Demystifying the Wines of Burgundy

Pinot Noir is among the world’s more romantic wines. (Perhaps you discovered this two nights ago???) And some of the world’s finest Pinot Noir comes from the Burgundy region of France.

Burgundy is located in the eastern sector of the country, with the bulk of its vineyards sited between Dijon and Lyon. It is south of Champagne, north of the Rhone Valley and northeast of Bordeaux.

One must be cautious when purchasing Burgundy, because there is a wide spectrum of quality between the most esteemed bottlings and the rather lackluster renditions that simply take advantage of the Burgundy name, yet still command very high prices.

The most famous wines of Burgundy come from the Cotes de Nuits and the Cotes de Beaune, but the region also embodies Chablis in its northern sector, as well as Beaujolais in its southern sector. The climate of Chablis is more similar to that of Champagne, while the climate of Beaujolais is more Rhone-like, which means varieties other than Pinot Noir can be grown quite successfully.

Chablis, for instance, is known for its crisp, minerally bottlings of Chardonnay, while most of the fine wines of Beaujolais are crafted from the Gamay grape. The cooler temperatures in the north and the warmer temps in the south dictate the varieties that will be most successful.

Most of the famous Pinot Noir districts of Burgundy are bunched in the middle of the appellation, but as we’ve noted, simply seeing the “Burgundy” designation on a bottle is not an absolute guarantee of quality.

So, how can one sort out the classics from the merely average wines? One way is to look for “hyphenated” names on the labels because, long ago, a number of villages more or less hijacked the names of their most famous vineyards—a helpful sales tool in the local wine shops.

For instance, the village of Gevrey embraced the name of the famous Chambertin Vineyard and became Gevrey-Chambertin. When you see what The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia calls such “double-barrelled” names, it’s generally a dependable indicator of quality.

Posted in Wine Region Profiles, Wine Tips
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