A Beginner’s Guide to Burgundy Wine (with Maps)
If you were to ask a connoisseur to name the five best European wine regions, it’s all but guaranteed that the Burgundy wine region would be on that list. Some of our favourite wines are from this particular region!
Burgundy wines have long been renowned as some of the greatest, most refined wines in not just Europe, but the world. Though the Burgundy wine region map will show you that the wine-producing area is much smaller than many others in Europe, there is no denying that wine from Burgundy is “as good as it gets”!
A History of Burgundy Wines
Let’s travel back in time to the days of the Roman Empire, and we will find Burgundy wines already in full swing. Wine production in Burgundy dates back to the 1st Century AD, which makes it one of the oldest wine-producing regions in Europe. Though the region is fairly small, the combination of Burgundy wine grapes, soils, topography and climate has produced excellent wines for close to 2,000 years.
However, it was only in the Middle Ages that the Burgundy wine region became truly renowned. Catholic monks began to grow grapes to produce wine for the church, as well as for the Dukes of Burgundy. During the French Revolution, the land was taken from the aristocracy and given back to the people.
Following this fragmentation, holdings have continued to reduce in size due to the Napoleonic inheritance laws, where an estate must be split equally between all children. There are more than 4000 domaines in the region, and many instances of a winemaker having a single row of vines in a particular area, or not even enough to fill a single barrel.
The Facts About Burgundy Wine Grapes
Burgundy is famous for two types of grapes: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
In fact, these two grapes originated in Burgundy, and the symbiosis of vineyard location, climate, soil, grape type, and the added touch of human hands—a combination called “terroir”—brings out the richest, fullest expression of flavours from these grapes.
No other wine region in the world is as well-known for its terroir as Burgundy, where vineyards that are metres apart can produce vastly different wines from the same grapes.
A Look at the Burgundy Wine Region
To understand the full extent of the wine from Burgundy, you need to understand how the region is broken down. In fact, if you look at this Burgundy wine map, you’ll see there are five smaller growing regions:
EVERYONE has heard of Chablis, renowned for its crisp acidity and zesty flavours. The region of Chablis is far to the north of Burgundy, and it’s actually separated from the rest of the region.
Thanks to the Serein River, the soil is white and chalky (limestone), and the region is known for its cold winters, warm summers, and frosty springs. However, the limestone soil actually helps to reflect the warmth and sunlight, allowing the grapes to ripen faster. The cooler climate gives a crisp purity that makes Chablis so distinctive from other white Burgundy wines.
Chablis is famous for its white wines, all made from the famous Chardonnay grape.
Côte de Nuits
If you are looking for quality wine, you’ll find this region is definitely the place for you! With 24 Grand Cru vineyards, Côte de Nuits is home to some of the costliest vineyard real estate in Europe. The famous vineyards (Gevrey-Chambertin, Nuits-St-Georges and Romanée-Conti inter alia) spread across the eastern-facing slopes descending toward the Saone River.
Côte de Nuits is famous for its red wines made from Pinot Noir (only 5% of vineyards here produce white wine).
The Côte de Nuits Pinor Noir is full-bodied, with hints of cherries, black currants, spices, mushrooms, and fresh red fruits. They are some of the best wines to age, as they hold their flavours for decades. Wines from this region are some of the most expensive in the world.
Côte de Beaune
This region is named after the medieval village of Beaune, which is located in the heart of the Burgrundy wine region.
The landscape is open, with rolling hills and southeast-facing vineyards that produce arguably the world’s best white wines, with vineyard names such as Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault known around the globe.
This region is famous for its Chardonnay, though the white wines from Côte de Beaune are richer and more flavourful than the crisper Chablis whites.
If you’re looking for the more affordable types of Burgundy wine, Côtes Chalonnaise and Maconnais (see below) are reliable sources of quality whites. The mixture of marl and limestone with clay and eroded pebbles (in some areas, up to 13 different types of soil mixed) gives each plot a unique character and interesting flavour profiles.
Côte Chalonnaise has no Grand Cru vineyards, but the region produces some truly amazing wines for the money. Most whites here are Chardonnay, but another grape, Aligote produces some good wines too, with strong hints of citrus, floral notes, and flint, with just a touch of honey.
The heart of the Côte Chalonnaise region is famous for its Cremant sparkling wines, made in the same method as traditional Champagne. The southern parts of the region produces quality Pinot Noirs as well as Chardonnays.
This is the southernmost region of Burgundy, and the largest of all the Burgundy wine regions. Wine quality hasn’t always been great here, but the 1970s saw a sharp increase in quality, and happily prices remain much lower than in the Côte d’Or.
The climate is warmer, and more consistent than the rest of Burgundy, and harvest begins much earlier than the other regions.
The warm climate does wonders for the rich flavours of the grapes, particularly the white Chardonnay. Wines from this region are famous for their notes of wild herbs, citrus, ripe stone fruits, and honeysuckle. Further south, in Pouilly-Fuisse, the Chardonnay has freshness and structure, with notes of white peach, apple, and pineapple.
Types of Burgundy Wine
Now that you understand the different regions of Burgundy, it’s time to learn about the types of wine produced here. On our bottles of Burgundy wine, you’ll find different classifications on the label. There are four different classifications:
Grand Cru – This accounts for just 1% of the wines produced here! These are the very famous wines, including Montrachet, Romanée Conti, and La Tache, and are made only from either Pinot Noir or Chardonnay grapes. Grand Cru wines are the most intensely flavoured, and long-lived, and you can expect to pay top dollar for a wine from any of the 33 Grand Cru vineyards in the region.
- Premier Cru – Roughly 10% of the wine produced in Burgundy is Premier Cru. They have far more intense flavours than Village wines, courtesy of the soil type, longer ageing, aspect, an other factors.
- Village Wines – 37% of the wine produced in Burgundy is Village wine. These are named after the villages closest to the vineyards where they are produced. They usually have none of the oaky flavours of the Premier and Grand Cru wines, but with a fresh, fruity flavour that makes them a good purchase.
- Regional Wines – 52% of the wines produced here are Regional Wines. They are made from grapes grown anywhere in the region, and will usually be labelled either Bourgogne Rouge (Pinot Noir) or Bourgogne Blanc (Chardonnay).
Obviously, the Grand and Premier Cru wines will be the costliest. However, we’ve found that even the village and regional wines can stand on their own, and offer good value. Thanks to the terroir of Burgundy, the wines produced in this region are some of the best in the world!
How to Pair Wine from Burgundy
We love pairing Burgundy wine with food! It’s wonderful to taste the explosion of flavour for which this region is famous:
Burgundy Pinot Noir is best when paired with flavourful dishes such as meat or nut roasts. For example, we love to serve a complex, elegant Pinot Noir with chicken and cream sauce, pork roast, mushroom sauce, salmon, and Teriyaki sauce.
If the Pinot is juicer and riper, we’ll pair it with beef tenderloin, herb-heavy duck or chicken breast, curry, and lamb.
The fresh, apple and citrus-heavy Bourgogne Blanc pairs beautifully with middle-weight pastas, chicken, and light appetizers. We’ll pair a bottle of Chablis with oysters and raw bar food, while Maconnais whites always taste much better with cured pork and middle-weight dishes.
When we enjoy something heavier—anything with mushrooms, roasted vegetables, pork, or chicken in rich sauces—we must have a Côte de Beaune Chardonnay, a wine that can stand up to fuller flavours.
Both red and white Burgundies are great options for Christmas dinner.
Our Burgundy Wines Recommendations
Looking for the best Burgundy wines to enjoy? We have a few recommendations we think you will love:
AOC Chablis Domaine Jean Goulley
A gorgeous Chardonnay from the Chablis region, one that combines the best of red apple and pineapple flavours for an aromatic, flinty, deep wine that has a toasty almond finish.
AOC Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre Chardonnay
This wine has a crisp acidity that brings out the flavours of white fruit, with a subtle, dry richness you can’t help but love.
AOC Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre Pinot Noir
Great for those who want something subtler and more refined to enjoy of an evening. Coming from the north of the region, this doesn’t have the rich, punchy flavours you might expect from a Pinot Noir, but instead delivers velvet smoothness with a gentle finish.
Gevrey Chambertin Aux Echezaux
This deep red wine tastes as wondrous as it looks! It’s a top Pinot Noir famous for its meaty, rich palate and heavy black fruit flavours.
Thanks to the time spent in the oak barrel, the wine has a complexity that makes it a worthy addition to any elegant meal. Great wine from a great producer.
AOC Meursault Les Tillets Jean Javillier
This is a white like no other, best served with poultry and creamy pasta. The delicate balance and buttery flavours of toasted fruit make it the perfect compliment to rich decadence.
Of course, if you want a wine that’s on par with the quality of the Burgundy vintages listed above, try the Chasselay Morgon Cru Beaujolais.
AOC Morgon Beaujolais Cru Chasselay
Although the Beaujolais region stands on its own, it has historically been part of Burgundy, and crus such as this are on par in terms of quality and flavour profile, but are much better value! With its light spice, herb flavours, and layered minerality, you’ll find it’s a very versatile wine with food.
The French Burgundy wine region is definitely one you’d do well to acquaint yourself with. The excellent wines are well-worth trying, and you’ll find they pair beautifully with a wide range of dishes.
Check out our Vintage Roots wine cellar and see which of our organic Burgundy wines best suits your preferences.