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Burgundy wine - the beginner’s guide | Drizly

Palates, opinions, and personal preferences aside, most wine professionals will agree: when it comes to wine, Burgundy is king. Known for its sloping hills, terroir-driven mentality, and countless Grand and Premier Crus, it's no surprise that Burgundy is recognized as one of the most renowned wine-producing regions in the world. Understanding basic Burgundy is simple, though the details can get a bit more complicated. But don't worry-we've got you. Follow this simple guide to Burgundy wines and you'll be on your way to becoming a Burgundian expert in no time.

Where is Burgundy?

Burgundy is located on the eastern side of France, from the village of Auxerre to the region of Macon. The landscape is characterized by its many slopes and valleys, creating a diversity of wine-growing conditions. These unique conditions, characterized by their particular topography and climate, make up the concept of terrior (the term is spelled differently than the dog breed...though they're great too,) a concept for which Burgundy is credited for showcasing best. The region has some pretty serious winemaking history, with evidence of viticulture found dating back to the second century. Basically, when it comes to winemaking, Burgundy is OG.

Burgundy 101

Burgundy 101 is quite easy to understand: red wines are made from pinot noir and white wines are made from chardonnay. Period. Almost. Like any wine region, there are small exceptions; gamay and aligoté are grown in small amounts throughout the region, as well as minimal amounts of pinot blanc and pinot gris. Whereas Bordeaux is famous for its immaculate blends, Burgundy's focus remains on varietal wines, which are wines produced using only one grape variety. Burgundy's vineyards cover nearly 30,000 hectares, dispersed amongst 3,000+ wineries. However, far more grape growers exists outside of these 3,000+ domaines; smaller farmers sell their grapes off to négociants, AKA, guys who blend and bottle various grape purchases under their own cuvée. Nearly 75% of Burgundian wine on the market comes from négociants, though about 70% of Burgundy's vines are privately owned by individual wineries.

Burgundy's classification system

Understanding the Burgundian classification system gets a little trickier. The wine classifications here are based off of geography as opposed to producer. With hundreds of soil types and various topography, location is key in Burgundy, which is also why the wines are considered some of the most terroir-driven in the world (just to really take this point home, we're still not talking about dogs. But let us know if you want to. We're totally down.) The classification system can be broken down into four different levels; regional appellations, village level, premier crus, and grand crus.

Regional

Regional appellations' standards are the least strict out of the four classifications. These appellations allow for fruit to come from all over the region, not just one specific place. Unlike premier and grand crus, regional appellations allow for minimal rosé [insert shouts of praise] and sparkling production. The most well known appellation, AOC Bourgogne, produces easy-drinking red and white wines that are meant to be drunk young. Around half of Burgundy's total wine production comes from regional appellations.

Village level

Village level wines take it one step further. These appellations obtain their names from the town near which the fruit is sourced. Like regional wines, these wines are fresh and generally consumed relatively young. Look for names like Fixin and Santenay for great examples you can pop on a whim.

Premier cru

Premier cru wines comprise about 10% of Burgundy's wine production. The fruit for these wines come from designated sites that are of superior quality, though not quite at the caliber of grand cru. Premier cru wines will always have their status designated on the bottle-because why would you not flaunt it if you got it? Individual vineyards will be noted if applicable.

Grand cru

Grand cru wines are the cream of the crop; just a mere 1-2% of the region's production qualifies. These are the ideal sites for grape-growing, meaning that soils, sun exposure, and topography all work together to create some of the most harmonious, beautifully balanced wines in the world. If a bottle of grand cru Burgundy falls into your lucky hands, we'd recommend cellaring for at least five years, though the wine will certainly hold up for longer. Grand cru will always be designated on the label, as well as the appellation (Corton, Montrachet, and La Tache are some of the most well-known.) Nearly all of Burgundy's grand crus are found in the Côte de Nuits.

Burgundy wine regions

Burgundy is broken down into five main regions: Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnais, and Mâconnais. In the past, many considered Beaujolais to be part of the larger Burgundian region, though wine professionals have moved away from that mentality in the present day, considering Beaujolais its own entity. Each of the five regions is incredibly distinct; despite using the same grape varieties, the wines' characteristics and expressions are extremely variant from region to region.

Chablis

Situated over 100 kilometers away from Beaune, Chablis is the northernmost (and perhaps most distinct) of the five regions. Chablis is actually closer to Aube, the southernmost region of Champagne, than mainland Burgundy, making their terroirs extremely similar. Like Champagne, Chablis benefits from cool climate and Kimmeridgian soil, preserving a strong acidity within the fruit. Wines from Chablis have a particularly noticeable flintiness and are able to age for a decent amount of time. The region is home to seven of Burgundy's white wine grand crus. In other words, drink Chablis to be a boss.

Côte de Nuits

The Côte de Nuits is the second most northerly portion of Burgundy and is home to some of the world's most renowned vineyards. Here, red grapes dominate nearly 95% of production. The region is home to a whopping 24 grand crus, as well as the most expensive bottles of wine in the world (coming from Domaine de la Romanée Conti.) The climate is continental, soils are varied, and the topography is brimming with hilly slopes. Rare Burgundian rosé comes from this region, specifically marsannay.

Côte de Beaune

The Côte de Beaune sits just beneath the Côte de Nuits, both of which comprise the larger Côte d'Or.' Here, Chardonnay dominates, creating mouth-filling, plush wines with flavors of stone fruit and hazelnut. Montrachet and Corton are some of the more celebrated appellations, though in the Côte de Beaune, you won't actually have to shell out your life savings for a decent bottle; look to the wines of Saint Aubin for some great value bottles. Hey, if you're anything like us, these delicious bottles are more likely within your price range comfort zone.

Côte Chalonnaise

Just below the Côte de Beaune sits the Côte Chalonnaise, known for good value Pinot Noir and traditional method sparkling. Bouzeron, a unique appellation to the Côte Chalonnaise, is the only appellation in all of Burgundy to produce AOC level white wines from the aligoté grape. Limestone and clay soils give the wines varying characteristics as you drink your way through this region.

Mâconnais

The southernmost region in Burgundy is the Mâconnais, known for great, affordable chardonnay. For white wine lovers, this is your everyday go-to region, however, nearly 30% of production comes from red pinot noir and gamay grapes. The conditions here are strikingly different than those of Chablis, with harvest beginning around 15 days earlier. Limestone soils dominate (hello, nutrient rich soil), though small amounts of granite are present too, thanks to the region's proximity to neighboring Beaujolais.

Congratulations! You've made it through your 29,500 hectare voyage and are now a bona fide Burgundian expert. Now grab some bottles and get to tasting! Check to see if Drizly delivers in your area and get your next bottle of wine brought right to your doorstep.