Chardonnay is the dominant white grape variety used to make Burgundy wines producing crisp, Chablis wine, and fuller, fatter wines further south. Pinot Noir is the dominant red variety of wines made in Burgundy except in the Beaujolais area where Gamay is king. Smaller plantings of Aligote, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris exist, but not in any significant quantity. Burgundy is usually split into the districts of Chablis, Cote de Nuits, Cote de Beaune, Cote Chalonnaise, Cote Maconnais and Beaujolais.
The area under vine is a fraction of that of Bordeaux and worldwide demand means that prices of Burgundy wines will never be exactly cheap. The price to quality ratio can disappoint, let's face it, with some producers trading on the region's good reputation - and price - without delivering due quality. The curse of excessive use of oak in Burgundy wines is as insidious here as it is anywhere else, too. However, when the balance is right, when the fruit is allowed to express terroir purely, Burgundy wines are just about unbeatable.
Chablis is the most northerly district where Chardonnay is grown on limestone soil producing the characteristic minerally white wines. In Chablis the best vineyards sites are classified as Grand Cru (there are seven Grand Crus in Chablis) with about 40 sites classified as Premier Cru. Chablis is usually unoaked, though some Chablis winemakers use a gentle oaking on their richer and more concentrated wines. For Burgundy though, these are still dry, racy, crisp whites.
Next stop on our journey south is the Cote de Nuits which extends south from Dijon to Nuits-Saint-Georges. Red wine from Pinot Noir dominates here from the famous villages of Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey St.Denis, Chambolle-Musigny, Vougeot, Vosne-Romanee and Nuits-St-Georges itself, though it’s worth keeping an eye out for the less well-known names of Marsannay and Fixin. Many would argue that red Burgundy is at its best in the Cote de Nuits, where Pinot Noir somehow seems to have more substance that in the Cote de Beaune.
Travelling further south towards Beaune we enter the Cote de Beaune at Aloxe-Corton, with the village of Pernand-Vergelesses tucked away behind the hill. Red and white Burgundy share the northern part of the Cote de Beaune, but as we journey south past the town of Beaune itself and the red-dominated communes of Pommard and Volnay, Chardonnay very much takes over producing the exceptional white wines of Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet. Here the whites are richer and fuller frequently underscored with oak.
Further south still are the arguably less fashionable Chalonnais and Maconnais which are well worth getting to know since here the quality still shines, though the prices can be more reasonable than those from the more sought after locations further north. There are some super growers in Rully, Mercurey and Givry. The wines of Francois Lumpp in Givry are particularly worthy of your attention! Seek out also the offerings from Corinne & Thierry Drouin who make fantastic whites in Macon and Pouilly-Fuisse.
Generally speaking, you should tread carefully in Burgundy because expensive disappointments are not uncommon. In the light of this rather hit-and-miss standard, the most important factor in the selection process is a trusted supplier with knowledge of individual growers. With the exception of Vincent Girardin, perhaps the best of today's negociants, all our Burgundy wines come from fine, individual grower/winemakers. The good news is that more and more are raising their game.
Having had more than our fair share of disappointments with this region as eager consumers over the years, we want to make sure that you do not. Our list of Burgundy wines is modest but carefully chosen: every line is a star.
Beaujolais is a little easier to get to grips with. Ten villages are permitted to name the wine after the village (so most merchants tend only to list 2 or 3) but many producers Beaujolais-Villages or straight Beaujolais is equally good. Again, a well-chosen producer is important and we have one so jump in and get to know these deliciously fruity reds.