An introduction to Burgundy
Burgundy is arguably home to the very finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – age-worthy, ethereal wines that have set the standard the world over. This complex region is also often seen as the archetypal proof of the concept of “terroir”, with vines next door to each other producing vastly different wines.
The vine has a long history here, thought to have been brought to the region by the Romans and it’s flourished during the two millennia since, even if the industry’s fortunes have oscillated during that time. The wines rose to prominence in the Medieval era, with the vineyards playing an important economic and political role. Indeed, the Church planted and maintained many of the region’s most prestigious vineyards.
The French Revolution saw an end to aristocratic and religious control of the region’s vines, with the land sold and divided to vignerons or wine-growers. Mildew and phylloxera racked the region in the late 19th century, followed by challenging economic conditions and two World Wars in the first half of the 20th century. It is only in the last 50 years or so that Burgundy has bounced back, with quality – and demand – for the wines higher than ever.
Today there are over 30,000 hectares under vine (representing 4% of France’s total vineyard area), spread across 84 appellations and over 3,500 different producers. It tells you a lot that the average size of an estate in Burgundy is a mere 6.51 hectares. Napoleonic inheritance laws are integral to the structure of Burgundy today. Land has to be equally divided between a parent’s children, leading to ever-smaller parcels of vines (unless one buys vines from the other), and the fragmented, complex web of the region that faces consumers today. In the most prized vineyards, producers may have only a row or two of vines each. Volumes of the top wines are often tiny and strictly allocated, making them hard to find, let alone buy, and inevitably pushing prices up. There is however value to be had in Burgundy – if you know where to look – and few will debate that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from elsewhere rarely reaches the heights of the best from the Côte d’Or.
The key sub-regions and villages within Burgundy
Burgundy’s reputation has been built on the wines of the Côte d’Or. Literally translating as “the golden slope”, it snakes north to south and is divided into two halves, the northerly Côte de Nuits and the southerly Côte de Beaune, with the town of Beaune sitting in the middle of the two.
The Côte de Nuits
The Côte de Nuits is red-wine royalty – home to some of the most expensive vineyard land in the world, and prestigious villages of Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny and Vosne-Romanée. Pinot Noir dominates here, although there is a small amount of Chardonnay.
Marsannay was only formally classified in 1987 and is the only village in Burgundy that can produce rosé, with some vineyards classified exclusively for rosé production. These rosés can be very special, and age-worthy (look out for those from Sylvain Pataille and René Bouvier), but there are also brilliant whites and reds from the likes of Domaine Bizot, Bruno Clair and Charles Audoin, as well as the aforementioned producers. Red-fruited and bright, the Pinot Noir in particular can be a great source of value. The village’s best plot is Clos du Roy (sometimes spelt “Roi”), at the very northern tip of the appellation. Tipped for promotion to Premier Cru, its iron-rich soils produce Marsannay’s most powerful reds.
Fixin is often seen as a more rustic sibling of Gevrey-Chambertin, much less fashionable than its southerly neighbour but having similar soils. There are, however, some very fine wines produced if you know where to look, such as those of Berthaut-Gerbet, or bottlings from Charles Audoin and René Bouvier (both of whom are based in Marsannay).
Gevrey-Chambertin is the first of the more established villages as you move south from Dijon. Previously known as Gevrey-en-Montagne, it was the first in the region to add its most famous vineyard (Chambertin) to its name in the 19th century. The wines from this village are typically the firmest, structured and rich expressions of Pinot Noir, historically with tannins that need time. The village boasts the most Grands Crus of any in Burgundy, with Chambertin, Chambertin Clos de Bèze, Chapelle-Chambertin, Charmes-Chambertin, Griotte-Chambertin, Latricières-Chambertin, Mazis-Chambertin, Mazoyères-Chambertin and Ruchottes-Chambertin, while Premier Cru Clos Saint-Jacques can sometimes rival the Grands Crus. Other stand-out sites include Premier Cru Combe aux Moines and Cazetiers, while Bel Air is the lone Premier Cru to sit above the Grands Crus, touching both Clos de Bèze and Ruchottes-Chambertin, and can produce some brilliant wines. Gevrey is home to an array of illustrious names, including Armand Rousseau, Trapet, Dugat-Py, Denis Mortet, Fourrier and Duroché – but look beyond these grandiose domaines to the hidden gem that is Heresztyn-Mazzini and the brilliant value found at Tortochot.
Morey-Saint-Denis – Although this village has a prime location, sandwiched between Gevrey-Chambertin and Chambolle-Musigny, and is home to five Grands Crus (Clos de la Roche, Clos de Tart, Bonnes Mares, Clos des Lambrays and Clos Saint-Denis), Morey-Saint-Denis never seems to get the same limelight as either of its neighbours. It’s perhaps partly because the wines are hard to define, often considered as sitting somewhere between Gevrey and Chambolle in style. The arrival of the Artémis group (of Ch. Latour, having purchased Clos de Tart) and LVMH (who bought Domaine des Lambrays) is starting to change all that, however. While the village is known for its fine Pinot Noir, there are some top whites here – including from Premier Cru Monts Luisants (which sits next to Clos de la Roche), where Dujac farms a parcel of Chardonnay and Ponsot farms a parcel of Aligoté. Domaine Dujac and Domaine Ponsot are the most famous names based here, along with Domaine Arlaud, Domaine Robert Groffier, Domaine des Lambrays, Domaine du Clos de Tart, Domaine Hubert Lignier and FINE+RARE favourite Georges Lignier as well as the great-value wines of Henri Jouan.
Chambolle-Musigny – Chambolle can produce Burgundy’s most ethereal reds – fine-boned, perfumed and delicate expressions of Pinot Noir. The crème de la crème of the village hails from the Musigny Grand Cru, a site Jasper Morris MW considers “the finest of all Grands Crus excepting perhaps some of the monopoles of Vosne-Romanée” – high praise indeed. This is also the only Grand Cru in the Côte de Nuits that permits both red and white. The only producer to take advantage of this is Comte Georges de Vogüé, having 0.6 of their almost three hectares planted to Chardonnay and bottled under Musigny Blanc. The village’s other Grand Cru is Bonnes-Mares, straddling the border into Morey-Saint-Denis, and closer in style to the wines of this village. These two sites are closely followed by the sensuous wines of Premier Cru Les Amoureuses and open, welcoming styles of Premier Cru Charmes, while Premier Cru Les Chabiots and Combe d’Orveau (lying either side of Musigny) are vineyards well worth looking out for. Leading producers include Ghislaine Barthod, Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier, Georges Roumier, Domaine Hudelot-Noëllat and Comte Georges de Vogüé, while Domaine Felettig is a name to watch.
Vougeot – Vougeot is dominated by its eponymous Grand Cru, Clos de Vougeot, the largest in the Côte de Nuits, representing just shy of 51 hectares. (By contrast, there are only three hectares of village Vougeot and 11 hectares of Premier Cru vineyard here.) The Clos is thought to date back to the 13th century, with the château that sits in the middle of it built a century earlier. Unsurprisingly given the size of Clos de Vougeot, its terroir is varied – with significantly more limestone at the top, clay in the middle and deeper, more alluvial soil in the bottom section. To combat this, producers such as Lamarche and Leroy craft wines using fruit from plots at both the top and bottom of the vineyard, offering a more complete picture of the site. Many argue that it shouldn’t all be classified as Grand Cru, and certainly quality is mixed, however the best examples are worthy of their classification, generally much firmer and structured expressions of Pinot Noir than those of neighbouring Chambolle or Vosne. Beyond the synonymous Grand Cru, the rest of Vougeot is often over-looked, but Hudelot-Noëllat’s Premier Cru Les Petits Vougeots and Domaine de la Vougeraie’s monopole Premier Cru Clos Blanc de Vougeot should be sought out. There are only a handful of producers based here, but Ch. de la Tour (with its château within Clos Vougeot) is worth highlighting, having six hectares of vines in the Grand Cru.
Vosne-Romanée – Home to Domaine Leroy, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and its monopole Grands Crus (La Romanée-Conti and La Tâche), as well as La Romanée of Domaine Comte Liger-Belair and Domaine Lamarche’s La Grande Rue, Vosne-Romanée is the most aristocratic of the villages in the Côte de Nuits – a small but arguably perfectly formed village. The archetypal “iron fist in a velvet glove”, the village’s wines are – at their best – utterly regal, combining substance and finesse to create beguiling Pinot Noir. Alongside the aforementioned monopoles, the enviable array of Grands Crus here includes Richebourg, Romanée-Saint-Vivant, Echézeaux and Grands Echézeaux. There are some very fine Premiers Crus here too, sites that give many Grands Crus a run for their money – such as Suchots, Malconsorts, Cros Parantoux, Gaudichots, Brûlées and Beaux Monts. Now the stuff of history and legend, Henri Jayer (the holdings now farmed by Emmanuel Rouget) and René Engel (now part of the Artémis group and known as Domaine d’Eugénie) will forever be associated with the village, with mythical status among Burgundy-lovers, and have only contributed to Vosne-Romanée’s reputation. Beyond this iconic pair, the producers located here represent a roll-call of some of the region’s most alluring names – with Sylvain Cathiard, Mugneret-Gibourg, Jean Grivot, the various Gros estates, Georges Noëllat, Arnoux-Lachaux, Méo-Camuzet… and the list goes on – but a new generation is on the rise too. Look out for the wines of Coquard Loison Fleurot. (NB The vineyards of neighbouring Flagey-Echézeaux are encompassed by the Vosne appellation.)
Nuits-Saint-Georges – The most southerly village in the Côte de Nuits, Nuits-Saint-Georges doesn’t have any Grands Crus, although some argue that Premier Cru Les Saint-Georges is worthy of being upgraded. Another standout site is Mugnier’s Premier Cru Clos de la Maréchale (which had been leased to Faiveley until 2004). Alongside Gevrey, Nuits produces some of the most muscular styles of red Burgundy, structured, full and darkly fruited, although some lean towards a more elegant Vosne-like style, but can age beautifully. Traditionally the wines needed time in the cellar to reveal their potential; more modern vignerons such as Duband or Prieuré-Roch, however, are challenging that style with wines that are more approachable in their youth. There is no shortage of brilliant producers here, with Domaine de l’Arlot, Robert Chevillon, Henri Gouges, Domaine de la Vougeraie (despite the name, referencing the estate’s extensive holdings in Vougeot), and the fashionable Prieuré-Roch, as well as being the home of Faiveley – one of Burgundy’s largest négociants, which also owns a substantial (and increasing) swathe of vineyard itself, as well as Albert Bichot’s Domaine du Clos Frantin. Two up-and-coming names are Camille Thiriet and Gérard Julien, both based in the south of the appellation.
The Côte de Beaune
The southern half of the Côte de Nuits stretches from Corton down to Santenay, running through the town of Beaune itself – the small town that sits at the heart of both the Côte d’Or and its wine trade. Chardonnay reigns here, reaching its apogee on the hallowed slope of Montrachet, however there is also fine Pinot Noir to be found, especially in Volnay. Historically, more of the region was dedication to red wine production, but as white Burgundy rose in fashion and therefore value, Pinot Noir was pulled out in favour of Chardonnay. Less developed than its northern partner, it’s arguably easier to find value in the Côte de Beaune.
Corton – The hill of Corton marks the start of the Côte de Beaune. The hill and its eponymous Grands Crus (Corton and Corton-Charlemagne, including the many specific lieux-dits within these such as En Charlemagne, Renardes or Clos du Roi) is shared between three villages: Aloxe-Corton, Ladoix-Sérrigny and Pernand-Vergelesses. All three of these villages can offer great value, both for white and red, although the latter dominates the area (especially in Aloxe-Corton, with less than 1.5 hectares of Chardonnay). Corton is the largest Grand Cru in the region (at around 160 hectares) and the only Grand Cru for Pinot Noir in the Côte de Beaune. As with Clos de Vougeot, the sheer size of the vineyard means soils, expositions and microclimates vary, as do the wines, however the best examples of both colours from this slab of a hill are firm and powerful, closed in their youth and benefiting from time in bottle. Although many top producers make wine from the site, few of note are based here, however Bonneau du Martray (in Pernand-Vergelesses) is one of them, known for its very fine Corton-Charlemagne. Along with the wines from Coche-Dury, Leroy, Roumier and DRC, look out for Domaine des Croix’s great-value rendition.
Beaune – The town of Beaune is not just a hub for the trade but is home to many of the large négociants that long dominated the region – Bouchard, Joseph Drouhin, Louis Jadot, Albert Bichot and Louis Latour. As for the vineyards around it, they are some of Burgundy’s most under-rated, perhaps due to their suburban locale. A surprising 75% of the vineyard area is classified as Premier Cru, arguably without justification. Pinot Noir leads the way here, producing wines that are often rich, fruit-forward, open and approachable. Although there are no Grands Crus, there are some notable sites – including Drouhin’s Clos des Mouches (white), Grèves (within which lies Bouchard’s Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus) and Teurons (the latter both red). Beyond the aforementioned négociants, here you will also find a rising number of “micro-négoces” (including FINE+RARE favourite Charles Van Canneyt, Olivier Bernstein, Benjamin Leroux and Philippe Pacalet) as well as the likes of Remoissenet and Domaine de Bellene. It’s also home to the Hospices de Beaune – a charitable organisation that uses the vineyards bequeathed to them to raise money (originally for the hospital, now also for local heritage preservation) via an auction of the latest vintage each November.
Savigny-lès-Beaune and Chorey-lès-Beaune – These two villages are far from the most fashionable, but can be a source of excellent value – in the hands of the right producer. Neither has any Grands Crus, but Savigny has over 140 hectares of Premier Cru vineyard. Chorey-lès-Beaune, by contrast, sits largely below the main road that runs along the Côte (the D974) and has no Premiers Crus. Domaine Jean-Marc & Hugues Pavelot is an excellent estate based here, and is dedicated to exploring the nuances of Saivgny’s terroir, with Premier Cru La Dominode a favourite of ours year in, year out (a site also worked by Bruno Clair). Leroy makes a Premier Cru Narbantons, as does Jadot, but other stand-out names based here (alongside Pavelot) are Simon Bize and Chandon de Briailles, while Chanterêves is a new name on the scene that is mixing things up, even making a pét-nat sparkling.
Pommard – Pommard used to be known for its rustic, brawny styles of Pinot Noir, with much more clay in the soils than neighbouring Volnay, contributing to the power that is often found here. The wines are closer in style to those of Gevrey-Chambertin and Nuits-Saint-Georges rather than Volnay. Its rustic reputation is generally a thing of the past thanks to modern winemaking, however the wines remain age-worthy. Les Rugiens is one of the finest Premiers Crus here, along with Petits and Grands Epenots, and Comte Armand’s monopole Clos des Epeneaux which sits between the two, while Domaine Leroy owns two lieux-dits which transcend their village status, Les Vignots and Trois Follots. Domaine du Comte Armand, Domaine de Courcel and Launay-Horiot are the village’s leading lights.
Volnay – This village crafts the finest Pinot Noir in the Côte de Beaune, despite not having any Grands Crus. Sitting higher up the slope from Pommard, there is more limestone in the soil, generally giving more delicate and fine-boned wines, however you’ll find everything from Chambolle-esque pretty and perfumed through to rich and structured styles reminiscent of Pommard. The best Premiers Crus – Clos des Chênes, Taillepieds, Caillerets, Champans and Santenots – sit at the southern end of the village. Top producers include Marquis d’Angerville (and their famed monopole Clos des Ducs), Michel Lafarge, Yvon Clerget and Domaine de Montille. The historic Domaine de la Pousse d’Or is a collector’s favourite – especially for vintages made under Gérard Potel (1964 to 1997).
Auxey-Duresses – This small, sleepy village sits above Meursault. Prior to AC regulations, the white wines of Auxey-Duresses were sold as Meursault and the Pinots sold as Pommard or Volnay. While the wines might once have been known for being a little mean or hard, today the whites of this village are becoming an insider’s choice, thriving in warm vintages and offering great value. The best Chardonnay comes from vineyards bordering Meursault and, unusually, facing northwest – particularly beneficial in the warming climate. Top producers such as Roulot, Olivier Leflaive and Comte Armand all work with vineyards here, but few are based here. It is, however, home to much of Lalou Bize-Leroy’s empire, with Maison Leroy and its extensive stores of wines maturing prior to release, while Domaine d’Auvenay is in Saint-Romain. The Leroy Auxey-Duresses bottlings may not be the cheapest, but they are undoubtedly some of the best.
Monthélie – Next door to Auxey-Duresses lies Monthélie. Another lesser-known village, producers such as Comtes Lafon, Coche-Dury, Philippe Pacalet and Domaine Roulot, as well as Leroy, all produce Pinot Noir from this little, oft-forgotten appellation. The vineyards, tucked behind Meursault and Volnay, facing south/southeast, can get quite warm, with the wines produced closer to Volnay than Pommard in style, and sometimes on the rustic side. Although Pinot Noir dominated, there is a rise in plantings of Chardonnay. Douhairet-Porcheret is one of the stand-out producers here, along with Domaine Potinet-Ampeau, who releases their wines only at maturity.
Saint-Romain – There are no Premiers Crus in this village which sits at relatively high altitude for Burgundy, between 350 and 410 metres above sea-level (having previously been part of the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune). Cool and with a high percentage of limestone in the soils, this is an area benefiting from climate change. Although Chardonnay was originally planted, the vineyards are now fairly evenly divided between white and red. One of natural wine’s cult producers, Frédéric Cossard’s Domaine de Chassorney, is based here, as well as Henri & Gilles Buisson and the famous cooper François Frères.
Meursault and Blagny – The first of the Côte de Beaune’s triumvirate of Chardonnay villages (along with Puligny and Chassagne), Meursault typically produces the richest, most generous and voluptuous style of wine, and is the only one not to have a Grand Cru to its name. This typicity is changing however; alongside the round, buttery, nutty wines, now you’ll also find more modern, flinty, mineral styles too – with fashion influencing what is the “norm” when it comes to winemaking here. There is a tiny bit of Pinot Noir, mainly in village plots, but also Premier Cru Santenots (given Volnay’s name, but technically in Meursault) and François Mikulski’s plot of Meursault Premier Cru Caillerets, as well as Blagny Premier Cru La Pièce sous le Bois. While white is taking over here, the red that remains offers brilliant value. There are 17 Premiers Crus, but the best Chardonnay hails from Perrières, Charmes and Genevrières. There is a litany of top producers here, including Domaine Roulot, François Mikulski, Domaine des Comtes Lafon, Domaine François & Antoine Jobard, Patrick Javillier, Vincent Girardin, Arnaud Ente, Bernard-Bonin, Henri Germain, Latour-Giraud, Henri Boillot and Coche-Dury.
Puligny-Montrachet – Of the two villages that share Montrachet, Puligny is top dog – known for its sleek and mineral expressions of Chardonnay. Grands Crus Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet and Chevalier-Montrachet lie exclusively within this village, while it shares Le Montrachet and Bâtard-Montrachet with Chassagne. There is also a host of top-tier Premiers Crus, including Les Perrières, Cailleret, Pucelles, Combettes and Folatières, as well as Henri Boillot’s monopole Clos de la Mouchère, to name a few – but there is brilliant value at village level too, with the lieux-dits of Enseignières, Rue aux Vaches and Noyers Brets. The crème de la crème of the village includes Domaine Leflaive, as well as Olivier Leflaive, Jacques Carillon and Etienne Sauzet, alongside FINE+RARE favourites Domaine Paul Pernot and rising-star Alvina Pernot.
Chassagne-Montrachet – Historically planted to Pinot Noir (as Puligny was), Chassagne-Montrachet is now much better known for its Chardonnay. It’s hard to pin down an exact style here, however the whites often sit stylistically somewhere between those of Puligny and Meursault. Beyond the Montrachet Grands Crus, the terroir here isn’t as good as next door in Puligny – limiting the wines’ potential, however there are some very fine Premiers Crus, including La Romanée, Les Grandes Ruchottes, Blanchot Dessus and Les Caillerets. There are also a handful of very good sites for Pinot Noir, including Clos Saint-Jean Premier Cru (try Jean-Claude Ramonet’s bottling). When it comes to producers, you’ll find Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey (along with the myriad other Colins and Moreys), Vincent Dancer, Jean-Noël Gagnard, Domaine Lamy-Pillot (as well as his personal project, Lamy-Caillat), Jean Chartron (with its three monopole sites, including Grand Cru Chevalier-Montrachet Clos des Chevaliers) and Bernard Moreau among others. For value, don’t miss FINE+RARE favourite Au Pied du Mont Chauve.
Saint-Aubin – This village has rapidly become very fashionable. While once too cool to reliably produce Chardonnay, global warming has changed that. Frost is still an issue and can impact the yields severely; but, at their best, the village’s steely, linear whites rival those of Puligny. It was originally planted mainly to Pinot Noir, and some red remains, although it is the Chardonnay that has earned it such a reputation. Not having any Grands Crus, and behind the hallowed slope of Montrachet, this less modish locale can provide excellent value – although it’s a little harder to find than it was a decade or two ago. The best Premiers Crus are En Remilly, Murgers des Dents de Chien (both of which sit above the hill of Montrachet) and La Chatenière. Hubert Lamy is arguably the village’s most famous producer, but Marc Colin, Joseph Colin and Jean-Claude Bachelet are all based in Saint-Aubin.
Santenay – Dedicated mainly to Pinot Noir, Santenay is – along with Maranges – one of the southernmost villages in the Côte de Beaune. Generally deeply coloured but lighter-bodied, the wines can be a little rustic, with less limestone in the soils here, especially in the southern parts of the village. The Premiers Crus are concentrated further north, with the finest sitting close to the border with Chassagne-Montrachet. Despite Santenay’s reputation, the likes of Hubert Lamy, Leroy and Pierre-Yves Colin Morey all produce wines from the village, with Les Gravières and La Comme two of the finest sites.
Maranges – West of Santenay lies Maranges, a village once planted mainly to Chardonnay but now almost entirely to red. The appellation was – until 1988 – split into the wines of Cheilly-, Dezize- and Sampigny-lès-Maranges. The wines of this village are little seen outside the region and not among Burgundy’s most highly regarded, with some austere and tannic, however there are some fine Premier Cru sites and wines. Domaine Bachelet-Monnot is the most respected of the village’s producers.
The Hautes-Côtes de Nuits and Beaune
Up above the flank of the Côte d’Or lie the “Hautes-Côtes” – literally the high slopes, of both the Côte de Nuits and Beaune. These areas were historically too cool for vines, however climate change has seen an increasing number of producers look to these higher-altitude (and significantly more affordable) sites. Some of the region’s top names are producing bottlings from vineyards beyond the Côte d’Or, such as Domaine Gros Frère & Soeur, Naudin-Ferrand, Nicolas Faure, Sylvain Cathiard, the zero-zero Yann Durieux and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (from vines next to the Abbaye de Saint-Vivant). David Duband is one of the few producers based in the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits, crafting very fine wine from his holdings across the Côte de Nuits and his vines around the estate in Chévannes.
Up in the Yonne, closer to Champagne than Beaune, Chablis is renowned around the world for its mineral, restrained Chardonnay with notes of oyster shell and sea-spray. The region is known for its chalk-rich Kimmeridgian soil, full of marine fossils, with lesser sites (including much of Petit Chablis) sitting on Portlandian soil, which is deemed less interesting and generally producing fruitier wines.
The best wines come from the Grands Crus, of which there are seven in total: Blanchot, Les Clos, Grenouilles, Valmur, Vaudésir, Bougros and Preuses, with Les Clos normally regarded as the finest. In addition to these seven, Domaine Long-Depaquit has its monopole Grand Cru, Moutonne, which straddles Vaudésir and Preuses. The region is commonly divided into the Left and Right Bank (of the River Serein), with the Grands Crus all sitting on the Right Bank, where the wines tend to be a little riper with more yellow rather than white fruit.
Large volumes of anonymous Chablis are produced, so it’s important to choose wines from a reputable producer – but, at its best, Chablis ages gloriously, developing honeyed richness and complexity, while also offering great pleasure in their vibrant, mineral youth. Despite the high quality on offer, the region remains a source of relative value in Burgundy.
Dauvissat and Raveneau are the two long-reigning leaders of the region, but there is a host of brilliant producers – both old and new – to discover, including Samuel Billaud, Droin, William Fèvre, Michel Laroche, Vocoret and Alice & Olivier De Moor, as well as the late-released wines of Daniel-Ettiene Defaix.
Beyond Chablis, there are other wine regions in the northerly Yonne département, although Chablis is by far the best-known and most qualitative. It includes the little-known (and little-seen) appellations of Bourgogne-Chitry, Bourgogne-Coulanges, Bourgogne-Epineuil, Bourgogne-Tonnerre, Bourgogne-Vézelay and Irancy, as well as the curiosity that is Saint-Bris. This latter corner of the Auxerrois grows Sauvignon Blanc, rather than Chardonnay, on its Kimmeridgian soils. Irancy focuses exclusively on red wine, with Pinot Noir and up to 10% of the rare César grape. Thierry Richoux is a name to look our for here, while Dauvissat also produces an Irancy that is worth seeking out.
The Côte Chalonnaise
Heading south from the Côte d’Or, you’ll find the Côte Chalonnaise – home to the villages of Bouzeron, Givry, Mercurey, Montagny and Rully. Despite the potential here, the area has long been a poor cousin to the Côte d’Or, with no Grands Crus in the region. There are, however, a few notable exceptions, and the wines can offer great value, with the wines gaining recognition in recent years.
Bouzeron (which consists of circa 55 hectares under vine) makes white wine only, and with Aligoté rather than Chardonnay. This village is also home to Domaine A&P de Villaine, established by Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
Rully is among the better known villages here, with just over 80 hectares of Premier Cru vineyard. Both red and white are made here, but it is especially recognised for its Chardonnay – which is some of the best-value in the region. Look out for the wines from Vincent Dureuil-Janthial, in particular.
Mercurey is best known for its Pinot Noir, although a little Chardonnay is produced. The reds are the most widely known and respected in the Chalonnaise, generally dark, rich and structured in style – typified in its finest Premier Cru, Clos du Roy. Domaine Lorenzon is a star of the region, shining a light on its potential, while Faiveley has extensive holdings here, as well as a winery in the village, crafting benchmark expressions from the region.
Givry can, in the right hands, produce powerful Pinot Noir that also offers finesse. The village has a long history, and was the most respected in the Chalonnaise in the 14th century. Sadly its standing didn’t last, but today Givry is home to a handful of brilliant producers who are revitalising its reputation, including a firm favourite of ours, Domaine Joblot, who focuses on the village’s Premiers Crus, as well as François Lumpp, Domaine Clos Salomon and Domaine du Cellier aux Moines.
Montagny makes exclusively Chardonnay (with any Pinot Noir planted here classified as Bourgogne Rouge). Due to efforts to avoid the vineyards’ requisition by German troops during the Second World War, and the politics of downgrading the classification of a vineyard, over half the appellation is classified as Premier Cru – much more than should be. The local co-operative (Cave de Buxy) is responsible for the vast majority of the wine produced here, however it’s worth keeping an eye out for the wines from smaller producers such as Domaine Stéphane Aladame or Maxime Cottenceau.
The Mâconnais might once have been known for simple, modest wines, but significant investment and a new generation of producers has transformed the region, complementing the handful of vignerons that have been quietly crafting brilliant Chardonnay in the region for years.
While there is some Pinot Noir planted here, Chardonnay leads the way. Being further south, the wines are generally riper than those in the Côte de Beaune, and taming this in warmer vintages is an increasing challenge. Beyond straight Mâcon or Mâcon-Villages, wines from Saint-Véran, Viré-Clessé, Pouilly-Vinzelles, Pouilly-Loché and Pouilly-Fuissé tend to offer more complexity.
Viré-Clessé has a history of making wines with botrytised fruit, both lusciously honeyed styles and those with just a touch of residual sugar that rounds the wine rather than making it explicitly sweet. Domaine de la Bongran – a firm FINE+RARE favourite and the village’s most famous name – continues to craft this traditional style of wine, with results that are well worth seeking out.
Pouilly-Fuissé (which is itself a grouping of villages, Chaintré, Fruissé, Solutré-Pouilly and Vergisson) was recently granted its first Premiers Crus, recognising the quality of 22 of its best vineyards, featuring on labels from the 2020 vintage. The Lafon family has an outpost here, with Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon, while other top producers include the historically significant Ferret, the increasingly fashionable (and sadly, therefore less affordable) Domaine Guffens-Heynen, Olivier Merlin, Domaine Daniel Barraud and Domaine Cordier.
This southerly region is traditionally considered part of Burgundy, although some of the Côte d’Or’s vignerons might be inclined to dismiss it as part of the Rhône (as it bridges the Saône-et-Loire and Rhône departments). Forget Pinot Noir, in Beaujolais Gamay reigns – having found refuge here when it was banished from the Côte d’Or in the 14th century.
The wines of Beaujolais were historically prestigious, commanding prices equivalent or even higher to than those from the villages of the Côte d’Or, but their reputation faded. For many years Beaujolais was associated with Beaujolais Nouveau, the confected, banana-and-bubblegum-scented, carbonically macerated styles that are released in the third week of November after the harvest – one of wine’s most successful marketing campaigns (masterminded by Georges Duboeuf), briefly causing a rush on the region as it became all the rage. While this fad shone a light on the region, it did little for its reputation for serious, age-worthy fine wine – a potential that is now being explored to great success.
The Gang of Four – Jean-Paul Thévenet, Guy Breton, Jean Foillard and Marcel Lapierre – put the region on the map, with their focus on a more traditional approach to viticulture and vinification. Now seen as pioneers of the natural-wine movement, which has been closely associated with the region and its affordable wines. Since then, however, an increasing number of producers have started focusing on single-site expressions and making wines for the cellar. With land prices elsewhere in Burgundy rocketing, top producers have purchased land here and brought greater repute. There is still plenty of average Beaujolais, but there are also some superb wines well worth seeking out, with even the Beaujolais Nouveau trend being reclaimed by the region’s trendiest producers.
Blends from across the region are labelled as Beaujolais, with better wines (as elsewhere in France), earning “Villages” status. The region also has 10 Crus – villages that are deemed worthy of their own appellation. From north to south, these are: Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly. The most serious styles tend to hail from Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly. While there are no Premiers or Grands Crus here, the Côte du Py in Morgon is widely regarded as the region’s finest site.
Beyond the aforementioned Gang of Four, look out for wines from Yvon Métras, Thibault Liger-Belair, Louis-Claude Desvignes, Jean-Louis Dutraive, Jean-Marc Burgaud, Ch. Thivin and Domaine Jules Desjourneys.
Village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru: Burgundy’s classification system
The Cistercians were the first to identify individual vineyards that produced different styles of wine in the 14th century (and created Clos Vougeot) – and the borders they drew largely still stand today. The first classification was created by Denis Morelot in 1831, expanded on by Jules Lavalle in 1855 and formalised in 1861, with the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée system we know today first introduced in 1936.
Burgundy’s classification system is relatively simple, in some ways. The wines ascend in quality from Bourgogne; via “straight” village bottlings, bearing just the name of their village (Gevrey-Chambertin or Meursault, for example); then onto the Premiers and Grands Crus, normally representing single vineyards that are recognised for their ability to make outstanding wine. The general idea is that as you move up each tier in the classification, you gain more concentration, complexity, balance and ageability.
Bourgogne Blanc and Rouge (grouped under “Bourgogne Régionale”) are generally a blend of fruit from lower level vineyards, although top producers will often declassify fruit from their village wines, meaning they can offer great value, as well as a good introduction to a producer’s range. They are designed for earlier drinking, however the best will still have capacity to evolve in bottle. If a wine is Bougogne plus a region name, such as Bourgogne Côte d’Or, the fruit is sourced from the smaller region on the label, rather than across the entirety of Burgundy. This can be another indicator of quality.
In Chablis, there is the additional layer of Petit Chablis in the classification, which sits between Bourgogne and “straight” Chablis; while in Beaujolais, the 10 Crus are the equivalent of the villages elsewhere in the region.
The best vineyards in Burgundy are classified as Grand Cru (literally “Great Growth”). These sites tend to sit in the middle of the slope along the Côte, where vineyards have good drainage, exposition to bask in the sun and benefiting from a flow of air down the slope (protecting them from frost, and helping prevent disease), and not as cool as those sitting at higher altitude, where fruit might struggle to ripen. The Premiers Crus sites (second-best according to the classification after the Grands Crus, literally – and slightly confusingly – meaning “First Growths”) generally sit below the Grands Crus, in slightly less preferable positions. Vineyards at the bottom of the slope, on flatter land, where the cool air gathers, are more likely to suffer from frost, as well as likely having more water-retentive clay in the soils, and are therefore often classified as village or Bourgogne-level.
Labels will always detail where a wine is Premier or Grand Cru. Premier Cru wines can come either from a single Premier Cru vineyard (in which case they will carry the name of the vineyard and the village, eg Puligny-Montrachet, Premier Cru, Les Perrières), but producers can also blend fruit from various Premier Cru vineyards within a village to make a wine that would have no specific vineyard designation (eg Puligny-Montrachet, Premier Cru). Grand Cru cuvées will only bear the name of the specific vineyard, but not the village the Grand Cru lies within (Chapelle-Chambertin, Grand Cru, for example, rather than Chapelle-Chambertin, Grand Cru, Gevrey-Chambertin).
“Monopole” sites are those that are owned exclusively by a particular producer (the most famous example arguably being Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s La Romanée-Conti), and a label will often detail where this is the case. You’ll also see “clos” appearing in vineyard names, this means it is an enclosed, walled vineyard (such as Clos de Tart or Clos des Lambrays). These terms are used elsewhere in France, however you will see them most often in reference to Burgundy.
You will also see wines that have a vineyard or cuvée name but aren’t Premier or Grand Cru; producers are free to bottle individual plots of “lieux-dits”, or create a specific cuvée from a blend of fruit, and put the name on the bottle. Very broadly speaking, these generally represent a higher level of quality than wines that don’t have an additional name on the label.
There are of course exceptions to these rules. Politics is always an element in Burgundy – and always was in the historic classification of sites. In short, not all Grands Crus are created equal… with the large Clos Vougeot a classic example of a vineyard that arguably doesn’t all deserve its top-drawer status. There are also various Premiers Crus that are considered on a par with their grander siblings, such as Les Amoureuses or Clos Saint-Jacques. To add to this, climate change is challenging the traditional classification of the region. While once Burgundy was a marginal region which struggled to ripen grapes, today cooler sites are – often, if not always – thriving. The Grands Crus, chosen for their sunny exposition and ability to ripen Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to perfection, arguably are becoming less preferable in hot years, while sites that were once deemed a little chill are now producing more classical expressions of Burgundy in these vintages. There’s a reason that many of the region’s best producers are looking for cooler sites, such as those in the Hautes-Côtes (indeed, you’ll find some even looking beyond the borders of the Hautes-Côtes, making wines that only reach “Vin de France” status).
Négociant and domaine: what’s the difference?
An additional layer of complexity in Burgundy is whether a wine is négociant or domaine. A domaine wine is one where the producer owns and farms the vineyard themselves, while a négociant wine is made with fruit from a vineyard they don’t own. For négociant bottlings, producers can buy grapes, must or wine that they will then “finish” themselves, ie manage the élevage or ageing prior to release.
Historically the négociants have dominated Burgundy and are largely responsible for establishing its reputation. Bouchard, for example, was established in 1731, and remains a leader in the region today. A handful of growers started making and bottling their own wine in the 1930s, but the movement only really gained momentum in the 1980s, giving rise to the large number of domaines today.
Domaine wines are often considered better than négociant bottlings, as producers have more control over the vineyard and resulting fruit, however the level of input a producer has on a vineyard they buy from can vary significantly. Where négociants have longstanding relationships with growers, they may be able to gradually influence the management of the vineyard, and some will insist on choosing the picking date themselves. The best producers generally buy grapes to vinify themselves, rather than must or wine, however they may also buy from a grower that they trust to press the juice or make the wine to their exacting standards.
The aforementioned Napoleonic inheritance laws – detailing that land is split equally between children – explains why there are even more domaines than 30 years ago, as siblings take their share of the family’s property and create their own estate. It’s why you’ll also find various producers with confusingly similar names within the same village (such as the Colins, for example – Joseph Colin, Marc Colin, Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Simon Colin, Philippe Colin and Bruno Colin). As the average size of vineyard holdings decreases via this system (and the price of vineyard in Burgundy largely prohibitive for producers without external investment), producers look to source fruit to supplement their holdings and build their range. Many producers therefore will now operate both as a domaine and négociant, and some – but not all – will differentiate these on the label (Domaine Fourrier versus Jean-Marie Fourrier, for example, with the latter Fourrier’s négociant bottlings). Given the size of the region, it’s also common for producers to marry into other wine-producing families, combining plots (and often names) from both their families to create a new estate.
As you can see, the division between négociant and domaine is far from clear or simple, and the large négociants such as Bouchard, Albert Bichot, Louis Jadot, Louis Latour, Joseph Drouhin and Faiveley are now also some of the largest land-owners in Burgundy, having gradually acquired more vineyards over time, and producers like Leroy in fact started as a négociant operation. These producers tend to make both entry-level wines (some that you may even see in supermarkets), but also work with the very finest Grand Cru vineyards, operating across the entire qualitative spectrum. Given the size of and skill within these operations, not to mention their far-reaching access and enviable holdings, they are generally very reliable, providing benchmark expressions of villages and vineyards, while also reaching great heights with their best wines.
With the high cost of vineyard land making it difficult for new producers in the region, there has also been a recent trend for “micro-négoces” – small, artisan, négociant operations. Including the likes of Olivier Bernstein – who works exclusively with Premiers and Grands Crus – as well as Charles van Canneyt, Chanterêves, Benjamin Leroux and Philippe Pacalet, these are another challenge to the traditional order in Burgundy, crafting top-quality wine with vineyards they don’t own.