One of the places on my list to visit this year was Burgundy (Bourgogne in French). I am a red wine lover and believe Burgundy to be the center of the universe for reds. Turns out, it produces more white than red, but that’s okay. The reds are dry, full of flavor and wonderful.
The Burgundy region stretches through central France, perhaps a little to the east to be a bit specific. The Cote d’Or seems to be the sweet spot of the region, but that may due to my affinity for red wines; it produces predominantly red grapes.
The Burgundy appellation, AOC, imposes strict standards around its wines from blending (not permitted) to sugar content to grapes used. This appellation grows two types of grapes: pinot noir (red) and chardonnay (white). The gamay variety is also grown in the southern part of the region, but is often not included in the revered term, “Burgundy wines”. If you are drinking wine from a gamay grape grown in Burgundy, you are drinking a Gamay.
Overall, Burgundy produces stellar wines, but they have a ranking system to let you know just how stellar. The system starts at the Regional Appellation level, followed by Village level and proceeds to Premier Cru and finally Grand Cru. The ranking system is referring to the terrain or terroir which is the soil. Knowledgeable winemakers and enthusiasts in Burgundy can distinguish (from a blind tasting) the land/terroir where the grape was grown in Burgundy. Apparently, the soil in the region will differ in mineral content, saltiness etc. and this can be discerned from a sip of wine.
Grand Cru wines are ranked the highest because they are grown on the most favorable land. The vineyards are on sloped terrain allowing for sun, excellent drainage and the depth of the soil to allow the roots to grow deep into the earth. Premier Crus are also highly regarded, but they tend to grown on land less sloped and therefore do not have as much water drainage for the vines. Regional and village wines are grown on flatter parcels of land.
One of the best parts of my time in Beaune, Burgundy was the tour and tasting of Paul Chanson. This domaine is one of the oldest in the region dating from 1750. Currently owned by the Bollinger family, the vineyards extend over 45 hectares through Burgundy. The vineyards are specifically located in Grand Cru and Premier Cru territory.
Paul Chanson has a unique cellar or bastion dating from the 15th century. The wine is aged in a defense watchtower completed under Francis I. After the French Revolution, the tower became the property of Chanson. The walls are eight meters thick and maintain a consistent temperature and humidity level. The red wines are aged on the first 3 levels and the white wines on the 4th level (which has a slightly increased temperature).
Every 10 days the barrels are uncorked and filled with a “sacrificed” barrel of the same vintage. This is due to the natural evaporation process. The slightest bit of air in the barrel will change the characteristics of the wine. In the picture below, you see some of the spill on the barrels when the wine has been refilled.
Winemaking is a labor of love.
Quick footnote: my Burgundy wine education was acquired while, well, partaking in the products. You might not want to quote me on this blog : )