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An emblematic wine region, the Bourgogne has a vineyard where the complexity of its multiple parcels and the hierarchy of its wines have contributed to its unique charm.

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An emblematic wine region, the Bourgogne has a vineyard whose complexity of its multiple parcels and the hierarchy of its wines have contributed to its unique charm.

Home to two well-known grape varieties, Pinot Noir for reds and Chardonnay for whites, Bourgogne is home to some of the most famous wines in France and the world. Who hasn't heard of the great red wines of Côte de Nuits, or the iconic white wines of Meursault, Montrachet or Chablis?

Precious nectars from the multitude of terroirs that make up this illustrious vineyard, themselves delimited by the famous "Burgundian climates", these are single-variety wines that share the same constant: complexity, elegance and delicacy.

Explore the world of Bourgogne's Premiers Crus and Grands Crus, wines that embody the obstinacy of wanting to sublimate, generation after generation, the spirit and richness of these great terroirs.

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the vineyards of Bourgogne cover an area of approximately 30,000 hectares of vines, representing a production of one and a half million hectoliters of wine. This production is divided between 61% of white wines, 29% of red wines and 10% of crémants.

With 84 Appellations d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC), Bourgogne alone represents nearly a quarter of the French AOCs. But how can such a large number of appellations be explained? By the fact that the Bourgogne has a very fragmented vineyard, with many very diverse soils and delimited by what is called "Burgundian climates". A "climat" refers to a parcel of vines delimited geographically over the years, or even centuries, by man. Each climate has its own geological, hydrometric and exposure characteristics. The quality and the typicity of the wines produced in Bourgogne is thus very variable.

Winegrowers own plots of land in many of these climates and appellations, because they have found that they get better value for their production by vinifying all their plots separately, each one giving different wines despite the homogeneity of the techniques.

The wines of Bourgogne are therefore subject to a classification that is divided into four levels of appellation:

  • Regional appellations cover blends of wines from several Burgundy vineyards or wines from a sub-region. This is for example the case of Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes-de-Nuits or Bourgogne Aligoté.
  • The village appellations are attached to a terroir around a village. Thus, the label of a wine made in the commune of Gevrey-Chambertin bears the words "Appellation Gevrey-Chambertin contrôlée". However, some village AOCs may encroach on neighboring villages, such as Nuits-Saint-Georges for example.
  • The Premiers Crus designations designate the denominations in the heart of a village appellation. This concerns certain parcels in the villages of the Côte d'Or, Côte Chalonnaise and Chablis. The label then mentions the name of the village and that of the parcel, for example Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos Saint-Jacques.
  • The Grands Crus, which are at the top of the classification, are appellations in their own right and, on the labels, their names are always followed by the words "Appellation Grand Cru Contrôlée". The Grands Crus concern only a few villages of the Côte de Nuits, the Côte de Beaune and the Chablis, and can sometimes straddle several villages.

Benefiting from a rich and complex terroir, the great wines of Bourgogne are full of class, substance and elegance, both in red and white.

How was the complexity of the Bourgogne vineyard built?

The Bourgogne is a land of passage between the north and south of France but also of Europe, which has long favored the knowledge and dissemination of its wines.

The vine would have appeared in the vicinity of Beaune under the Roman Empire from the year 200 AD. The Gallo-Roman people being wine lovers, the culture of the vine spreads quickly and the Burgundian vineyard acquires little by little a serious reputation. But the rise of the wine industry is correlated to that of Christianity, not only by the demand for mass wine but also by the establishment of abbeys in the Middle Ages, for which the vines, often bequeathed by great local lords, serve as a means of financing. The monks will gradually select patiently the plots of land, also called "Climats", which produce the best wines in order to sell them more expensive. And to protect their precious grapes from pilferage and to avoid disputes from their neighbors, they erected stone walls, thus creating the famous Burgundian "Clos".

In the meantime, it is easy to transport wine across the Saône and Moselle rivers to the Rhine delta. All this stimulates the growth of this vineyard.

After the French Revolution, in 1791, the sale of national property and the crumbling of Domaines like that of Clos de Vougeot was put in place. A transfer of properties which will benefit in particular the local bourgeoisie and the first trading houses which will see the day from the XVIIIth century.

As early as 1861, the modern system of controlled appellations was created by the agricultural committee of Beaune. The Grands Crus such as Romanée-Conti, Clos de Vougeot and Chambertin are listed, as well as the Premiers Crus. This classification has since been simplified by the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO); the decrees of appellations appeared in 1936, the first of them being for the Grands Crus, followed quickly by those of the communal appellations.

What are the terroirs of the Bourgogne vineyard?

Iconic sub-regions

The Bourgogne is divided into five wine-growing sub-regions which are, from north to south: Chablis and the Yonne vineyards, Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune (grouped together in what is called the Côte d'Or), Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais. What are the specificities of each of them?

Chablis and the vineyards of the Yonne

The Chablis soil, northwest of Bourgogne, produces great white Secs, shaped by a balance between freshness provided by acidity and fruit. The Premiers Crus and Grands Crus of Chablis are among the greatest whites of Bourgogne, being complex and characterized by minerality, lime blossom and fruit notes Secs. The soils are clay-limestone plateaus and slopes dating from the Kimmeridgien, allowing the Chardonnay to flourish.

The Grands Crus are all located northeast of the town of Chablis, between the villages of Fyé and Poinchy, and are made up of 7 climats whose names follow Chablis : Blanchot, Bougros, Les Clos, Grenouilles, Preuses, Valmur and Vaudésir.

The Premiers Crus are more numerous, some of the best known being : Fourchaume, Les Vaillons, Montée de Tonnerre, Monts de Milieu and Vaucoupin.

The Gold Coast

The Côte d'Or stretches from north to south from Dijon to Santenay, passing through Beaune. It is divided into two parts, Côte de Nuits in the north, where only red wines are made, and Côte de Beaune in the south, where both red and white wines are made. It is in this sub-region that the most complex and long-lasting wines are made. They come from several famous villages - Chambertin, Gevrey-Chambertin, Chassagne-Montrachet, Meursault, Morey Saint-Denis... - which have their own appellations of origin, and "climats" of which the most remarkable are classified as Premier and Grand Cru.

The vineyards are located on escarpments, with slopes composed of marl and limestone rocks. The best parcels are almost always located halfway up the slope, with the village generally at the bottom. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay both deliver the best of their potential.

The Côte Chalonnaise

This sub-region is located in the extension of the last villages of the Côte d'Or towards the south. Its geology is similar to that of the Côte d'Or, with outcrops of limestone and marl, and it is largely a succession of hills and valleys. In addition to the generic or regional appellations of Bourgogne, the region has five communal appellations: Bouzeron, Rully, Mercurey, Givry and Montagny. Red, white and crémant are produced. Although it does not claim any Grand Cru, it is in total 140 climates classified in Premiers Crus which are listed there.

The Mâconnais

Located south of the Côte Chalonnaise, the Mâconnais produces white and red wines under the AOC Mâcon. Several villages are allowed to use their own name, and some like Pouilly have gained a great reputation. There are both limestone hillsides and granitic areas with sandy soil. Near Viré, Clessé and Lugny, the soil is favorable to light white wines. The highest hills and the best slopes are grouped in the south of the region. It is here that famous villages produce good Chardonnay whites such as Pouilly-Fuissé and Saint-Véran.

Adequate climatic conditions

The Burgundy vineyard is precisely in the middle of three influences: southern, oceanic and continental. The climate is therefore semi-continental in nature and has several characteristics that have a positive impact on the vine:

  • Early morning sunshine favored by the orientation of the vines. Their exposure on hillsides in many cases allows a good ripening of the grapes
  • Summer temperatures that only reach Rare extremes in July and August
  • Ideal rainfall levels for vine growth, with an average of 700 mm per year, spread mainly over the months of May and June
  • A north wind that reduces the humidity of some plots.

All these conditions, associated with a geological diversity give birth to great wines, especially on the terroirs classified as Premiers and Grands Crus.

Emblematic grape varieties

The Bourgogne is worldwide associated with two famous grape varieties: Chardonnay for white wines and Pinot Noir for red wines. Two other grape varieties are also grown here, although in very small proportions: Aligoté for white wines and Gamay for red wines.

Pinot Noir is a difficult and delicate grape variety to grow, and is at the northern limit of its cultivation. But it is here, in its cradle that is the Bourgogne, that it gives its best results, particularly in Côte d'Or, where the red Grands Crus are among the greatest wines in the world. It is indeed a grape variety that needs a slow maturation in a cool climate, because its grapes are sensitive to heat. It thrives on draining limestone soils of Bourgogne, especially those with a high proportion of clay. Recognizable by its brilliant ruby color, it is characterized by aromas of red berries, cherry and spices, followed by notes of empyreumatic, candied fruit and undergrowth with time. It gives the wines an excellent aging potential, allowing them to acquire finesse and subtlety with time.

As for Chardonnay, although it is a grape variety that is grown all over the world, it is in Bourgogne that it reaches its absolute peak of quality in white wine. It does particularly well on the many limestone soils of the region, but can vary enormously in flavor depending on vinification, aging and terroir. Offering round wines with fruity citrus and mineral notes at Chablis, it will conversely give richer, smoother wines with notes of butter, gingerbread and hazelnuts on the Côte d'Or, notably at Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet.

What are the First Growths of Bourgogne?

The climats of the Premiers Crus are found in the communes or villages of Aloxe-Corton (such as Clos des Maréchaudes or Clos du Chapitre), Auxey-duresses (such as Climat du Val), Beaune (such as Clos du Roi or Clos des Mouches), Chassagne-Montrachet (such as Bois de Chassagne or Les Baudines), Fixin with Clos de la Perrière or Clos Napoleon, Mercurey (Clos des Montaigus or Clos Tonnerre), Meursault (Les Charmes or Les Gouttes d'Or), Montagny with Chazelle, Nuits-Saint-Georges (Clos de la Maréchale or Clos d'Arlot), Pernand-Vergelesses, Pommard, Saint-Aubin, Santenay (such as Clos de Tavanne or Gravières), Savigny-lès-Beaune such as Montée Rouge, or in Blagny with Jenelotte, in Chablis with Epinottes or Lys, in Chambolle-Musigny, in Gevrey-Chambertin (Bel-Air or Petite Chapelle), Givry, Ladoix, Monthélie (Clos des Toisières) Morey-Saint-Denis Puligny-Montrachet (clos de la Garenne or clos de la Mouchère), Rully (la Bressande or la Renarde), Volnay (clos de la Rougeotte, clos des Chênes), Vosne6romanée (la Croix Rameau or les Chaumes), Vougeot (clos de la perrière or le clos Blanc) to mention only a few but without forgetting the others

What are the Grands Crus of Bourgogne?

The climats of the Grands Crus, which constitute appellations in their own right, are located in the communes or villages of Chablis (Bougros or Grenouilles), Gevrey-Chambertin (Chambertin, Clos de Bèze, Charmes-Chambertin, Mazoyères-Chambertin, Chapelle-Chambertin, Griottes-Chambertin, Latricières-Chambertin, Ruchottes-Chambertin), Morey-Saint-Denis (as Bonnes Mares or Clos de Tart), Chambolle-Musigny, Clos de Vougeot, Vosne-Romanée (Romanée-Conti, la Romanée, la Tache, Richebourg, Romanée-Saint-Vivant) Ladoix-Serrigny (like Corton red or Corton-Charlemagne white, Aloxe-Corton (Corton red and white, Charlemagne white), Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet (a non-exhaustive list that supports many others...)

What are the most must-see houses in Bourgogne?

It is impossible to talk about the wines of Bourgogne without mentioning the House of Louis Latour, one of the most renowned wine merchant-breeders. Founded in 1797, the house is best known for its Grands Crus of Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits, from 29 hectares of red and white vines. Great wines that are perfectly accomplished.

As for the Maison Bouchard Père & Fils, also negociants-breeders and no less reputed, it manages its vineyards with passion, offering great red and white wines for ageing. The Premiers Crus and Grands Crus are concentrated, complex and of course, excellent.

In the commune of Gevrey-Chambertin, the soul of Pinot Noir is constantly awake at Domaine Dugat-Py. A Domaine not to be missed where the vines are meticulously worked, giving birth to velvety, silky and fruity nectars.

And how can we not mention the wines of Romanée-Conti Domaine, wines from modest plots but enjoying worldwide prestige, having reached the status of myths.

Albert Bichot, Nicole Lamarche, Jacques Prieur, Domaine des Lambrays, are some of the more illustrious names that offer memorable wines, each time delivering a new expression of the Bourgogne and giving us the almost frustrating impression of rediscovering this region.

Discover without further delay our selection of Great Wines of Bourgogne.