Burgundy is among the most famous wine regions in the world. Located right in the heart of Eastern France and on the west side of the river Saône, wines from this region are, with a few exceptions, made from two grape varieties: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Burgundy wines are among the most expensive in the world, with some bottles selling for beyond £15,000.
Although wine production began in Burgundy dating back to the Roman invasion of the second century BC, viticulture in the region is typically associated to the work of Benedictine Monks and the Abbey of Cluny. Since they were not cultivating the land for immediate heirs or profit, monks could dedicate time to studing, learning and understanding the art of winemaking; experimenting and developing the skills and know-how needed to get the most of their vineyards.
Crucially, monks maintained winemaking knowledge and skills during the turbulent period, before the vineyards were purchased nobility over a prolonged period of time.
The House of Valois, Dukes of Burgundy in the 14th and 15th century, encouraged consumption of regional wine, banning the import and export of non-Burgundian wines as well as issuing decrees to safeguard the quality of the region’s produce.
After the French Revolution of 1789, the church’s remaining vineyards were broken up and sold off, while Napoleonic inheritance laws resulted in the continued subdivision of the most precious vineyards holdings, so that many growers could hold only a row or two of vines. This led to the emergence of négociants who aggregated the grapes and products of many different growers to produce a single wine with their own label.
In the 18th century, roads improved significantly and the export of wine out of landlocked Burgundy eased accordingly. The wines of Burgundy entered the lucrative Paris market, finally competing with Champagne. Their reputation convinced the Prince de Conti to acquire the famous Domaine de la Romanée in 1760, appending his name to the already famous estate.
Like many other wine regions, Burgundy suffered from the phylloxera epidemic at the end of 19th century, and subsequently from both the Great Depression and the Second World War. Growers tried to recover from the devastation with chemical fertilisers, but the modernisation of vineyard management techniques since the 1980’s has set a new course in winemaking, resulting in the deeper and more complex wines that are the trademark of the today’s Burgundy wines’ success.
Burgundy’s climate is predominantly continental, hence characterised by cold winters and hot summers, with both oceanic and Mediterranean influences. This not only gives the wines of the region their unique identities, but also provides a certain degree of unpredictability, with rains, hail and frost leading to great variation in the wine’s vintages.
The average production of wine in Burgundy for the period 2012-2016 has been around 1.34 million hectolitres per year. The vines cover 29,067 hectares, around 4% of the whole vine area in France. Slightly less than 3% of French wines are produced in Burgundy.
In terms of sales, Burgundy accounts around 183 million bottles per year with estimated revenues of 1.48 billion Euros. Around 50% of these sales are dedicated to export.
The most common grapes in Burgundy are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, used for red and white wines respectively. Aside from tradition, the rules in each different appellation dictates which other grapes can be allowed, as well as specific limitations for blending.
Minor grapes in Burgundy include Aligoté and Gamay, as well as little smaller usage of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.
Differently to Bordeaux, where classifications are producer-driven and awarded to the individual chateaux, Burgundy classifications are geographically-focused. The region is very terroir-oriented, meaning that every different vineyard has specific features coming from the soil, climate and winemaking that impact the wine significantly and result in a high degree of variation between each producer.
As red Burgundy is made predominantly from Pinot Noir, the complex set of flavours this grape provides is reflected in the characteristics of the wine, which is famously rich, complex, relatively light and lower in strength. Burgundy reds usually peak at between five to eight years of ageing and typically provide a complex set of aromas.
White Burgundy is mainly made from Chardonnay, which imparts a distinctly fresh and zesty aroma. It’s a delicate variety, overpowered when blended with other grapes, but still produces a powerful and full-bodied white. Young fresh wines normally give off more fruit, while those beginning to age will show more complexity and intense flavours, such as butter, caramel and honey.
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, or ‘DRC’ as it is widely referred to, is by far the most prestigious estate in Burgundy. The Domaine constantly appears in the list of the world’s most expensive wines and DRC bottles are often purchased for between £2,000 and £15,000, depending on the vintage.
For white wines, Domaine Leflaive is arguably the most commonly known. It is a family estate converted to biodynamic principles by the pioneer Anne-Claude Leflaive. Some of the estate’s wines can sell for more than £350 per bottle. Olivier Leflaive started his own negociant winemaking house, keeping it separate from the family business and specialising in high-end white wines.
Among the producers distinguishing themselves for Chardonnay in Burgundy, we have selected for you William Fèvre from Chablis and Bouchard Père & Fils from Côte de Beaune, as well as Domaine Saumaize Michelin and Domaine de la Bongran from Mâconnais.
In regards to Pinot Noir, The Beauty & The Taste have chosen for you Domaine de l’Arlot, Domaine Taupenot-Merme and Domaine Louis Remy – Chantal Remy to represent the characteristics of Côte de Nuits, while from Côte Chalonnaise we picked a wine from Domaine Bruno Lorenzon.