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Wines of Burgundy


Burgundy is one of the world’s great wine areas, but for many it is a mystery. Lynne Hammond gives you a ‘first-steps’ guide to understanding the intricacies of the region better.


A distinctive feature of Burgundy is the concept of ‘terroir’. But what does it mean?
An impossible word to translate into English, ‘terroir’ encompasses all the ingredients found in each vineyard: the soil type, top soil and sub soil, rock strata beneath, its angle facing the sun, its elevation on the slope and its micro climate. It is due to the forces of nature over the millennia – the early sea bed, ancient volcanic activity, effects of the ice age and erosion – that have contributed to a multitude of soil types that create their own identity. You can often see the ‘terroir’ change within metres, thus adding to the complexity of Burgundy wines. It is the diversity of Burgundy’s ‘terroirs’ or soil types that create the exceptional different aromas and tastes that you will find in the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines.

Four grape varieties are found in Burgundy, producing the diverse appellations of red, white, rosé and Crémant (sparkling) wines, but the two main varieties are the Pinot Noir for the red wines and Chardonnay for the white. A small amount of the white grape Aligoté, and the red grape Gamay are also grown. Two-thirds of Burgundy wines are white and one third red.

The Five Regions

There are five wine growing regions in Burgundy. Chablis, producing predominantly white wines in the north-west of the region with Auxerre its nearest town, is actually situated closer to Paris than Beaune, the ‘capital’ of Burgundy’s wine growing region. Chablis’ sub regions are the Auxerrois and the Chatillonnais wines.

The main Côte runs from Dijon in the north to the south of Mâcon encompassing the remaining four areas. The Côte de Nuits and its sub-region Hautes-Côtes de Nuits, is where you will find mainly red wines, Côte de Beaune and its sub region Hautes-Côtes de Beaune produces red and white wines, Côte Chalonnaise and its sub region Couchois again producing red and white wines and finally the Mâconnais where you once again find more white wines. Burgundy enjoys a continental style climate with generally hot summers and cold winters and experiences four distinct seasons.

This celebrated wine growing area has some 26,500 hectares of vineyards producing on average 200 million bottles per year available from an amazing 4,800 individual winegrowing domains. Its production represents about 6% of France’s total wine production – quality not quantity, perhaps?


This elongated wine growing area stretches from south of Dijon and ends at Corgoloin, just north of Beaune. The vineyards lie in a narrow east facing band 20 km long and often as little as 200 to 300 metres wide, at its maximum it measures 800 metres wide. The Côte is rightly celebrated for its red wines – the Pinot Noir delivers deep colours, rich aromas, intense flavours and long-lived wines.

From north to south the Côte comprises the villages of Marsannay, Fixin, Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-Saint-Denis, Chambolle-Musigny, Vougeot, Vosne-Romanée and Nuits-St-Georges. The walled vineyards or ‘clos’ date back to the vine-growing estates of the great 10th century abbeys. This is where the traditional lore concerning the ‘terroir’ of the monks was conceived. This is the kingdom of the Pinot Noir grape that covers over 3000 ha. Further back are the hill-slopes of the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits with 550 ha of splendid vines renowned for their balance and aromatic qualities.


Comprising 5000 ha of vineyards, this compact wine growing area extends from the village of Ladoix-Serrigny, north of Beaune, to the hill-slopes of the Marranges, south of Santenay. Variations in the nature of the “terroir” make the wines as diverse in character as they are high in quality – full, harmonious reds to great complex whites. The two main grapes, the Pinot Noir for the red wines and the Chardonnay for the white, excel in the Burgundy climate and soils. The Côtes enjoy a continental climate – cold frosty winters and hot summers - with heights ranging from 200 to 500 metres above sea level. This is where wines from, for example, Meursault, Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet, Volnay, Pommard and Monthélie are to be found.


This wine growing area is situated in a band, 25 km long and 7 km wide that runs southwards and to the west of the D981 from the Côte de Beaune in the north to the hills of the Mâconnais in the south. The wine growing villages from north to south are; Bouzeron, Rully, Mercurey, Givry and Montagny.

The height of the vineyards is from 250 and 370 metres. Geographically the Côte Chalonnaise is a natural extension of the Côte de Beaune, and its vineyards, helped by their favourable aspect, follow the same vocation of producing great wines from the two chief grape varieties of Burgundy, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Rully, Mercurey, Givry and Montagny are the leading lights of this fine 4,400 hectare vineyard district. In addition, the little commune of Bouzeron produces a Bourgogne Aligoté with its own unique character, and both the Côte Chalonnaise and the neighbouring Couchois vineyards yield excellent regional appellation wines and Crémant de Bourgogne, all with their own marked personalities.


Burgundy wines are separated into four categories of wine denoting their origins: This is known as Appellation d’Origine Controlée and these are sub-divided into hundreds of appellations each specific to each region, village and vineyard plot.

The regional appellation represents 52% of the production. This is where you will see the words ‘Bourgogne …’ on the label. For example Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise or Bourgogne Pinot Noir.

The second group are called Village or Communal appellations. This is where the vineyards are located within the boundary of a village or it’s commune. These represent 35% of the production. On the wine label you will see the village name such as Meursault, Givry or Pouilly-Fuissé.

The third group are the Premier Cru (1er Cru) wines, which account for 11% of the production. This is a specific vineyard located within a village and its commune and will bear the name of its vineyard and village on the label. For example Mercury 1er Cru Clos du Paradis, Chablis 1er Cru Vau de Vey or Nuits St Georges 1er Cru Les Cailles.

The fourth group are the Grand Cru wines, which represent about 2% of the production. They are found mainly in the Côtes de Nuits and to a lesser degree in the Côte de Beaune and Chablis regions. The wine must come from a specific vineyard within a village and is often a small, very special location, often surrounded by walls or ‘clos’. The wine label will just bear the name of the vineyard such as Richebourg (Côte de Nuits) or Corton (Côte de Beaune).


Also see: How Burgundy Wine is Made