The region of Burgundy, France, boasts almost 2,000 years of experience in growing vines and making wines from two of the most refine wine grape varieties: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Chardonnay has been considered a Burgundian grape for centuries. It delivers some of the most sought-after white wines such as the prestigious Chablis, Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault or Corton-Charlemagne. Chardonnay produces handsome bunches of golden berries about the same size as the Pinot grapes but more elongated and less densely packed. Although the grapes are small, they are rich in deliciously sweet white juice. The leaves can be recognized by the thick veins on both side of the indentation where the stalk joins the leaf.
Ever since Burgundy has been making wine, Pinot Noir has been delivering the great red wines that have built its reputation: Pommard, Volnay, Corton, Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny to name just a few. It produces compact, purplish-black grape bunches whose berries contain an abundance of sweet, colorless juice. Indeed, in Burgundy, the skins (which contain the coloring matter) are macerated in the fermenting vats along with the juice to give the wines their attractive red hue. The leaves, dark green on their upper side and a lighter green below are thick, as wide as they are long, are divided into three or five lobes whose incisions vary in depth according to the fertility of the particular plant.
The notion of “terroir”, a founding concept several centuries old
The terroir is the basis of the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), which can translate by “controlled designation of origin”. This is the French certification granted to certain French geographical indications for wines, cheeses, butters, and other agricultural products, under the tight control of the government body Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (INAO).
In Burgundy, terroir is a broad concept which includes both natural and human factors. Wine producers, together with the assistance of local monks, discovered, identified and then developed the terroirs through centuries of hard work. Today, the terroir continues to assert itself in Burgundy as a modern concept, copied all over the world because it represents and conveys values of origin, authenticity, tradition and typicity that are so dear to wine lovers.
The basis of terroir is above all the sub-soil and soil from which the vine draws its nutrients and which create a secret alchemy of colors, aromas and flavors. Although a complex and difficult notion to grasp, it is a key element of any Burgundy wine. The composition of the soil affects the character of the wine: the higher the clay content, the more weight and flesh while a stony soil tends to lend elegance and a more mineral character. The wines’ textures are different, the amount of water available to the vines can also make a difference and so can impact the effect of the wind and temperature in the microclimate of the vineyard.
Pinot Noir loves well-drained marl and limestone soils on which, depending on the proportion of limestone and the situation of the plot, it will produce a light, elegant red or a powerful, vigorous wine. �
Chardonnay prefers marly-limestone soils that are quite clayey, so that it can develop all its elegance and smooth flavors. The proportion of clay in the soil impacts the aromatic expression of the wine, typical of the great dry white wines of Burgundy
“Thin-skinned and temperamental, Pinot Noir has reached sublime height in its ancestral home of Burgundy, France” – Wine Spectator, May 2006
In Burgundy the grapes expresses the varying geological makeup of the limestone and clays soils of the Côte d’Or. It explains why Gevrey-Chambertin produces muscular reds, Chambolle-Musigny tend to be more refined and elegant and the wines of Nuits-Saint-Georges can be rustic and wild. Terroir
also creates a hierarchy of quality as this concept is the basis for the Burgundy appellation system: a site possessing better environmental conditions generally has a competitive advantage. Other factors come into play too : vine age, clonal selection, viticultural practices, yields and winemaking styles can impact positively or adversely the influence of terroir.
Burgundy has 100 different appellations that fall into 4 categories:
• Regional appellations: 23 of them, they are harvested throughout the Burgundy wine-growing area (eg. Bourgogne Aligoté)�
• Local appellations: there are 44 of these, produced in winegrowing villages which give them their name (eg. Chablis, Pommard)
• Premier Cru appellations: these wines are produced in precisely delimited plots within a village known as “climats”. Burgundy has 635 climates. On the bottles, the name of the village is followed by the name of the plot from which the wine was produced (eg. Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Les Cherbaudes)
• The Grand Cru appellations: these wines are grown in limited quantity on the best plots (climats) of the villages. There are 33 Grands Crus.
(Find more about the burgundy terroir at (http://www.burgundy-wines.fr/find-out-about/and-their-wines/understanding-aocs,699.html)
“More and more wine lovers are discovering Pinot Noir’s unique array of aromas and flavors as well as its ability to transmit terroir “
Few grapes are as fickle as Pinot noir. Notoriously difficult to grow, thin-skinned, low in color and light in tannins, it also requires patience and nurturing in cellar.
Pinot just does not grow anywhere: the cool climate of Burgundy provides enough light and warmth.
Pinot Noir is particularly fragile at bottling and takes longer to recover after the fact than other grape varieties: no wines changes more from grape to bottle.
Sublime and sensuous when everything goes right, Pinot Noir is made in frustratingly small quantities from small plots of land. Yet its charisma is so strong, many consumers, growers and wine makers refer to it as the Holy Grail of the wine world.
Excerpts from Wine Spectator, May 2006
For further information about Burgundy’s wine and vineyards, please refer to http://www.burgundy-wines.fr/