Burgundy has many meanings depending on who you ask, even if kept specifically in the wine arena. Here’s what it means to me: good, sometimes great, wine that can be extremely confusing to understand and dizzying-ly expensive. Here’s a simple breakdown with the help of Mr. Bullet Point and Wikipedia. The goal of this Burgundy primer is to shed what may be a layer of confusion and intimidation with region and its wines. Good chance you know some, maybe all of this, but it doesn’t hurt to review. I, for one, love reviews because I always grab onto something I did not know prior.
- Burgundy is a geographical region in north-central France with the main part of it starting 170 miles southeast of Paris, near Dijon.
- Within the broad Burgundy appellation are many smaller appellations: regions, villages and vineyards. Short of discovering the fine-print “Bourgogne” usually located at the bottom of the label, you just need to know it’s a Burgundy. That’s the French appellation way.
- Red Burgundy is made from 100% Pinot Noir with the notable exception of Beaujolais, Southern end of Burgundy, which is made from 100% Gamay. There is one exception to the 100% Pinot Noir, non-Beaujolais rule which I’ll leave you to find out on your own.
- White Burgundy is made from 100% Chardonnay 99+% of the time. As for the other grapes, this too I’ll leave to your research.
- The most famous sub-region of Burgundy is the Cote d’Or, which loosely translates to Golden Slope because of the 30 mile long escarpment (running hill) that runs diagonally, flanking the greatest vineyards thus giving them SE exposure for optimal ripeness (look at a Cote d’Or map – a map is worth a thousand words. I put one below for you.) Tiny patches of vineyards in the Cote d’Or are the source of the few super-rare, super-amazing, super-expensive Red Burgundies. We’re not going to talk much about them.
Free wine advice from a former Napa wine shop owner & sommelier
- Burgundy is a mostly contiguous strip of wine paradise, about 75 miles long, running down the guts of France. But don’t forget Chablis, the Burgundy region 75 miles north of the strip. Again, go to a Burgundy map to get a grip on geography (See maps below. I’ll admit, finding an effective Burgundy map online is difficult. A hard copy Burgundy map, either on its own or in a book, is the way to go).
- We ARE going to talk about the excellent Burgundy that can be found for $25-$50/bottle. Family-owned, artisan, small-production, delicious Burgundies are available for very fair prices considering the history of the region, the “specialness” of the land and the skillful wine-growing (this is a term used to combine grape farming and winemaking). As your go-to guide for wines that over-deliver for the price, this is what I’m into, and I bet you are too.
- Burgundy is an intimidating wine region to get to know. The variables of region, village, vineyard, winery and vintage make a buying decision really hard. There’s no secret sauce for understanding Burgundy. You just have to get into it.
- As for the variables I mention above, I weigh their importance in this order, most to least: #1) winery, #2) vintage, #3) place (with PLACE I combine region, village and vineyard). In other words, if you’re trying to decide what Burgundy to order in a restaurant or buy in a shop, the winery…who grew the grapes and made the wine, is the most important factor.
- Regarding current vintages, look to 2014 and 2016 for White Burgundies, 2015 for Red Burgundies. 2015 was a warm vintage, which brought out the richness and fruit in the reds. White Burgundies shine brightest in moderate-temperature vintages because acidity is very important for their deliciouness. 2014 and 2016 vintages were cool to moderate in temps.
And that’s your Burgundy 101 and 102 lesson for today. Here’s another Burgundy article. Really good. I like the Burgundy history lesson in two paragraphs in particular.
Thank you, Wine For Normal People.
Here’s your homework. The good kind!
My Red and White Burgundy Questionnaire takes you through a series of questions to help you IDENTIFY and APPRECIATE the smells, flavors and sensations of Burgundy. After a few wines enjoyed and forms filled out, you will (could) be on the path to Burgundy La-La Land!
Here are four frankly fantastic Burgundy on a Budget recommendations for you. Each one costs less than $40/bottle, which, for the quality, rarity and definitive Burgundy character, makes them all at least GREAT VALUES according to my Value Rating system. I offer you two white and two red Burgundy picks. Click through to see my scores, Value Ratings, and guidance on where to buy these. It’s all free. Why? Because YOU’RE YOU!
- Domaine VINCENT DAMPT Chablis 2015 ($24). A village-level Burgundy, meaning the grapes COULD come from anywhere in vineyards of the town Chablis. These grapes, however, come from the Vincent Dampt’s Estate vineyard which happens to lie right between two Premier Cru vineyards. I can’t speak highly enough about this wine. Pretty, aromatic nose of lemon blossoms, Meyer lemon, mango and lime precedes flavors of the same plus butter pastry, lemon tea and white chalky earth. Has lively acidity, fresh fruit all over the place and just enough “taste of the land” to make it interesting. GREAT VALUE.
- CHÂTEAU de PULIGNY MONTRACHET Bourgogne Blanc “Clos du Château” 2015 ($37)
This is particularly interesting. This Clos (which means it’s an enclosed, single vineyard) is in the great village of Puligny-Montrachet, where the greatest Chardonnays in the world are made, yet it is “just” classified Bourgogne. For a true Burgundy “experience,” this is hard to beat for under $40/bottle. Tropical and stone fruits, crushed rocks, citrus blossoms and lemon custard smells and flavors, all elevated by a jolt of acidity just before you swallow. AWESOME VALUE.
- MICHEL SARRAZIN Maranges 2015 ($35). The Maranges appellation, at the southern tip of Burgundy’s Cote d’Or, is a great source for value-driven Red Burgundies. I find the really good ones, like this, have a solid core of juicy fruit + a definitive of-the-earth flavor and texture. Needless to say, I’m a big fan of this particular bottling. I like its ripeness without suggestions of over-ripe (a possibility for 2015 Red Burgs). Showing intensity, tension, a fine grip of acid & tannins and generosity of flavor. This is a wonderful value and a great buy for Burgundy fans. GREAT VALUE.
- Domaine SYLVAIN LANGOUREAU Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune “Clos Marc” 2015 ($24)
Check out Burgundies labeled Hautes Cotes de Beaune and Hautes Cotes de Nuits. These are wines made from vineyards on the top of the escarpment I mention above.
As for Langoreau, it’s a tiny, family run winery above Puligny-Montrachet. This is a pure, concise, honest expression of quality Red Burgundy that’s ready to enjoy anytime. Get sweet juicy plums, wild red cherries, pink rose petals, freshly-turned soil. Ideal wine for a Burgundy “experience” on the cheap. GREAT VALUE.
Thanks for reading.
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