Burgundy Notes — 01/11/2011
Introduction to Burgundy
The wines of Burgundy come from the Côte d’Or, the Yonne, and the Mâconnais departments within the Burgundy region. The most important grape varieties are Pinot Noir for red and Chardonnay for white, which some would say show their best in the Burgundian soils and micro-climate.
Position on the hill, individual site makes for the excitement of Burgundy. There are blends, village wines but the greatest wines come from small individual plots. So when looking at Burgundy the burning question is, “What makes a great site?”
The crucial factor in wine growing is “terroir” which is a combination of both soil and micro climate. A special “terroir” can be called a ‘cru’ and those ‘crus’ with a great or historic reputation form the ‘Grand Cru’ or ‘Premier Cru’ sites. But historic reputation can be a bit of a myth as new Premier Crus have been created from scratch; in Chablis carved out of virgin forest and created in the Côte de Beaune in villages such as Pernand-Vergelesses and St Aubin.
But it is not “terroir” alone that makes a good wine as there is the human element. A wine maker can make the most of what God has created or can misuse it and so produce wines that are not enjoyable never mind great. So when buying Burgundy certainly village name and position within the village are important but more so is the producers name.
The main factors that make for a great site are:
The height of the site on the slope, the degree of shelter from prevailing wind and how cool it can get at night or due to the wind; The angle of the slope and facing is important, giving exposure to the sun. South facing is not considered to be the best, southeast is. Such sites warm up earlier in the day and do not roast in the afternoon. A.O.C. Bourgogne vineyards on the plain usually have gradients of less than 2%, village sites up to 5% and some Grand Crus up to 20%. (There are exceptions, for instance some of the higher vineyards carrying lowly appellations are steep);
The shape of the slope and what is above it, determining how the cold air flows down it or warm air flows up it at critical times of the day or night;
How prone the site is to frost or hail;
The proximity to the moderating influence such as a river;
The existence of local rain-shadows;
The existence of ‘heat sinks’, i.e. large rocks or cliffs that can hold warmth from the day to give it off during the night;
An overview of the Geology of the Côte d’Or
The Côte d’Or is divided into two halves The Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune.
The strata of limestones and marl that make up the bedrock of the Côte are like a multi-layered sandwich which has been cut into 2 halves and then each into 3 parts which have partially fallen over and are in some instances overlying each other. Also in some instances they have completely fallen over and are exposing the bottom, oldest layers. These are the most complex as they have had the most time to fracture and weather, to collect pockets of silts, sands and small patches of younger rock formed later. The majority of the sub-strata and bedrock are limestones from the Jurassic age and they vary between being very hard, more friable, sandy, white or brown. They are thus very young compared to, say, the granites of Beaujolais or the Northern Rhône.
The Côte de Nuits
On the main sector of the Côte de Nuits, the ‘Anticlinal of Gevrey’ the horizontal layers slightly slope southwards. These strata disappear underground at the southern end of Nuits St Georges around Premeaux. The middle-aged strata of hard limestone then over-lie these at Corgloin and Ladoix a part well known for its quarries. The oldest rock types remain deep underground until Chassagne at the bottom of the Côte de Beaune where they reappear.
The Côte de Beaune
Geologically the Côte de Beaune is known as the ‘Synclinal of Volnay’. The layers of limestones lay horizontally one on top of each other slightly sloping northwards towards Beaune. As a result of this sloping the oldest layers of Jurassic limestone that are at the surface in Santenay and Chassagne, are deeply under-ground at Beaune. The strata above this are of hard white Oolitic limestone. This is the sector of the classic white wines of Puligny and Meursault. This stratum disappears underground at Volnay. The next strata are the youngest and stretch over the area of Monthélie, Volnay, Pommard, Beaune, Corton and the Hautes Côtes. These consist of Pearly Slab (Oolitic Upper Bathonian-Callovian Limestone) that is fairly hard, and Limestone Marls and Flaggy Limestone (Oxfordian), which are softer and more friable.
The Grape Varieties
Pinot Noir: (Red variety) Pinot Noir is arguably the finest red grape variety; it reflects minute differences in soil and climate in the flavour and quality of the wines that it gives. It is entirely at home on the limestone soils of Burgundy and blending with another grape variety would bring no positive attributes. There are more clones of Pinot Noir than of any other grape variety in the world. Besides all the Burgundian clones, there also are Champenoise, Swiss, German and even Australian clones. All Pinot Noir vines give small, compact bunches but there is considerable variation in exactly how small these bunches are, how many of them there are on each plant and how large or small the berries are. On top of that there is actually considerable variation in the flavour. Commonly used clones in Burgundy include 113, 114, 115, 667 and 777. There are still some vineyards which are planted with a mix of old Pinot vines known as ‘sélection massale’. Pinot Noir is highly susceptible to mildew and grey rot as well as fan leaf virus and other viruses such as ‘enroulment’. As it buds early, it can be prone to damage by spring frosts.
Pinot Noir wines can be drunk when they are very young – there is one train of thought that says that they are never so delightful as when they are drunk from the barrel displaying both primary fruit and the character of the terroir. However as the wines age, and they can sometimes be aged for a considerable period of time, they can develop wonderful opulence, sensuousness and extraordinary complexity.
Chardonnay: (White variety) Chardonnay is a native to Burgundy and in modern times has become the dominant white variety in the region, almost to the exclusion of all others. White wines have been made in Burgundy since time immemorial and in the past these were mostly made from white mutations of the Pinot Noir which these days we would call Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. Chardonnay also is a descendent of Pinot Noir as it is a crossing between Pinot Noir and an insignificant, low quality variety called Gouais Blanc. Chardonnay has become such a worldwide and ubiquitous variety, that it is important to remember that Burgundy is its home territory. In other parts of the world, it can be really quite mediocre giving flabby wines with harsh acidity. In the Côte d’Or region, Chardonnay appreciates the white, low PH soils found in Puligny, Chassagne and Meursault and other parts of the Côte de Beaune and the Hautes Côtes. Here it gives wines which are elegant, attention demanding, mineral and classy. The top wines should not be drunk when they are too young because they need some time for the personality to develop. But neither should they be aged for too long.
Pinot Gris: (White variety) (Also known as Pinot Beurot) This is a good variety that is native to the region which is now very rare and in theory it is illegal to plant more. Little patches of Pinot Gris still exist in Corton, Savigny and Marsannay, and it crops up in other odd places producing some rich and full flavoured wines.
Pinot Blanc: (White variety) Pinot Blanc is a non-aromatic textural variety (like Chardonnay) except it is more neutral and has less interesting texture. It has, not surprisingly, faded out. However patches of it still survive, notably in the Hautes-Côtes.
Aligote: (White variety) Aligoté is another traditional white variety, which, in its normal incarnation is less attractive than Pinot Blanc. Such wines are most notable for their cutting acidity and at times find it hard to be loved. Locally it is much appreciated as a base for Kir when mixed with crême de cassis.
Gamay: (Red variety) The Dukes of Burgundy started persecuting the ‘generous’ Gamay in the 1400s but it’s still there! Whereas in the Beaujolais crus it can produce very pleasant wines with a lot of personality, in Beaujolais and Mâconnais very decent quaffers, in the Côte d’Or it is only used to give body to the basic grade Bourgogne Passe-tout-grains. Although one leading estate is currently experimenting with a 100% varietal.
THE CÔTE DE NUITS Village by Village (from the north)
Gevrey has more Grand Crus than any other village on the Côte de Nuits and of these ‘Chambertin’ and ‘Clos de Bèze’ are probably the best and have their own appellations. Of the 1er Crus, ‘Aux Combottes’, which is sandwiched between the Gevrey Grand Crus and those of Morey St. Denis, and ‘Les Corbeaux’ and ‘Les Cherabaudes’, which are continuations of the Gevrey Grand Crus are potentially the most interesting. Gevrey as a style tends to be firm, rich, big, spicy and full-bodied.
FIXIN, BROCHON & MARSANNAY
The vineyards of the Côte de Nuits do in fact start some way to the north of Gevrey on the outskirts of Dijon. Here in the commune of Marsannay, light weight Pinot is made, often as Rosé.
Fixin presents a decent slope, especially in Premier Cru and gives some good wines in the Gevrey mould. The hamlet of Brochon is sandwiched between Fixin and Gevrey, its wines come out as Fixin, Gevrey-Chambertin or Côte-de-Nuits Villages.
MOREY ST DENIS
The highest vineyards, which are most open to the wind, are ‘village’ or 1er Cru. Below these on the main slope we have the Grand Crus, below them at the base of the slope the main 1er Crus with towards to the main road a band of ‘village’ crus. Violets, red fruits, truffles and liquorice are all associated with this village. Two of the Grand Cru vineyards are monopoles (or near monopoles), ‘Clos des Lambrays’ of Domaine des Lambrays and Clos de Tart of the Mommessin family with other Grand Cru such as Clos de La Roche owned by several families.
Chambolle is elegant, fragrant and velvet smooth in many years remarkably soft. The Grand Crus ‘Les Musigny’ and ‘Les Bonnes Mares’ can produce some amazing wines. Whilst there are 1er Crus such as ‘Les Fuée’, ‘Les Amoureuses’ and ‘Les Charmes’ that run the Grand Cru close for quality.
CLOS VOUGEOT & VOUGEOT
There are so many different soils and so many growers in the Clos that it is hard to be definite about what the wine should be like. Those from the top of the Clos are similar in style to the Grand Cru vineyards of Morey St Denis whilst from lower down they lean more towards the top wines from Chambolle, elegant rather than powerful, with rich, silky fruit and liquorice, nut and chocolate notes.
A village that is blessed with many Grand Crus, ‘La Romanée Conti’, ‘La Tache’, ‘Romanée St Vivant’, ‘Richebourg’ offering rich and spicy wines with complex bouquets, opulent depth of flavour, and superb finishes. In addition there are some very fine 1er Crus and village wines such as ‘Les Beaumonts’, ‘Les Suchots’, ‘Aux Malconsorts’ and the rest.
The Grand crus of Echézeaux and Grand- Echézeaux belong to the village of Flagey but they are considered to be a continuation of Vosne Romanée and abut the top of Clos Vougeot and the Chambolle-Musigny Grand Cru of “Les Musigny”. The beautiful, delicate, fragrant wines of Echézeaux are really closer in style to Chambolle than to Vosne, although Grand Echézeaux can have the weight one would expect of great Vosne.
NUITS ST GEORGES
Nuits St Georges has no Grand Crus but it has the largest area of 1er Crus on the Côte. These fall into two halves and generally speaking also into two styles. The northerly premier cru vineyards that abut Vosne Romanée are in the Vosne mould with the best wines from ‘Aux Boudots’, ‘Les Murgers’ and ‘Les Cras’ being big, opulent and rich. They share the same slope and geology based on Bathonian limestone bedrock. The premier cru wines from south of the town are quite different in style. ‘Les Pruliers’, ‘Poiret’ and ‘St Georges’ are dark, intense and mineral, with an “animal” character that strengthens as they age.
THE CÔTE DE BEAUNE Village by Village (from the north)
Ladoix, is the most northerly village, or to be more accurate cluster of hamlets, on the Côte de Beaune. It has a small sector of the Corton Grand Cru and some premier cru that tend to be in the Aloxe style.
Some three quarters of the Corton vineyards lie in Aloxe including most of the famous names. Aloxe Premier Crus tend to be big wines that age well.
Hidden away in its side valley behind the Bute de Corton is the pretty village of Pernand with so many of its vineyards facing in the wrong direction. Perhaps for this reason it is the only village in the Côte d’Or that produces everything from Grand Cru to regional appellations in both red and white! The Grand Cru is Corton Charlemagne which faces west and is the home of some great whites. There are also some new premier crus which seem to be performing well.
CORTON Grand Cru (Appellation)
Corton is the only Grand cru appellation that produces both white and red wines. It is shared by the villages of Aloxe Corton, Pernand-Vergelesses and Ladoix-Serrigny. The red wines are big and powerful, the white’s rich and complex. White Corton has two appellations that of Corton Charlemagne and Corton Blanc, a wine that can come from any of the red Corton vineyards. The name Charlemagne comes from an old legend that the Emperor Charlemagne drank white Corton to avoid staining his beard.
SAVIGNY les BEAUNE (‘Les’ in the names means ‘near’)
Savigny, up a side valley just north of Beaune, produces wines which are similar to Beaune rather than to Chorey. They tend to be lighter, more “feminine” than Beaune. Its side valley position would seem make it more subject to night-time cold down-draughts than Beaune.
CHOREY les BEAUNE
Chorey is down on the plain and produces wines a step up from basic Bourgogne. There are no premier crus. The village also produces quite a lot of wine under regional appellations.
Beaune’s richness is its huge swathe of premier crus on the slope above the town and stretching south as far as Pommard. Generally the wines are gentle, easy-drinking and some of the reds have generous aromas, plump fruit. From good years (and good producers) premier crus such as Les Grèves, Les Teurons, Les Cent Vignes, Les Boucherottes, Les Epenottes and Clos du Roi can age very well. Le Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus of Bouchard is perhaps the most impressive of all. The whites should not be overlooked and are more in the mould of Corton than Puligny tending to be rich rather than fine and complex. Les Grèves gives good whites, Les Bressandes is increasingly important, but the greatest remains Clos des Mouches from Drouhin.
Pommard’s top vineyards are regarded by some to be contenders for Grand Cru status, in particular those of ‘Les Rugiens Bas’ and ‘Grands Epenots’. Generally the wines of Pommard are bolder than those of Beaune, some perhaps too beefed up!
Volnay leans towards the ‘feminine’ with elegant, perfumed wines. There are some excellent properties and the general wine making standard in the village is high.
Monthélie is a continuation of the Volnay slope, same soil and rock but turning up the side valley thus having a more southerly aspect. The wines from Monthélie tend to be similar to Volnay.
Auxey is just up the side valley beyond Monthélie. The valley goes round behind Meursault to where the village is and then on up to St Romain. With Auxey-Duresses one doesn’t have great expectations, as it a real ‘side valley village’ but the wines can often be good value alternatives to the greater names.
Meursault is not purely a white wine village as on the Volnay side is the premier Cru vineyard Santenots home of Pinot Noir. Closer in to the village the hard Comblanchien lime and the white Oolitic limestone both reappear suiting the Chardonnay grape making for top wines from vineyards such as ‘Les Perrières’, ‘Les Charmes’ and ‘Les Genevières’. The upper slopes around Blagny produce white and a smaller amount of Meursault Rouge. The flavours associated by Meursault are richness, honey and hazel nuts.
This is the village of great whites with Grand and Premier Cru sites producing racy elegant refined wines, apples, apricots, peaches and smoke all feature, these scents and flavours are at their most intense in ‘Le Montrachet’ , Chevalier and Bâtard are wonderful but the ‘knight’ himself seems to reign supreme.
This is a village that has both red and white. The reds tend to be light and less concentrated whilst the whites are fuller than those in neighbouring Puligny. The Grand Crus of Montrachet and Bâtard-Montrachet continue into Chassagne and here are slightly more south facing, as is Criots Bâtard-Montrachet.
St Aubin is round the corner from Puligny, up a side valley before Chassagne, but some of its vineyards are actually above Puligny. The highest vineyards can give thin or weedy wines but both whites and reds at premier cru level can be good with some of the whites being quite special.
The white 1er crus on the Montrachet hill with lovely names such as ‘Les Murgers des Dents de Chien’ and ‘En Remilly’ have hints of the Montrachet flavour for a fraction of the price. The reds are fairly similar to those of Chassagne.
At Santenay, we finish where we started, with stony, often heavy soils on a bedrock of Liassic and Bajocian Marls and Crinoidal Limestone. These soils tend to give hearty, rich reds, not exactly subtle but good value, wines that often develop faster than many other villages.
The last three communes at the bottom of the Côte de Beaune produce their wines under the ‘village’ name of Maranges or under Côte de Beaune Villages.
THE HAUTES CÔTES
The Hautes-Côtes-de-Nuits and the Hautes-Côtes-de-Beaune lie behind the main villages and have vineyards often on slopes that are somewhat steeper than those of the Bourgogne generic appellation and on richer soils. Due to height the area is cooler and often prone to frost damage.
A village with some high, steep vineyards and a multitude of facings having more in common with the Hautes-Côtes than with Meursault below it. The crisp whites in particular are very attractive and good value.
CÔTE DE BEAUNE VILLAGES & CÔTE DE NUITS VILLAGES
Côte-de-Nuits-Villages wines come from areas around the village of Brochon south of Fixin and from south of Nuits-Saint-Georges and Premeaux in the areas around the quarries of Corgolin, whilst Côte-de-Beaune-Villages wines have all been declassified from a higher appellation. These can be any of the Côte de Beaune villages with the exception of Pommard, Volnay, Beaune and Aloxe Corton.
Passe-Tout-Grains is a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay. It comes mostly from vineyards officially designated for it or for Bourgogne Aligoté. The Gamay brings broadness to the blend, which prevents the Pinot grown in such places from seeming thin.
BOURGOGNE Aligoté AC
Aligoté is one of the historic grape varieties of Burgundy. Before the appearance of the Chardonnay it was planted in many top sites such as Corton. Aligoté when good, is a fresh, floral wine with a fairly neutral taste and a sharp cut of acidity. It is used to make the apéritif ‘kir’ when it is mixed with cassis, a drink that can suit simple and fatty foods. The best known village for Aligoté is Bouzeron
Trois Glorieuses - Burgundy Celebration
Contact us for dates.
21 - 25 October 2007
Burgundy & Beaujolais By Coach or Train
24 - 28 October 2010
Burgundy by Coach
26 - 30 October 2008
Burgundy Great Domaines
Contact us for dates.
Burgundy Hospices de Beaune & Musique et Vin au Clos Vougeot
26 - 30 June 2012