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BURGUNDY AND THE NOTION OF TERROIR

With its complex secular history of winemaking, its extremely fragmented vineyards conditioned by the single grape variety rule, and its all the more challenging and obscure notion of "Terroir" or "Climats", Burgundy is considered by many to be the most confusing wine region bearing exhaustless charm and mystery.

INTRODUCTION TO BURGUNDY'S TERROIRS


The unique density of Appellations and terroirs in Burgundy constitutes the bedrock of its legendary wines, the terroir notion is imperious and deeply rooted in the tradition of winegrowing in this region, therefore the understanding of Burgundy wines cannot be alienated from the understanding of their respective Terroirs.


A Terroir is a group of vineyards that share the same geological components, the same weather conditions and sun exposure and identified under a same name for instance "La Romanee", "Les Amoureuses", "Le Montrachet". Being solely conditioned by natural elements, a terroir’s size can vary a lot, the best example being the famous Grand Cru Clos de Vougeot counting around 50 ha when the iconic La Tache is only 1 ha. The notion of terroir and the vineyard cartography as we know it today is a direct heritage of the middle age, when the Cistercian and Clunisian monks began to grow vines. Referring to their tasting experiences and geographical knowledge they empirically determined frontiers and first introduced a hierarchy between the different plots, it has barely moved since.


THE HIERARCHY OF BURGUNDY APPELLATIONS


The classification of quality in Burgundy is very different from other wine regions. When Bordeaux ranks the estates or Chateau, Burgundy ranks the lands and plots.

Regional Appellation


At the base of the hierarchy you will find the district appellation, which will always contain "Bourgogne".
Example: "Bourgogne Chardonnay", "Bourgogne Rouge", "Bourgogne Aligote", etc.


Village Appellation


The next step in the hierarchy is the Village Appellation, where the wine is named after the name of the village it is produced.
Example: "Gevrey Chambertin", "Vosne Romanee", "Meursault".


Village Appellation Single Vineyard


After the name of the village you will sometimes find the name of the parcel the wine comes from, which means that the grapes are all originated from a single parcel or terroir, and often results in higher quality or more unique wines.
Example: Meursault, "Les Narvaux".

1er Crus Vineyards


These accounts for 10% of Burgundy Vineyards, there are around 562 1er Crus in Burgundy. Premier Crus are from village appellation, single vineyards, 1 quality wines. That’s why on the label you will find the name of the village, the “1er Cru” status and the name of the parcel or terroir the wine comes from.


Example: Chambolle-Musigny, 1er Cru, “Les Amoureuses”,


Grands Crus Vineyards


The Grands Crus represent 1.5% of the total production in Burgundy, accounting for a total of 34 Grands Crus in the region, and 33 of which are in Cote d’Or. On the label you will only find the name of the vineyard (terroir) followed by the mention “Grand Cru”.


Example: “La Tache” Grand Cru, “La Romanee” Grand Cru, “Bonnes-Mares” Grand Cru.

BURGUNDY'S CRUS & TERROIRS

MARSANNAY

This village is called the “gate to the Grands Crus” for it constitutes the northernmost extremity of the Cote d’Or. Although there is no 1er Crus or Grands Crus in Marsannay, there are some delicious village wines resembling Gevrey in style while bearing less structure or finesse, they remain good value everyday drinking wines especially when they are made by top estates.

GEVREY-CHAMBERTIN

The Gevrey commune counts 9 Grands Crus, it is home of some of Burgundy’s oldest vineyard sites. In addition to these superb Grand Crus, Grevrey possesses a fine range of outstanding 1er Crus considered by many to merit the Grand Cru status, such as the Clos Saint Jacques and others vineyards located in the “Cote Lavaux/St Jacques”, they are located north of the village and they benefit from an exceptional combination of steep slopes, perfect sun exposure and cooler influences. The Crus of Gevrey are well-known for their firm character, deep ruby colour and their considerable heft.

MOREY ST DENIS

Located between the communes of Gevrey and Chambolle, Morey has often been overshadowed by its brilliant neighbours, but the truth is that Morey is nothing like Chambolle or Gevrey. This district encompasses the two villages with a style that is balance and measure, it contains Chambolle’s grace and Gevrey’s firmness without any sign of excess. Morey’s Grand Crus are composed of 4 Clos: Clos St Denis, Clos de la Roche, Clos de Tart, Clos des Lambrays, the last 2 being Monopoles, and finally the last Grand Cru: Les Bonnes Mares is shared with the commune of Chambolle.

CHAMBOLLE-MUSIGNY

Chambolle-Musigny is unquestionably the reference in Burgundy for the most fragrant, sensuous and and delicate wines. Its wines are famous for its laciness rather than firmness, Chambolles are nonetheless capable of long ageing, especially for its 2 Grands Crus, Musigny and Bonnes Mares, and its flagship 1er Cru Les Amoureuses. Chambolle’s charm accounts for its soil’s composition, which conversely to the rest of the Cote de Nuits, is limestone and calcareous dominant. It produces more refine and feminine expressions of Pinot Noir compared to the other 2 top villages of the area, Vosne Romanee and Gevrey Chambertin.

VOUGEOT

Vougeot is home of Burgundy’s greatest viticultural history heritage: the Clos Vougeot, a 50.96 ha Grand Cru. These vineyards are all enclosed by walls, which was once the prosperity and power symbol of the Citeaux abbey. In the Middle Age, the great wines of the Clos Vougeot were used as political gifts to popes and kings. Counting over 80 owners, the Clos has now become the symbol for Burgundy’s vineyards’ extreme fragmentation. With such surface, the style and quality of the wines can vary a lot, however Clos Vougeot wines are famous for their deep dark fruits character, firm tannins and great longevity. Apart from its popular Grand Cru, the village counts also four 1ers Crus, which remain relatively difficult to find.

FLAGEY-ECHEZEAUX

Located between Chambolle musigny, Vougeot and Vosne Romanee, this small village doesn’t have an appellation of its own, which means that all the village level and 1er Crus wines that are to be find there are sold under the “Vosne Romanee” appellation. Yet this tiny commune possesses two of the best Grands Crus of Burgundy: Les Echezeaux and Les Grands Echezeaux.

NUITS-ST-GEORGES

At the southern edge of Vosne Romanee lies the Commune of Nuits St Georges, for unfair and possibly political reasons, none of Nuits St Georges vineyards received Grand cru status during the 1936’s classification. Yet the appellation counts numerous high quality 1er Crus, among them, some of the finest examples of Cote de Nuits wines, especially the commune’s flagship 1er Cru of Les Saints Georges undoubtedly of Grand Cru breed. The appellation’s style could be subdivided into three: the northern 1ers Crus and village wines are similar to Vosne’s wines although not as refined, on the other side of the village lies the core of Nuits St Georges appellation, there the wines are full bodied and powerful, and finally, bordering the Cote de Beaune where the soils are lighter, the wines are less muscular.

CORTON

The hill of Corton marks the start of the Cote de Beaune. Corton is the only red Grand Cru of the Cote de Beaune and its nomenclature can be challenging as the appellation Corton can account for a specific lieux dit (eg. Corton Clos du Roi) or a blend between different parcels located on the hill. Vineyards located within the Corton Grand Cru area can also be named Corton Charlemagne if planted in Chardonnay. Because of the hill’s configuration, the different Corton vineyards benefit from different sun exposures that create a wide range of Corton styles, but one can’t deny the very typical Corton mineral characteristics coming from the soil composition.

BEAUNE

Beaune is the capital of the wine trade in Burgundy, it is well known for the Hospices de Beaune, the annual Charity auction giving the general tone for the quality of the year's harvest. Beaune doesn’t count any Grand Cru but around 75% of the total vineyard area is classified as 1er Cru. Beaune wines are typical of Cote de Beaune style, boasting lot of succulent fruit with a lighter body than in Cote de Nuits although some of the best appellations such as Les Greves are worth ageing considering their substantial structure.

POMMARD

South to the town of Beaune, the village of Pommard benefits from a great reputation for delivering powerful, substantial reds with a structure that resembles Gevrey Chambertin wines. There are no Grands Crus there, but the terroir of 1er Cru Les Rugiens would be the first candidate to be promoted. Pommard is indeed a curiosity in Cote de Beaune as the soil there has more to do with that of the Cote de Nuits than the rest of the Cote de Beaune. Additionally, the wines are far more long ageing. Although true examples of Pommard are often austere in their youth, their subtle potential releases along the years.

VOLNAY

If Pommard stands for firmness and power, its direct neighbour village Volnay is on the opposite all about grace and delicacy. This is because the vineyards’ soils contain more limestone and Volnay’s vineyards are slightly upper on the slope. Volnay appellation is mostly for reds and there are no Grands Crus only 1er Crus, the best of them being Les Caillerets and Les Santenots. If Pommard is said to be the “Gevrey Chambertin” of the Cote de Beaune, Volnay definitely would be the “Chambolle Musigny” of the Cote de Beaune, wines that are fragrant, an elegant expression of pinot.

MEURSAULT

Meursault is home to some of the finest Chardonnay in the world, unlike the prestigious commune of Puligny Montrachet, Meursault does not count any Grands crus but one of its 1er Cru, Les Perrieres is well known for delivering the same degree of complexity of a Grand Cru and does not suffer from comparison with some of Puligny- Montrachet’s Grand Crus. Meursault is famous for producing intensely mineral and rich Chardonnays with distinctive buttery and nutty aromas, these wines are incredibly round and fleshy with a great persistence on the palate.

AUXEY & MONTHELIE & ST AUBIN

Auxey Duresses is getting now more popular for delivering reasonable value reds and whites. Part of the appellation is directly bordering Meursault but the bulk of it lies on slope slightly disadvantaged by the shadows of the facing hills. Auxey wines are therefore less bodied and more tensed. Monthelie vineyards are prolongating that of Volnay and that of Auxey Duresses so the wines show clearly a combination of the two different styles with reds that bear some of the grace of a Volnay but with Auxey’s distinctive touch of firmness. St Aubin was an appellation (primarily white wines) that used to be underestimated until some outstanding winemakers valued its unique terroirs. St Aubin's wines offer quite a similar minerality and can equal the complexity of some Pulignys.

PULIGNY-MONTRACHET

Puligny is worldwide renown for producing the best white wine in the world, which is Le Montrachet. If we had to keep only one word to describe The Montrachet it would be: intensity. Puligny-Montrachet delivers graceful, floral and intensely mineral Chardonnays. If Meursault wines are about breadth, Pulignys are on the contrary more tensed and linear with an everlasting finish. The Commune of Puligny counts 4 Grands Crus (all whites): Le Montrachet, Batards Montrachet and Chevalier Montrachet.

CHASSAGNE-MONTRACHET

Southern to Puligny Montrachet, Chassagne shares with its neighbour The Montrachet and Batards Montrachet Grands Crus and possesses another tiny Grand cru called Criots Batards Montrachet. Chassagne as an appellation is quite different in style from Puligny, the soil there is heavier, richer in clay which explains why the vineyards are equally planted in reds and whites. Chassagnes can sometimes lack of freshness, they still display a similar minerality to Pulignys but with more weight.

SANTENAY

Santenay marks the southern border of the Cote d’Or and it is primarily planted in reds. The wines are similar to Beaune wines as their major characteristic is fruitiness; although some Santenays 1ers Crus, Le Clos des Mouches for instance, can be more structured and can age very well. These wines are generally known for delivering immediate pleasure and being thoroughly enjoyable in their youth.

VOSNE-ROMANEE

Considered by Allen Meadow as “The Pearl of The Cote” Vosne Romanee is the most blessed village with 8 Grands Crus. Vosne-Romanée today covers just over 200 hectares of vineyards that nestle between Nuits St.Georges and Flagey-Echézeaux. The village has the greatest concentration of top vineyards in the Côte d’Or, including the tiny Grand Crus of the astonishing La Romanée-Conti, the classy, complex La Romanée, and the little-known La Grande Rue.

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