Exploring the Burgundy Wine Region
Updated: Oct 3, 2020
Travel Southeast of Paris and you’ll arrive in Chablis, one of the regions within Burgundy. Continue on to the East and you’ll find the remaining regions lined up from North to South: Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnais, Mâconnais, and Beaujolais.
These regions are the preeminent growing grounds for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. These noble grapes originated in Burgundy and have been grown here for centuries.
Climate and Soil in Burgundy
This region enjoys a cool climate that’s perfect for these two noble grapes. Keep this in mind and look for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from other cool climate regions like Oregon, Washington, California’s Russian River Valley, and New Zealand’s South Island.
The terrain is made up of sloping hills and valleys that contain a mixture of limestone, clay, and gravel. The tops of the hills are predominantly limestone which Chardonnay vines love. Moving down the slopes, the soil becomes more clay predominant which Pinot Noir vines love.
Classifications and Labeling in Burgundy
There are four wine classifications: Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Village, and Regional. These classifications are based on plots of land (aka climat) that were identified way back in medieval times.
You’ll find Grand Cru classified grape vines running along the middle of the hillsides, while Premier Cru grows along the tops and bottoms of the slopes. The Village and Regional classified vines grow upon the valley floor.
1. Grand Cru makes up only 2% of production and comes from the Northern regions of Chablis, Cote de Nuits, and Cote de Beaune. As previously mentioned, these Grand Cru wines come from specific plots of land identified back in medieval times.
Most of the red Grand Cru (Pinot Noir) comes from Côte de Nuits while the white Grand Cru (Chardonnay) comes from Côte de Beaune and Chablis. As you can imagine, these wines are the crème de la crème. They are hard to come by and very pricey.
Wine Label: Vineyard Name + Grand Cru
Corton-Charlemagne (Vineyard Name)
2. Premier Cru can be found in all regions of Burgundy, but only makes up 12% of production.
Wine Label: Village Name + Premier Cru + Vineyard
Puligny-Montrachet (Village Name)
Les Chalumeaux (Vineyard)
1er Cru (Premier Cru)
3. Village classified wines come from specific Villages and specific vineyards, providing about 36% of production.
Wine Label: Village Name + Vineyard
Mâcon-Villages (Village Name)
Domaine Perraud (Vineyard/Winery)
4. Regional classified wines contain a blend of grapes from any of the Regionally classified vineyards across Burgundy. About 50% of production is Regional and is the most affordable wine in Burgundy.
Wine Label: Bourgogne, Bourgogne Rouge, or Bourgogne Blanc
Beaujolais Region of Burgundy
The southernmost region in Burgundy is Beaujolais (not shown on the map above). This is where you’ll find Gamay grapevines growing in granite soils. Beaujolais is a very light red wine, even lighter than Pinot Noir. It’s an easy-drinking wine that doesn’t need to be paired with food to enjoy. It’s the perfect transition into red wines.
Let’s backtrack to Chablis because this region has a few differences from the rest of Burgundy. First of all, Chardonnay is the grape in Chablis.
Second, the soil is limestone with layers of oyster shells and fossils mixed in. This is because, once upon a time, this area was under the ocean. This special soil gives Chablis a unique character and minerality that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
You’ll also find that most Chablis is matured in stainless steel tanks or neutral oak barrels. If you don’t like the buttery, oaky Chardonnays of California, just try a Chablis.
Chablis Classifications & Labeling
The wine classification for Chablis is similar to the rest of Burgundy with one exception. You will find Grand Cru, Premier Cru, and Village classified Chablis. The fourth classification is Petit Chablis. This is the regional equivalent of Bourgogne.
Wine Label: Chablis Grand Cru
Wine Label: Chablis Premier Cru
Wine Label: Chablis (Village)
Wine Label: Petit Chablis (Regional)
One way to identify a Pinot Noir or a Chardonnay is simply by looking at the shape of the bottle. The bottle will have low sloping shoulders and will have a wider base. Similar to Champagne bottles.
Once you’ve identified the bottle shape, make sure to double-check the label as some producers will use this bottle shape for wine similar to Pinot Noir or Chardonnay (ie. a light red or an oaked white). Nothing is fool-proof, right?
The bottle on the left is typical for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The bottle on the right has those high shoulders and is typical for Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc, and most of the other reds and whites on the market.
Burgundy Region Summary
I hope you enjoyed our visit to Burgundy where you can find some of the world's best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Some highlights to remember:
Cool climate grapes: Burgundy, Washington, Oregon, Russian River (CA), New Zealand (South Island)
Burgundy Regions: Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnais, Mâconnais, and Beaujolais
Bottle Shape: Low sloping shoulders
Grand Cru: Highest classification and most expensive
Premier Cru: Next highest classification and still pricey
Village: Look for village name or Chablis - more prevalent and more reasonably priced
Regional: Look for Bourgogne or Petit Chablis - the most affordable
The Bourgogne and Petit Chablis are still high-quality wines and are a great place to start exploring the tastes of the Burgundy region.
Ready to taste the wines of Burgundy? Find tasting recommendations in this post: Burgundy Region Wine Tasting: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
For more information on Burgundy: