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For many years, this revered wine region has been known to most American wholesalers, retailers, buyers, and consumers as Burgundy—but that’s about to change. In an effort to shore up its identity as one of France’s most iconic brands, the illustrious French wine region has decided to reclaim its French name—Bourgogne—in export markets around the world. The term Burgundy and other iterations of the name in foreign markets, such as Burgund in Germany, are now being phased out. Through appellation designations and regional labeling, the name Bourgogne has already been applied to nearly all the wines produced in the region.
Bourgogne is one of the world’s most prized wine regions—it’s also one of the most complex. It may seem deceptively simple at first, particularly when you consider that only two varieties represent 91 percent of the grapes grown in the region. White Bourgogne wines are typically made from Chardonnay, and reds from Pinot Noir. But you won’t find either of these varieties listed on Bourgogne wine labels.
Because these two noble grapes have a prodigious ability to assimilate the characteristics of the land—or terroir—where they’re cultivated, wines produced from them are often referred to as terroir wines. The styles of these wines can shift dramatically between different villages, and even among wines made with grapes from the same vineyard.
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Certain historical plots in Bourgogne’s vineyards have been delineated according to their geologic climatic, and cultural significance and classified as Climats. Each one has its own distinct relief, aspect, elevation, vegetation, and soil makeup. These factors transmit specific organoleptic qualities to the region’s wines, guaranteeing their unique characteristics. Bourgogne is the only wine region in the world that so meticulously links its wines to their place of origin and production through such precise classifications as the Climats.
The area under vine—nearly 30,000 hectares—is relatively small compared with other prominent winemaking regions, such as Bordeaux and Napa Valley. Yet vineyards in Bourgogne are often owned by multiple smallholders. It’s not uncommon for a single vineyard or even Climat to be divided among numerous individuals or families. In some cases, an owner may possess only a tiny plot, such as a few rows of vines, in a well-known vineyard. For example, the famed Clos de Vougeot, a 120-acre walled Climat on the Côte de Nuits, has more than 80 owners.
Located in the east central part of France, Bourgogne’s soils and topography yield a wide array of distinctive wines. There are 29,067 hectares under vine in the region.
The following are the main winegrowing areas of Bourgogne:
- Chablis, Grand Auxerrois, and Châtillonnais
- Côte de Nuits and Hautes Côtes de Nuits
- Côte de Beaune and Hautes Côtes de Beaune
- Côte Chalonnaise and Couchois
Overall, the landscape is hilly. The grapes, particularly the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varieties, benefit from the eastern (and southeastern) aspects of the region’s gentle slopes. The topography becomes more mountainous in the south. The soils and subsoils range from lime-rich, calcareous clay in areas like Côte de Beaune and Chablis—where Chardonnay thrives—to limestone marl, which is prevalent in the Côte de Nuits and is ideal for Pinot Noir.
Bourgogne has a continental climate typically characterized by cool, crisp weather in autumn; cool temperatures and rainfall in spring; cold, and sometimes severe, winters; and hot summers. However, it also experiences contrasting climatic conditions from maritime and Mediterranean influences; the alternating effects of these determine the amount of rainfall and sunshine, as well as temperatures, which contribute to the variations in wine quality from one vintage to another. The climate is favorable for early-ripening varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Certain areas, such as Chablis, though, are particularly susceptible to spring frosts. Hailstorms and summer rainfall, which can lead to gray rot, can also threaten vines.
Bourgogne has a rich history, with evidence of vineyards dating to the first century AD. During the medieval era, Bourgogne wines were heavily influenced by monastic culture. Several generations of Valois dukes took on the management of cultivation from 1363 through 1477, making wine a key export.
Until the French Revolution, most of the region’s vineyards continued to be cultivated either by the French nobility or the church. With the exception of a catastrophic period between the 1850s and 1890s, when the region’s vines were gravely affected by disease (powdery mildew) and then pests (Phylloxera aphids), Bourgogne has continued to prosper and strengthen its reputation as a producer of some of the world’s finest wines.
In 2015 the Climats de Bourgogne were designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. There are 1,247 Climats along the 30-mile stretch that runs from Dijon to Santenay. Like most of the Bourgogne wine region, this famed narrow strip of vineyard is divided into many small plots. Each is precisely divided into a hierarchy of Premiers and Grands Crus according to the microclimate and geologic condition that influence its wines. The distinction draws international recognition to this unique area; it celebrates the Climats and helps preserve the site’s cultural heritage for future generations.
Bourgogne’s appellation system is divided into four tiers. The lowest tier makes up about 50 percent of total production, while the highest tier represents less than 2 percent. There are 84 appellations d’origine côntrolée (AOCs) in the region, representing 23 percent of all French wine AOCs.
“Bourgogne” or Mâcon always appears in the name of any wine from the seven régionale AOCs.
- Bourgogne Aligoté
- Bourgogne Mousseux
- Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains
- Côteaux Bourguignons | Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire | Bourgogne Ordinaire
- Crémant de Bourgogne
- Mâcon | Mâcon-Villages | Mâcon + the name of the village
Among these appellations, two can add to their name a Complementary Geographical Denomination (dénomination géographique complémentaire, or DGC).
Within the Bourgogne AOC, you can find:
- Bourgogne Chitry
- Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise
- Bourgogne Côte d’Or
- Bourgogne Côte Saint-Jacques
- Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre
- Bourgogne Côtes du Couchois
- Bourgogne Coulanges-la-Vineuse
- Bourgogne Épineuil
- Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune
- Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits
- Bourgogne La Chapelle Notre-Dame
- Bourgogne Le Chapitre
- Bourgogne Montrecul
- Bourgogne Tonnerre
Within the Mâcon AOC, you can find:
- Mâcon-La Roche-Vineuse
- Mâcon-Serrières (only for red and rosé wine)
These wines are named after the village where their grapes were grown. There are 44 Village AOCs.
- Côte de Beaune
- Côte de Beaune-Villages
- Côte de Nuits-Villages
- Marsannay Rosé
- Petit Chablis
Most of these Village AOCs can add a complementary distinction identifying them as having been cultivated in specific Climats within a Village AOC. This distinction identifies them as Village Premier Crus. On the wine label, the name of the Climat appears after the name of the village, as with Meursault Premier Cru Perrières or Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons, for example. Thus far, only the Village AOCs from the Mâconnais have yet to be granted the possibility of Premier Cru status; this will soon change, though, as Pouilly-Fuissé will be granted this much sought after status in 2019.
Grand Cru Appellations
Wines classified as Grand Cru express the distinctive characteristics of Bourgogne’s most favorable Climats and they represent the pinnacle of quality in the region. The label will identify a Grand Cru wine by its Climat (the name of the village will not appear). There are 33 Grand Cru AOCs.
- Chablis Grand Cru(one AOC but with seven Climats)
- Chambertin-Clos de Bèze
- Clos de la Roche
- Clos de Tart
- Clos de Vougeot
- Clos des Lambrays
- Clos Saint-Denis
- La Grande Rue
- Grands Échezeaux
- La Romanée
- Ruchottes Chambertin
- La Tâche
Key Grape Varieties
Bourgogne wines are almost exclusively varietal wines. In addition to world-renowned white and red wines, Bourgogne produces some rosés and sparkling wines. On average, the region produces 1.34 million hectoliters of wine annually.
The most widely planted variety in Bourgogne, Chardonnay accounts for 50 percent of the region’s plantings. It’s an ancient grape—descended from Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc—that adapts easily to its environment, thriving, in particular, in the marl and limestone soils of Bourgogne. It’s revered for its ability to express the characteristics of its terroir, including the subtle variations of the local climats. Its aromatic complexity is enhanced through traditional vinification and aging processes, with styles that vary from medium- to full-bodied, from the juicy fruit-forward, easy-drinking wines of the Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais to the citrusy, floral wines of Chablis, with their mouthwatering acidity and steely minerality, or the more opulent style of Côte de Beaune, with white peach, ripe pear, apple, citrus, and honeysuckle notes. If aged in oak, Chardonnay will also develop toasty nut, honey, and vanilla notes.
The second most widely grown grape in this region is Pinot Noir, which represents 41 percent of Bourgogne’s plantings. Pinot Noir is native to Bourgogne. Many other varieties, including Chardonnay, Aligoté, and Gamay, are descended from this ancient grape. Pinot Noir prefers a cool climate and can be difficult to cultivate. It’s admired for its natural ability to reflect the characteristics of its terroir, so styles vary greatly—from the most elegant expressions in Bourgogne to others around the world. In Bourgogne, Pinot Noir produces medium- to full-bodied wines that are typically ruby in color, though they can take on garnet or brick hues with age. Tannins are characteristically soft, round, and delicate. Dominant flavors include fresh berries, cherry, cinnamon, and pepper. As they mature, Pinot Noir wines also develop vegetal and gamey notes.
Approximately 6 percent of the vines planted in Bourgogne are Aligoté. This white-wine variety came onto the Bourgogne viticulture scene in the 17th century. Like Chardonnay and Gamay, it’s a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc. Aligoté can produce both AOC Régionale Bourgogne Aligoté and AOC Village Bouzeron. Bourgogne Aligoté is somewhat pale yellow in color; the wines have a juicy acidity and white peach, lemon, green apple, and saline notes. Typically, Bourgogne Aligoté is drunk young. Village Bouzeron comes from the Côte Chalonnaise; it has flinty mineral notes, a meaty mouthfeel, good structure, and great vivacity.
Gamay and Others
Gamay is the main variety used in the red Mâcon wines of the Mâconnais and in the blend for Crémant de Bourgogne. Gamay wines tend to be ruby or garnet in color; they are lively and fruity, with light tannins and red berry and cherry notes. Sauvignon Blanc is the other grape variety (with Aligoté) that’s used to produce a Village AOC wine—Saint Bris—that is not made from Chardonnay. It is produced close to Chablis in the Grand Auxerrois. Other Bourgogne plantings include such well-known grapes as Pinot Blanc and Pinot Beurot (Pinot Gris), as well as rarer ones, such as César, Sacy, Melon (Muscadet), and Tressot.
What’s Happening in Bourgogne Today?
Bourgogne continues to move toward organic and biodynamic viticulture and vinification practices. Several top Bourgogne growers have been embracing natural production methods for their wines for some time, and others are following suit. With biodynamic wine certifications increasing throughout France, the growing interest in applying the principles of biodynamics to winemaking may not be a trend as much as a sensible shift toward sustainable best practices.
Despite many recent challenges from Mother Nature, Bourgogne winemakers continue to create outstanding wines. After a particularly difficult spring in 2016, with a late frost and two major hailstorms, the vintage exhibited superior quality. But 2016 wasn’t a fluke. The past seven vintages have been threatened by frost, mildew, and severe hailstorms. Scores of old vines have also contributed to low yields. The 2017 vintage is showing great promise, though, with volumes to satisfy the market and an elegance characteristic of the region’s most renowned vintages.
In November 2017 the region welcomed two highly anticipated new AOCs—Bourgogne Côte d’Or and Vézelay. The Régionale Bourgogne Côte d’Or appellation, two decades in the making, was made possible by the tireless efforts of local wine professionals. The unique characteristics of the Bourgogne Côte d’Or plots will now be given credence on wine labels, starting with the 2017 vintage. The second new appellation will also be included in the 2017 vintage. At just 66 hectares, the Vézelay appellation is one of the smallest in Bourgogne, but its new Village status celebrates the area’s potential for producing high-quality wines. The first wines from these two appellations are expected to be on the market as early as September 2018.
A new regional charter is being created by the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB) and the Confederation of Appellations and Winemakers of the Bourgogne Region (CAVB). Its aim is to identify best practices for dealing with vine treatments, low-input viticulture strategies, and disease-recognition diagnostics, among other objectives. The BIVB and CAVB hope the charter will also help foster dialogue and provide a structure for communication within the local winemaking community.
The BIVB, along with 12 partners, is also spearheading Cité de Vins, an ambitious project to promote the heritage of the Bourgogne winegrowing region and celebrate its wines and Climats through immersive cultural experiences at visitor centers, which are to be erected in three cities: Beaune, Chablis, and Mâcon. The Cité programs are expected to launch sometime between late 2020 and early 2021.