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by Staff Writer - R. Meoki | April 05, 2011

In Burgundy, wine estates are called domains and they produce a range of a dozen or more different wines, both red and white; while in Bordeaux wine estates are called chateaus that produce a classic red wine. The two regions are figuratively and geographically miles apart. Burgundy has thousands of small growers who often own only very small areas of the vineyard land, and one vineyard can be divided up into dozens of owners; while Bordeaux is dominated by large producers. The Burgundy wine region has a very different appearance with regards to the colorful buildings of the Champagnes and large estates of Bordeaux. The Burgundy area is very concentrated and dense, and each with a unique taste and style, often separated only by a small stone wall.

One of the more predictable things about Burgundy is that the red wines are made from the Pinot Noir grape and white wines are made from the Chardonnay grape, and Beaujolais, in the southern part of the region makes light and fruity red wines from the Gamay grape.

When you are traveling from the north to the south through the heart of France, you pass through the sub-regions of Burgundy in the following sequence:

  1. Chablis:Known for its dry white wines
  2. Cote de Nuts:The home of the most noteworthy red wines
  3. Cote de Beaune:Produces both red wines and white wines, but is known especially for their great white wines
  4. Cote Chalonnaise:Considered to be a lesser or lower region, but it is still home to some good red wines and white wines
  5. Macon:Known for white wines that offer excellent values
  6. Beaujolais:Home to Gamay wine production

Burgundy Grapes

The great Burgundies, both red and white, are unblended wines made from a single grape variety. This is another major difference from Bordeaux, whose wines are created by blending different grapes. The grapes used to make Burgundy wines are the Pinot Noir (red wines) and Chardonnay (white wines).

Burgundy Red Wine Grapes

The Pinot Noir grapes seem to grow the best on the cool limestone slopes of Burgundy, finding only limited success when planted elsewhere in the world. The Pinot Noir is an unpredictable grape and is easy to over-crop. These factors, along with the question of terroir (group of vineyards from the same region) and the vast range of wines and domains, mean that choosing a red Burgundy has to be done carefully.

Burgundy White Wine Grapes

Chardonnay has been grown successfully all over the world. As a variety it is relatively easy to grow and tolerant of a wide variety of soil and climatic conditions. The most northerly area of Burgundy is Chablis which lies almost half-way between the Côte d'Or and Paris. It is home to one of the world's best known Chardonnay wines, which is dry, with flavors of lemon and minerals. Traditionally Chablis is unoaked, setting it apart from most other top Chardonnays from Burgundy and elsewhere.

Various other grape varieties are permitted within Burgundy, though they are never used in the great wines and are considered as the "second rank" of grapes. These grapes will appear in budget wines and are increasingly common the further south you travel into the Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais and Beaujolais. The budge varieties include Gamay (red wines) and Aligoté and Pinot Blanc (white wines).

Grand Cru Vs. Premier Cru

Grand Cru: These are the highest quality wines produced from a relatively small number of vineyard sites within the Cote d'Or and Chablis sub-regions. There are thirty two Grand Cru sites in Burgundy, each with its own independent Appellation. Some Grand Cru appellations (e.g. Chablis, Corton) permit labels to specify which specific part of the Grand Cru area the wine is from (Chablis Bougros, Corton Renardes).

Premier Cru: These vineyard sites are not at the same level with the Grand Crus but are still of high quality, have the second highest classification level, and are ranked just below the Grand Cru. Premier Cru wines are made under a shared appellation but are permitted to state 'Premier Cru', to show their superior source. If a single vineyard site was used, its name may actually be hyphenated directly to the village name as the appellation title.

Food Pairings

Burgundy red wines are excellent with beef, turkey, pheasant, pork roasts, poultry, lamb, veal, spices, fresh herbs, and recipe's using mushrooms and delicate cheeses. They also pair well with fish such as tuna, salmon and mackerel. Burgundy white wines go very well with shrimp, snails and goat cheese.

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