bring up the alcohol levels. Many times overdone. Not too many years ago wines from the Rhone and Algeria were added for alcohol and color.
Burgundy is divided into five distinct areas:
1) Chablis, which produces all white wines from the Chardonnay grape. It is actually not connected to the rest of Burgundy (see map) but is about 75 miles Northwest.
2) The Cote d'Or (Slope of Gold), which in turn is divided between the north, called the Cotes de Nuits which produces almost all red wines (only 21,000 cases of white) and the South called the Cote de Beaune and produces most of the whites of Cote d'Or (about 600,000 cases) which is still only 27% of the total production.
3) Chalonnais producing red 82% and white 18%.
4) Maconnais 75% white, 25% red.
5) Beaujolais almost all red from Gamay grape.
Chablis - 5,000 acres. 1,300,000 cases.
Northernmost area in Burgundy. It is 75 miles southeast of Paris and 75 northwest of Beaune in the Yonne Valley. Serein River flows through the middle. Very dry tasting wines. Green and flinty when young; bigger and more expansive with age.
Chablis, like all Burgundy, is divided into Crus:
- Grand Cru-the best vineyards, min. 11% alcohol. Usually gives
the name of the vineyard on label and/or says Grand Cru. 52,000
- Premier Cru-Next best though sometimes can be better than Grand
Cru depending on the producer. Min. 10.5% Alc. Will usually have
designation or vineyard on label.
- Chablis-Usually best buys in good years. Min 10% alc.
- Petite Chablis- Min. 9.5% alc. Can be excellent buys in good years.
White Wine Areas:
Named after King Charlemagne who first planted white grapes at the insistence of his wife because he would stain his beard when drinking red. Considered the finest white after Le Montrachet. Grown on the upper slopes, only Grand Cru white in Aloxe-Corton
1,000 acres with 800 being AOC. 165,000 cases of white, 6,000 cases of red. Largest production of white in Cote d'Or. The 200 acres of Premier Cru vineyards. There are no Grand Crus. Tremendous variations between grapes grown on flatlands and those on slopes facing east, getting morning sun. Three best vineyards, Les Genevrieres, Les Perrieres and Les Charmes, are clustered together within sight of each other. Because there are multiple owners, each wine will be different. There 70 vintners in Meursault who produce their own wine. The Michelot family has been making wine here since before French Revolution. Wines tend to have pineapple richness and easier to drink when young due to malolactic fermentation.
500 acres of Chardonnay, 15 Pinot Noir. 100,000 cases. Means "bare mountain" because the soil is so poor and rocky, nothing else could grow on it. Most vineyards face Southeast. Only 4 miles south of Meursault. Wines have a slight smokey character, sturdier than Chassagne, much like Chablis but with more oak and fruit. Grand Crus: Batard- Montrachet, and Le-Montrachet; half of which are in Chassagne and all of Bienvenues- Montrachet and Chevalier- Montrachet. Also has 10 Premiers Crus.
800 acres. 83,000 cases red, 59,000 cases white. Best known for whites. 4 miles south of Puligny- Montrachet, best known for bats and truffles. Grand Crus are half of Batard- Montrachet and Le Montrachet, all of Criot-Batard- Montrachet. The town has no restaurant or café and less than 500 inhabitants.
4 miles west of Puligny. Newest AOC granted in 1971. Planted after WWII. 600 acres, 40,000 cases. Higher, dryer and colder than Chassagne. Nutty taste. 90% of inhabitants make living from wine.
19 acres 2600 cases. Considered the finest white in the world. Most owners own less than 1 acre. Typically the most expensive wine on release. Sits in a special plot, which gets sun as late as 9:00 PM at night, thus slowly maturing grapes to a golden richness few ever attain.
1,000,000 cases from 12,600 acres. Half is white.
More than half is produced from 15 co-ops, which tend to make better wines than growers, the opposite of other areas. Best known is Pouilly-Fuisse, 350,000 cases. Lugny most reasonably-priced co-op. Village wine usually better, designated communes better still. Saint Veran and Pouilly-Vinzelle can be as good as Fuisse for half the cost.
50,000 acres, 13,000,000 cases. Only 59,000 are white. Made from Chardonnay. Usually similar to Macon.
The premium grape growing area in Burgundy is the Cote d'Or. Only 30 miles long and no more than 5 miles wide at any point, it produces some of the finest and most expensive wines in the world. Approximately 20,000 acres produce 2,000,000 cases.
Cote D'Or Villages
Not normally as good as other village wines, like Rhone or Beaujolais, but better than simply Cote d'Or. All good village wines only use grapes from their area. Very few mix areas because each commune is worth more than a village designation. There are 30 Grand crus in the Cote d'Or.
From North to South, the main villages are as follows:
First commune in the Cote de Nuits. Many consider the Grand Crus in Fixin to be the finest wines in Burgundy. The climate is main reason. Only one hail storm in 40 years. Best village is Clos du Chapitre. In excellent years can be as good as Gevrey-Chambertin.
200,000 cases. Ancient village known for great wine since the 8th Century. Capitol of Gevrey took name of famous vineyard, Chambertin, in 1847. Chambertin was owned by a peasant named Bertan who sold grapes to the monks who owned Clos de Beze´. He felt than he could make wine as good they, so he began to make his own. Eventually, Champ de Bertin (trans. "the area of Bertin") became even more highly regarded than Clos de Beze´, so the Monks hyphenated their name with Chambertin and renamed it Chambertin Clos du Bezé.
Chambertin was the favorite of Napoleon who's troops would salute the vineyard as they passed by. He mixed wine with water, though and always took a drink of Chambertin before each battle, except Waterloo. Vineyards of Chambertin are all Grand Cru and all excellent: Chambertin-30 acres, 5500 cases, 20 owners. Clos de Beze´, 38 acres, 5100 cases, 12 owners; Latricieres, Mazis and Charmes.
Small, peaceful village producing only 44,000 cases. Until the 1920's sold as either Gevrey-Chambertin or Chambolle Musigny. Given AOC status in 1937. Grand crus are Bonnes Mares and Clos St. The wines are lighter than its famous neighbor, Clos de la Roche which produces the best wine in Morey-St-Denis, usually bigger, fuller wines like Chambertin. Only Premiere Cru elevated to grand cru is Clos de Lambrays.
51,000 cases. Chambolle was a leper colony in 1350. The best vineyard is Musigny. City of Chambolle took name in 1882. 26 acres, 18 of which is owned by Comte de Vogue. The earth here is so prized that vineyard workers had to shake the dirt off their boots after working. Bonnes-Mares is typically bigger and bolder than Musigny.
So. East of Chambolle. 124 acres. 80 Owners. 21,000 cases, 500 white. Most variable and least value of any Burgundy. Three types of wine can be made depending on whether grapes are grown on hillsides where drainage is perfect and soil deeper, middle is similar or at bottom where soil is mostly clay which accounts for poor drainage and causes mildew.
The Cistercian Monks owned Vougeot from 900 to 1790. They planted grapes and built the famous wall in the 12th Century. Only time in history it was controlled by one owner.
After the French Revolution in 1790, a Colonel in the French army gained notoriety by having his soldiers salute the vineyards as they marched by. The land was sold at auction to a wood merchant in the early 1800s, but he couldn't meet the payments. It was auctioned again in 1828 to a gunsmith. After his death in 1861, many disputes continued until it was sold to a speculator and five negocients who sold it to 15 others in 1891. They sold it to 19 speculators in 1920 and so on until the present 80.
Small town of 650, no hotel. Most inhabitants are involved in wine trade. Most famous, finest and expensive wines in the world. Winemaking goes back to the 7th century. The village was destroyed by Prussian war in 1870. Most renowned estate is the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti consisting of two monopoles; Romanee-Conti, 4 3/4 acres making 250 to 800 cases and La Tache, 15 acres making 1800 cases. Also own 9 acres each in Richbourg (20 acres) and Grands Echezeaux (22 acres), 11 acres in Echezeaux (75 acres) 13 acres in Romanee St. Vivant (just bought remaining 10 acres at $700,000/acre and 1 3/4 acres in Montrachet. Vineyards have changed hands only 9 times in 700 years. In 1749, 150 wagonloads of rocks were brought in to help drainage. La Romanee is only 2 acres, the smallest Grand Cru vineyard in France and it owned by 4 owners.
Nuits St. Georges:
Largest village in the Côte de Nuits. Germans settled the village in late the 19th Century. 640 acres, 100,000 cases. 700 white.
Cote de Beaune:
Divided into three parts; Beaune in North, Meursault, Santenay. Radical changes in soil from marl to limestone, which is washed down hillsides after rains.
First commune in Beaune. 570 acres. Mostly red. Corton only Grand Cru red. Corton Charlemagne only Grand Cru white.
Savigny-Les-Beaune & Pernand-Vergelesses:
Make softer reds about 20% whites.
Capitol of Burgundy. The Hospice de Beaune has a yearly auction to benefit the hospital. The auction started as a fundraiser for the hospital in 1300. They continue today even though the hospital closed in 1877. Attendees pay inflated prices for barrels of wine, but the auction sets tone for the vintage. The quality within even the Grand Cru vineyards can vary greatly depending on who is the producer.
All premier crus. 1750 acres. Usually hard when young, but open up with time.
Was a favorite of the Italian Kings in the 6th century. Louis XI confiscated the entire vintage of 1477 and brought it to his Chateau. Also favorite of Louis XIV and XV. Was made in a lighter, almost blanc de noir style until the Revolution when the taste for red changed the wines. Similar in feminine grace and style to Côte de Nuits, but varies by producer. Seems to be more consistent than most. Upper area is Premier Cru, lower is not.
Majority of large estates. 975 acres, 132,000 cases red. 1800 white. 25 owners own more than 24 acres each. Wines need more age, tend to be consistent like Volnay, a little harder like Pommard. Good values.
Rully, Givry, Mercury, Montangy:
Lighter styles, but can be the best values.
50,000 cases, 13,000,000 cases. 60,000 white. 12 appellations. Almost exclusively made from the gamay grape. Most vineyards are situated on western slopes and get afternoon sun. Mild climate except for occasional hail which can destroy vineyards. There are 40 Villages (Beaujolais Villages) producing better wine than regular Beaujolais. Usually drunk in 2-3 years. The Single Vineyard Crus from 9 large territories are the best wines in Beaujolais and can age several years.
Nouveau is made by carbonic maceration. The grapes are not crushed, but stacked on top of each other in a closed container. As the weight of the top grapes crush the bottom ones, they begin to slowly ferment because the yeast on the outer side of the grape skin comes in contact with the sugar in the grape. It turns part of the sugar into alcohol and part into carbon dioxide gas. The pressure, which gently builds in the closed tank, starts to break the skins of the grapes at the top and continues fermenting. Thus the term which means maceration by carbon dioxide. This is what accounts for the very gentle process, which preserves the fruit at the expense of tannin and ageability. Consequently, Beaujolais should be consumed within 3 months of release.