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Burgundy: where Pinot Noir is king and Chardonnay is queen



No wine region in the world better exemplifies the idea of terroir – the sense of place expressed in wine – than Burgundy. The two principal grapes of the region – pinot noir and chardonnay – are nearly always left unblended to fully express the nuance of both grape and climate.

Burgundy is home to more small-scale wineries than any other region in France, and as such it is a wonderful destination for those in search of a more authentic wine tour experience. Winemakers in Burgundy often have only a few acres to their name, and their family may have been working the land for centuries.

Burgundy consists of six major regions – Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais, and Beaujolais. Wines from Chablis – notable for its world-famous chardonnay – are generally referred to as Chablis, rather than Burgundy. Similarly, wines from Beaujolais, most commonly made from the gamay grape rather than pinot noir, are referred to as Beaujolais, not Burgundy.

Burgundy_1The other regions primarily produce red wines made exclusively from the pinot noir grape, and white wines made exclusively from the chardonnay grape. There are four tiers of quality in Burgundy: Grand Cru, Premiere Cru (1er cru), Village, and Regional.

The Côte de Nuits region holds 24 of the 25 Grand Cru pinot noir vineyards in Burgundy – vineyards located higher up the slope, and prized for producing the best wines in the region. The Côte de Beaune region holds all of the Grand Cru chardonnay vineyards. Grand Cru wines are very rare in Burgundy – they make up less than 2% of total production – and as a result are more difficult to find, and more expensive.

A decade ago, Burgundy was primarily known for Chablis and its prized chardonnay wines. These wines are still highly valued, but with the explosion of pinot noir's popularity in recent years the region is experiencing renewed interest in its red wines. The best red Burgundy can age gracefully for 15 years or more, with exceptional examples lasting decades. Prices for the most sought after red Burgundy can be among the highest in the world, with La Romanée Conti (for example) selling for between US$3,000 to US$10,000 at release.