Despite the sheer quality in Bordeaux, ask any serious wine lover around the world to name their favourite wine region and it will almost always be Burgundy. Quite simply, there is no more fabulous wine than the wonderfully fragrant Pinot Noirs and complex Chardonnays from the best villages in this part of France. If you love top Australian Pinot, then the great French wines will quite simply blow your mind. Cheap they are not, but with beautiful, heady aromatics combined with a velveteen texture they are to die for. White Burgundy, made from the much-maligned Chardonnay is also a revelation. Forget the overblown and oaky Chardy you are used to; instead, the best Burgundies have layers of refined fruit underlaid by a backbone of taut acidity and flavour that goes on till dawn. Almonds, honey, toast, hazelnuts, lemon and vanilla are all rolled into one gorgeous package, without doubt one of the great white wines on the face of the planet.
Burgundy is broken into six very different regions. The northernmost is Chablis, famous for fresh and lively, traditionally unoaked, Chardonnay. Next comes one of the jewels in the wine world, the Côte d’Or, responsible for the greatest Pinot Noirs, from towns like Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny and Vosne-Romanée, and the finest whites just a bit further South in Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet and Meursault. From there we finish with three lesser appellations. The first two are the Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais, which make many good quaffing white wines, as well as a couple of more serious numbers from the towns of Saint-Véran and Pouilly-Fuissé. Lastly and certainly not least, is Beaujolais. Here Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes take a holiday, replaced by tanker loads of juicy, crunchy reds, made from the generally easy drinking Gamay.
As Bordeaux has league tables to help drinkers find their way, so too does Burgundy. Over the last thousand years or so the locals have found and classified the best vineyards, and these classifications now determine the label on every bottle of local wine. So the top wines are labelled Grand Cru with the next level Premier Cru. These drops are named after a single plot of land, like Le Musigny or Le Montrachet for Grand Crus or a village and plot for Premier Crus, such as Vosne-Romanée Clos des Reas 1er Cru. Only Chablis and the Côte d’Or are blessed with Grand Cru Vineyards. Next we have the village wines, such as Vosne-Romanée or Morgon. Last is the district and regional wines, such as Mâcon , Côtes-du-Nuits Villages, Beaujolias Villages, and finally plain Bourgogne or Beaujolais.
With such a painstaking system to measure quality, surely Burgundy is a breeze to buy. Well unfortunately looks can be deceiving. While some wines live up to their status many others do not. So, to put it simply, one winemaker’s Grand Cru can be equal to another’s village wine. But if you just follow one simple rule, you’ll be fine. When buying Burgundy, the producer is the most important guide to quality, with the cru or vineyard following behind. Yes, the sneaky Burgundians do try to make it as hard as possible. But the best wines are so undeniably heavenly that we can almost forgive them; well almost. Bon Appetit!