Burgundy wine ( or Vin
de Bourgogne) is wine made in the Burgundy region in eastern France.
most famous wines produced here - those commonly referred to as
Burgundies - are red wines made from Pinot
grapes or white wines made from Chardonnay
grapes. Red and white wines are also
made from other grape varieties, such as Gamay
respectively. Small amounts
of rosé and sparkling wine are also produced in the region.
formally part of Burgundy wine region, but wines from those
subregions are usually referred to by their own names rather than
as "Burgundy wines".
Burgundy has a higher number of appellations d'origine
(AOCs) than any other French region, and is
often seen as the most terroir
-conscious of the French wine regions.
The various Burgundy AOCs are classified
from carefully delineated
vineyards down to more
non-specific regional appellations. The practice of delineating
vineyards by their terroir in Burgundy go back to Medieval times,
when various monasteries
played a key role
in developing the Burgundy wine industry.
Geography and climate
Burgundy region runs from Auxerre in the north
down to Mâcon in the
south, or down to Lyon if the
Beaujolais area is included as part of
, a white
wine made from Chardonnay grapes, is produced in the area around
Auxerre. Other smaller appellations near to Chablis include
, which produces red wines and
, which produces white
wines from Sauvignon Blanc
south of Chablis is the Côte d'Or, where Burgundy's most famous and most expensive
wines originate, and where all Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy
(except for Chablis Grand Cru) are situated. The Côte d'Or itself
is split into two parts: the Côte de Nuits which starts just south of Dijon and runs till
Corgoloin, a few kilometers south of the town of Nuits-Saint-Georges, and the Côte de Beaune which starts at Ladoix and ends at
The wine-growing part of this area in
the heart of Burgundy is just long, and in most places less than
wide. The area is made up of tiny villages surrounded by a
combination of flat and sloped vineyards on the eastern side of a
hilly region, providing some rain and weather shelter from the
prevailing westerly winds. The best wines - from "Grand Cru
" vineyards - of this region are usually
grown from the middle and higher part of the slopes, where the
vineyards have the most exposure to sunshine and the best drainage,
while the "Premier Cru" come from a little less favourably exposed
slopes. The relatively ordinary "Village" wines are produced from
the flat territory nearer the villages. The Côte de Nuits contains
24 out of the 25 red Grand Cru appellations in Burgundy, while all
of the region's white Grand Crus are in the Côte de Beaune. This is
explained by the presence of different soils
which favour Pinot Noir and Chardonnay respectively.
Further south is the Côte
, where again a mix of mostly red and white wines
are produced, although the appellations found here such as Mercurey
are less well known than their
counterparts in the Côte d'Or.
Below the Côte Chalonnaise is the Mâconnais
region, known for producing large
quantities of easy-drinking and more affordable white wine. Further
south again is the Beaujolais
famous for fruity red wines made from Gamay
Burgundy experiences a continental climate characterized by very
cold winters and hot summers. The weather is very unpredictable
with rains, hail, and frost all possible around harvest time.
Because of this climate, there is a lot of variation between
vintages from Burgundy.
Harvest time in the Chablis Premier
Cru of Fourchaume.
There is archaeological evidence of vine-growing in Burgundy being
established in the second century AD, although it has been
speculated that Celts
may have been growing
vines in the region already when the Romans
BC. The earliest recorded praise of Burgundy wine was written in
591 by Gregory of Tours
compared it to the Roman wine Falernian
Monks and monasteries of the Roman
have had an important influence on the history
of Burgundy wine. The first known donation of a vineyard to the
church was by king Guntram
in 587, but the
influence of the church became important in Charlemagne
's era. The Benedictines, through their Abbey of Cluny founded in 910, became the first truly big Burgundy
vineyard owner over the following centuries. Another order which
exerted influence was the Cistercians,
founded in 1098 and named after Cîteaux, their first
monastery, situated in Burgundy. The Cistercians
created Burgundy's largest wall-surrounded vineyard, the Clos de
Vougeot, in 1336.
More importantly, the Cistercians,
extensive vineyard owners as they were, were the first to notice
that different vineyard plots gave consistently different wines.
They therefore laid the earliest foundation for the naming of
and the region's terroir
Since Burgundy is land-locked, very little of its wines left the
region in Medieval times, when wine was transported in barrels
, meaning that waterways provided the only
practical means of long-range transportation. The only part of
Burgundy which could reach Paris in a practical way was the area
around Auxerre by means of
This area includes Chablis, but had much
more extensive vineyards up until the 19th century. These were the
wines referred to as vin de Bourgogne
in early texts. The
wines from Côte d'Or would then be called (vin de) Beaune
wines first became famous in the 14th century, during the Babylonian Captivity of the
Papacy in Avignon, which was
reachable by rivers Saône and Rhône after some overland transport.
extravagance of the papal court, "Beaune" was generally seen as the
finest wine, and better than anything that was available in
Rome at that time.
The status of Burgundy wines continued in the court of the House of Valois
, which ruled as Dukes of Burgundy
for much of the 14th and
15th centuries. It is from this era we have the first reliable
reference to grape varieties in Burgundy. Pinot Noir was first
mentioned in 1370 under the name Noirien, but it is believed that
it was cultivated earlier than that, since no other grape variety
associated with Medieval Burgundy is believed to have been able to
produce red wines of a quality able to impress the papal court. On
August 6, 1395, Duke Philip the Bold
issued a decree concerned with safeguarding the quality of Burgundy
wines. The duke declared Gamay, which was a higher-yielding grape
than Pinot Noir in the 14th century as it is today, unfit for human
consumption and banned the use of organic fertilizer
probably increased yields even further to the detriment of quality.
High-quality white Burgundy wines of this era were probably made
, which is known as a
quality grape in northeastern France in this time. Fromenteau is
probably the same variety as today's Pinot
. Chardonnay is a much later addition to Burgundy's
In the 18th century, the quality of roads in France became
progressively better, which facilitated commerce in Burgundy wines.
The first négociant
houses of the
region were established in the 1720s and 1730s. In the 18th century,
Burgundy and Champagne were rivals for the lucrative Paris market, which
Champagne had earlier access to.
The two regions overlapped
much in wine styles in this era, since Champagne was then primarily
a producer of pale red still wines rather than of sparkling wines.
A major work on Burgundy wines written by Claude Arnoux
in 1728 deals with the famous
red wines of Côte de Nuits and the Œil-de-Perdrix
pink wines of Volnay
, but only briefly mentions white wines.
After Burgundy became incorporated in the Kingdom of France, and
the power of the church decreased, many vineyards which had been in
the church's hands were sold to the bourgeoisie from the 17th
century. After the French
of 1789, the church's remaining vineyards were
broken up and from 1791 sold off. The Napoleonic inheritance laws
then resulted in
the continued subdivision of the most precious vineyard
holdings, so that some growers hold only a
row or two of vines
. This led to the emergence
who aggregate the
produce of many growers to produce a single wine. It has also led
to a profusion of increasingly small family-owned wineries
, exemplified by the dozen plus "Gros"
The awareness of the difference of quality and style of Burgundy
wines produced from different vineyards goes back to Medieval
times, with certain climats
more highly rated than others. In 1855, the same year as the famous
Wine Official Classification
was launched, Dr. Jules Lavalle
published an influential book
which included an unofficial classification of the Burgundy
vineyards. This classification was formalized by the Beaune
Committee of Agriculture in 1861, and consisted of three classes.
Most of the "first class" vineyards of the 1861 classification were
made into Grand Cru appellations
when the national AOC legislation was
implemented in 1936.
Burgundy wine has experienced much change over the past
seventy-five years. Economic depression during the 1930s was
followed by the devastation caused by World War II. After the War,
returned home to their unkempt vineyards.
The soils and vines had suffered and were sorely in need of
nurturing. The growers began to fertilize, bringing their vineyards
back to health. Those who could afford it added potassium
, a mineral fertilizer that contributes
to vigorous growth. By the mid-1950s, the soils were balanced,
yields were reasonably low and the vineyards produced some of the
most stunning wines in the 20th century.
Understandably, the farmers had no inclination to fix what wasn't
broken. So for the next 30 years, they followed the advice of
advised them to keep spraying their vineyards with chemical
fertilizers, including potassium. While a certain amount of
potassium is natural in the soil and beneficial for healthy growth,
too much is harmful because it leads to low acidity levels, which
adversely affect the quality of the wine.
As the concentration of chemicals in the soil increased, so did the
yields. In the past 30 years, yields have risen by two-thirds in
the appellations contrôlées
vineyards of the Côte d'Or,
from 29 hectoliters per hectare (yearly average from 1951 to 1960)
to almost 48 hectoliters per hectare (1982-91), according to a
study by the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine. With
higher yields came wines of less flavor and concentration. Within
30 years, the soils had been significantly depleted of their
The period between 1985 and 1995 was a turning point in Burgundy.
During this time many Burgundian renewed efforts in the vineyards
and gradually set a new course in winemaking. All this led to
deeper, more complex wines. Today, the Burgundy wine industry is
reaping the rewards of those efforts.
Wine characteristics and classification
Burgundy is in some ways the most terroir
-oriented region in France; immense attention
is paid to the area of origin, and in which of the region's 400
types of soil a wine's grapes are grown. As opposed to Bordeaux,
where classifications are producer-driven and awarded to individual
, Burgundy classifications are
geographically-focused. A specific vineyard or region will bear a
given classification, regardless of the wine's producer. This focus
is reflected on the wine's labels where appellations are most
prominent and producer's names often appear at the bottom in much
The main levels in the Burgundy classifications, in descending
order of quality, are: Grand crus
, village appellations, and
finally regional appellations:
Chablis wines are labeled using a similar hierarchy of
Grand Cru, Premier Cru and Village wines, plus Petit Chablis as a
level below Village Chablis, whereas wines from Beaujolais are treated differently
- Grand Cru wines are produced from the small
number of the best vineyard
sites in the Côte d'Or, as strictly defined by the AOC laws.
Grand Cru wines make up 2% of the production at 35 hectoliters per
hectare. These wines are generally produced in a style meant for
cellaring, and typically need to be aged a minimum of 5–7 years.
The best examples can be kept for more than 15 years. Grand Cru
wines will only list the name of the vineyard as the appellation -
such as Corton or Montrachet - on the wine label, plus the Grand
Cru term, but not the village name.
- Premier Cru wines are produced from specific
vineyard sites that are still considered to be of high quality, but
not as well regarded as the Grand Cru sites. Premier Cru wines make
up 12% of production at 45 hectoliters/hectare. These wines often
should be aged 3–5 years, and again the best wines can keep for
much longer. Premier Cru wines are labelled with the name
of the village of origin, the Premier cru status, and usually the
vineyard name, for example, "Volnay 1er Cru Les Caillerets". Some Premier Cru
wines are produced from several Premier Cru vineyards in the same
village, and do not carry the name of an individual vineyard.
- Village appellation wines are produced from a
blend of wines from supposedly lesser vineyard sites within the
boundaries of one of 42 villages, or from one individual but
non-classified vineyard. Wines from each different village are
considered to have their own specific qualities and
characteristics, and not all Burgundy communes have a village
appellation. Village wines make up 36% of production at 50
hectoliters/hectare. These wines can be consumed 2–4 years after
the release date, although again some examples will keep for
longer. Village wines will show the village name on
the wine label, such as "Pommard", and sometimes - if applicable - the name of the
single vineyard or climat where it was sourced.
villages in Burgundy have appended the names of their Grand Cru
vineyards to the original village name - hence village names such
as "Puligny-Montrachet" and "Aloxe-Corton".
- Regional appellation wines are wines which are
allowed to produced over the entire region, or over an area
significantly larger than that of an individual village. At the
village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru level, only red and white wines
are found, but some of the regional appellations also allow the
production of rosé and sparkling wines as well as wines dominated
by other grape varieties than Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. These
appellations can be divided into three groups:
- AOC Bourgogne, the standard or "generic"
appellation for red or white wines made anywhere throughout the
region, and represent simpler wines which are still similar to the
village. These wines may be produced at 55 hectoliters/hectare.
These wines are typically intended for immediate consumption,
within 3 years after the vintage date.
- Subregional (sous-régional)
appellations cover a part of Burgundy larger than a village.
Examples are Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune, Bourgogne
Hautes-Côtes de Nuits and Mâcon-Villages. Typically, those communes
which do not have a village appellation, do have access to at least
one subregional appellation. This level is sometimes described as
intermediate between AOC Bourgogne and the village level.
- Wines of specific styles or other grape
varieties include white Bourgogne Aligoté (which is primarily
made with the Aligoté grape), red
Passe-Tout-Grains (which can contain up to two thirds Gamay)
and sparkling Crémant de
In general, producers are always allowed to declassify their wine
in steps to a lower ranked AOC if they wish to do so. Thus, a wine
from a Grand Cru vineyard may be sold as a Premier Cru from that
vineyard's village, a Premier Cru wine may be sold as a Village
wine and so on. This practice will almost invariably mean that the
declassified wine will have to be sold at a lower price, so this is
only practiced when there is something to be gained overall in the
process. One motive may be to only include vines of a certain age
in a Grand Cru wine, in
order to improve its quality and raise its prestige and price, in
which case the wine coming from younger vines may be sold as a
Premier Cru at a lower price. Overall, such a practice may allow a
producer to keep a higher average price for the wine sold.
In total, there are around 150 separate AOCs in Burgundy, including
those of Chablis and Beaujolais. While an impressive number, it
does not include the several hundred named vineyards (lieux-dits
) at the Village and Premier Cru
level which may be displayed on the label, since at the Village and
Premier Cru level, there is only one set of appellation rules per
village. The total number of vineyard-differentiated AOCs that may
be displayed is well in excess of 500.
One of the main wineries that produces
Crémant de Bourgogne
In 2003, the Burgundy vineyards (including Chablis but excluding
Beaujolais) covered a total of . Côte d'Or as a whole, including
Hautes Côtes de Beaune and Hautes Côtes de Nuits, covers , of which
the heartland of Côte de Nuits covers and Côte de Beaune .
Generally, the small wine growers sell their grapes to larger
producers-merchants called négociants
who blend and bottle the wine. The roughly 115 négociants who
produce the majority of the wine only control around 8% of the
area. Individual growers have around 67% of the area, but produce
and market only around 25% of the wine. Some small wineries produce
only 100-200 cases/year while many producers make a few thousand
cases/year. Grower/producer made wines can be identified by the
terms Mis en bouteille au domaine
, Mis au
, or Mis en bouteille à la
. The largest producer is Maison Louis Latour
in Beaune with
350,000 cases/year. The négociants may use the term Mis en
bouteille dans nos caves
(bottled in our cellars), but are
not entitled to use the estate bottled designation of the
Burgundy vineyards : The Côte de
For the white grapes, Chardonnay
most common. Another grape found in the region is Aligoté
, which tends to produce cheaper wines
which are higher in acidity. Aligoté from Burgundy is the wine
traditionally used for the Kir
drink, where it
is mixed with black currant
is also grown in the
Saint Bris appellation. Chablis, Mâcon wines and the Côte d'Or
whites are all produced from 100% Chardonnay grapes.
For the red grapes, all production in the Côte d'Or is focused on
the Pinot noir
grape while the Gamay
grape is grown in Beaujolais. In the Côte de Nuits region, 90% of
the production is red grapes.
Rules for the red Burgundy appellations, from regional to Grand Cru
level, generally allow up to 15% of the white grape varieties
Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc
and Pinot Gris
to be blended in, but this is not
widely practiced today.
Burgundy is home to some of the most expensive wines in the world,
including those of Domaine de la
, Domaine Leroy
, Emmanuel Rouget
, Domaine Dugat-Py
, Domaine Leflaive
and Domaine Armand Rousseau
some top vintage first growth Bordeaux
wines and a few iconic
from the New World
are more expensive than
some Grand Cru class Burgundies.
The British wine critic Jancis
emphasizes that "price is an extremely unreliable
guide" and that "what a wine sells for often has more to do with
advertising hype and marketing decisions than the quality contained
in the bottle." While Grand Crus often command steep prices,
village level wines from top producers can be found at quite
- A bit out of date, and doesn't cover all of Burgundy, but is
still the definitive guide. An updated version covering the whole
region is due in early 2008.
- Also in the process of being replaced, in two volumes - the
book covering the outlying regions is due in late 2007.
- Forward by Michael Broadbent,
again a little out of date but good coverage of the top
- Good inexpensive introduction to the region, and up to
- Franson, P. Labels Gone Wild. The Wine Enthusiast,
March, 2006, pages 28–33.
- Robinson, Jancis. Cheap at half the price? Wine, 2006
(February-March), 6(3), 30-31.
- Burgundy-Wines: History, accessed on October
- Wine Pages: Burgundy by Tom Cannavan, accessed
on October 12, 2008
- The Wine Doctor: Burgundy Wine Guide - Introduction
and the Côte d'Or, accessed on October 12, 2008
- Burgundy Wines: Labelling Grands crus, accessed
on October 12, 2008
- Burgundy Wines: Labelling Premiers crus,
accessed on October 12, 2008
- Burgundy Wines: Village appellations and
'climates', accessed on October 12, 2008
- Burgundy Wines: Regional appellations, accessed
on October 12, 2008
- Arrêté du 19 juillet 2004 relatif à la
composition des comités régionaux vins et eaux-de-vie de l'Institut
national des appellations d'origine - document listing
which regional committee is responsible for approving wines which
- Burgundy Report: Burgundy in Context, accessed
on October 12, 2008
- INAO: AOC rules for Chambertin and
Chambertin-Clos-de-Bèze, updated until March 26, 1998