Burgundy and Beaujolais (the 5th largest producing region) are usually lumped together because they are neighbours and both produce equal volume of wines. Strictly speaking Beaujolais can and should be treated as a separate region as its wine style and grape variety are different from those of Burgundy. The north-south orientation forms a continuous spread from Dijon to Lyon with Chablis distinctly sits on its north-west near the city of Auxerre. In this region the wineries are never called ‘Chateaux’ as is common in Bordeaux. They are ‘Domaines’ here. Burgundy: This is a name to rival Bordeaux for the best French wines in world markets. The whole of Burgundy’s production in about 20% of volume to that of Bordeaux yet there are 3 times more appellations which means that wineries are small in scale. In Bordeaux a single chateau winery can hold 100 or more hectares of vineyard. Here a domaine with its own appellation can be as small as a few hectare of vineyard or even less (La Romanée has only 0.8 hectare of vineyard). Another key point of difference is that Bordeaux wines are always a blend of 3-4 grapes while Burgundy wines are always single-graped: Pinot Noir for red and Chardonnay for white. The whole of Burgundy is divided to 5 sub-regions from north to south: Chablis, Côte-de-Nuits, Côte-de-Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise and Maconnais.
This is pure white Chardonnay country. Its limestone soil and colder climate bestow its wine a slight greenish tint and a gun-flint taste distinct from the other Chardonnay of the region. There are 7 Grands Crus (Great Growth) and 17 Premiers Crus (First Growth). The rest are AOC Chablis. Petit Chablis is outside the main growth area and is generally inferior. Chablis wines are never cheap but they are one of the best Chardonnays in France (and in the world).
This is Burgundy proper and heartland of the best Pinot Noir red wines in France. It forms a string of hillside on the west of the river Soane running from the city of Dijon to Beaune. Pinot Noir is perhaps the most finicky of grapes: very sensitive to cold, frost and mould. However it has found a home here because of the soil and climate creating over the centuries the fabled appellations of Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée, Vougeot, etc. There are over 20 Grands Crus and hundreds of Premiers Crus. The wines are always expensive and the best here can fetch even higher prices than those produced by the top 5 chateaux of Bordeaux.
This is in fact a continuation of Côte-de-Nuits (the 2 Côtes together are known as Côte-d’Or, the Gold Coast) with the city of Beaune as its centre. While Côte-de-Nuits is all red wine here we find both red and white. The red wines here can be as good (Le Corton, the only red Grand Cru) as those of Côte-de-Nuits but they are somewhat over-shadowed. Here is where white Burgundy shines: the Grands Crus of Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet. These are Chardonnay wines but their taste is miles apart from their cousins up north in Chablis. These wines are full-bodied, buttery and nutty in taste and can age for over 10 years.
The name is given to the 5 villages to the west of the city of Chalon-sur-Saone. There are 4 Premiers Crus but no Grand Cru of which both red and white are represented. The best red Pinot Noir from this sub-region comes from Mercurey and Givry while the best white wine is from Rully.
The name comes from the city of Mâcon where the vineyards are spread to the north and to the south. The bulk of production is white wine, reliable but unexciting as there is no Grand or Premier Cru. Somehow the wines from the villages of Pouilly and Fuissé are better know around the world than their more worthy cousins from the Côte Chalonnaise. Other popular AOC are St.Véran, Viré-Clessé and Mâcon-Villages.
Beaujolais, a red wine sub-region of Burgundy stretching from the city of Macon to Lyon should indeed be on its own. First the prolific production volume equates to that of the whole of Burgundy. Second the grape variety is Gamay, not Pinot Noir (although Beaujolais white is made from Chardonnay). Third the vinification process is different. The wine is fruity, crisp, light and almost without tannin therefore it should be drunk early.
Beaujolais is perhaps the most successful exported wine in France thanks to the marketing effort in promoting ‘Beaujolais Nouveau’ in Asia and in America. As a result it has also given Beaujolais a bad rap as ‘fruit juice masquerades as wine’. This is far off the point. Before Beaujolais Nouveau came along there has always been 10 Crus (Growths) – 10 villages designated for producing the best Beaujolais: a crispy, flowery red wine that can age a good few years.
The grapes are harvested in September. The wine is released (worldwide) in November and drunk by December. This unusually short cycle is due to the special quality of the Gamay grapes which can ferment quickly. As a result this recent invention enables the wine to be drunk at its ‘young prime’. Yet the marketing effort must have introduced a great number of young (beer?) drinkers worldwide to try wine. And that would be a good thing overall.
This represents the generic wine produced anywhere within the confines of the 39 better communes to the south of the region. The wine is slightly fuller than Nouveau as it is released a bit later than November to allow for maturation.
The word Cru (growth) means vineyards of better quality and in Beaujolais there are 10. Together they represent the best that this region can produce. The wines are fuller while retaining the fruity and flowery aroma and can age up to a good few years. The 10 Crus are Moulin-a-Vent, Fleurie, Brouilly, Côte-de-Brouilly, Chénas, Juliénas, Morgon, St-Amour, Chiroubles and Régnié.
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