Wine Lover's France: The Wines of Burgundy
What makes Burgundy, well, Burgundy? Is it the climate, considered perfect for the cultivation of grapes? Or the rich soils, which impart their character on the wines? Or perhaps the famous varietals that find their homes here? Or is it simply the fact that this region and its winemakers have been dedicated to the production of top-notch wine since the Middle Ages. In today's blog we explore one of the world's marvels, the "vins de Bourgogne."
Perhaps we should first say that Burgundy has more AOC's (appellations d'origine controlée) than any other region of France: a sure indication that they take wine making seriously. (For more on AOC's, see our previous blog post.) In fact, it is thought that medieval monks, who first started developing Burgundy wine production, were also the first to notice that different plots of land gave consistently different characteristics to the wines produced there: thus the crus and the idea of terroir were born. From then on, wine production has been an integral part of the region. It is true that Burgundy's vineyards suffered greatly during WWII, and in the replanting and re-cultivation that followed during the post-war period, over-fertilizing and over-production became a problem, which was halted in the the late 1980's and early 1990's. That ushered in a new, golden era of Burgundy wine production, which continues to this day, and which sees the vins de Bourgogne commanding some of the highest prices among wine collectors.
The two main varietals planted in Burgundy (although there are others) are pinot noir, which produces the renowned dry red of the region, and Chardonnay, used to produce white Burgundy wines. The heart of the wine growing region is the "Côte d'Or," where almost all of the Grand Cru appellations can be found. Perhaps here it is time for an aside: What is a Grand Cru? "Cru" is a French term designating that a vineyard or group of vineyards have a certain recognizable quality, and that the wines therein produced should be expected to carry the quality of those lands. Basically, implying that those wines are made at the best vineyard sites in the region. Premier cru is considered the second highest level, and "Grand Cru" is more prestigious still, and is the highest level of AOC classification in Burgundy. A Burgundy Grand Cru is a gem to be treasured, aged at least 5 years, and often a decade or more. But that does not mean that you have to shell out the high prices for a Grand Cru in order to enjoy a good Burgundy wine. The AOC wines that are not classified as Grand or Premier Cru fall into either the village appellation or the regional appellation, and both of these can produce some amazing and affordable finds.
How to drink a Burgundy wine? Of course, a Burgundy Chardonnay and a Burgundy Pinot Noir will pair quite differently with food. But surely one of the great culinary pleasures to be had is to pair a beautiful Burgundy with the region's equally famous cheeses. And if you can do that while vacationing in Burgundy, so much the better!
By Peg Kern