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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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:
into three parts; Beaune in North, Meursault, Santenay. Radical
changes in soil from marl to limestone, which is washed down hillsides
commune in Beaune. 570 acres. Mostly red. Corton only Grand Cru
red. Corton Charlemagne only Grand Cru white.
Savigny-Les-Beaune & Pernand-Vergelesses:
softer reds about 20% whites.
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.
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.
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
Rully, Givry, Mercury, Montangy:
styles, but can be the best values.
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
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.