Some of the world's most celebrated Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays originate from the region of Burgundy, France or Bourgogne. The most prominent wine-growing regions of Burgundy are Chablis, Cote d'Or (Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune), Cote Chalonnaise, Maconnais, and Beaujolais.
Bottles are classified by quality, and regional wines can be a great, affordable starter to introduce yourself to the variety of Burgundy. They are fresh, light, and lively, and usually labeled Bourgogne Blanc (white) or Bourgogne Rouge (red). Village wines like Pouilly Fuisse or Givry are the next tier, still very affordable, and have a bit more complexity than regional wines. Premier Cru Burgundy is reserved for wines from special areas within a village called "climats". Grand Cru Burgundy which goes to only 39 vineyards are powerful and complex. Approximately 1% of Burgundy's annual production are labeled Grand Cru, and they can easily fetch up to three or four figures.
Chablis is located furthest north, characterized by their harsh winters, hot summers, and Kimmeridgian limestone soil which gives the Chardonnay a fresh crispness. Chablis is typically medium-bodied, unoaked, mineral, and chalky. Wines from the region of Chablis have their own classification, ranking from Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru Chablis, to Grand Cru Chablis.
Cote de Nuits is the northern half of the Cote d'Or. Most wine produced in this region is Pinot Noir (approximately 80%) while the remainder is Chardonnay and Rose. Though Cote de Beaune is much larger, the Cote de Nuits region includes 24 of Burgundy's 32 Grand Cru appellations.
In the southern half of the Cote d'Or lies the Cote de Beaune. Though most of Cote de Beaune produces red wines made from Pinot Noir, the region is mostly known for their white Burgundies that would make you weak in the knees. Known for their rich, buttery, but bone-dry Chardonnay, these white wines are typically oak-aged and bursting with flavors of apple, orange, and tropical fruit. Le Montrachet is a grand cru vineyard nestled in Cote de Beaune which is widely considered to be one of the best in the world and its Chardonnay can sell for thousands of dollars.
As for reds, Pommard and Volnay produce elegant expressions of Pinot Noir with softer tannins. Limestone-rich soil also contribute to its underlying minerality.
The least famous of all regions, Cote Chalonnaise produces consistently great wine and often at a great value. Though the grapes are the same, the higher altitude and slightly warmer and less rainy climate differs from its neighbors in the north. With the exception of the light, floral Aligote in the village of Bouzeron, the region produces mostly Pinot Noir or Chardonnay in very different expressions depending on the village and specific soil. Look to Rully for a fantastic value on sparkling wines as they've perfected the production of Cremant de Bourgogne since the 19th century.
Very far south, Macconais can be a wonderful entry point to Chardonnay. Only a small number of wine is made from Gamay or Pinot Noir. In the more famous Pouilly-Fuisse, Chardonnay grapes are planted on limestone-rich soils and express rich, elegant, and full-bodied characteristics.
Most vineyards in Beaujolais produce wine from Gamay with only a tiny bit of Chardonnay and Aligote. Because of their low tannin content, light body, high acidity, and flamboyant, ripe fruit flavors, they make for very approachable red wines. Carbonic maceration also preserves the high-fruit character of the wine. During carbonic maceration, grapes are piled into a vat instead of pressed, and fermentation begins inside the skin of unbroken grapes. Overall, a lovely red wine to transition from those used to fruity white wines.
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