Feb 09 2009

The Juice on Burgundies

By Brooke Gowen
I attended a wine tasting of the 2007 Burgundy barrel samples on Thursday, which was hosted by the importer Frederick Wildman & Sons, Ltd. (A barrel sample is a wine which has not yet been bottled; so while you can get a good sense of what the wine will be like when released, it will undoubtedly change a good bit more once bottled.) Many great producers and winemakers were on-hand pouring samples from some of the most renowned appellations in Burgundy: the Côte de Nuits, the Côte de Beaune, and from the southern part of the region.

On the heels of this tasting, I thought it might be an opportune time for another brief tutorial, this one on the grapes that comprise all Burgundy wines. First things first: a red Burgundy wine can only be made from one of two grapes: Pinot Noir or Gamay. A white Burgundy is made from either Chardonnay or Aligoté. However, do note that it’s really Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that take center-stage in Burgundy. A general mention of a “red Burgundy ” is assumed to be Pinot Noir and a “white Burgundy,” a Chardonnay.

So, let’s explore the varietals a bit, shall we?
• Pinot Noir thrives in Burgundy better than anywhere else in the world, which is why other Pinots in the world want to be like just like it. (The grape is grown everywhere in the region except Beaujolais.) Classic Burgundian Pinot Noir has red fruit flavors which evolve into vegetal and savory notes as the wine ages. Tannin and acidity levels vary and the wines are usually quite light to medium-bodied and delicious – la crème de la crème, I tell ya’!
• Chardonnay makes up all the great white wines of the region. The character of Chardonnay in Burgundy varies according to the region’s microclimates, and can range from lean and steely with high acid to complex and expressive to full-bodied with ripe fruit flavors.
• Gamay flourishes in the Beaujolais region where it gives young, fruity, easy-drinking red wines with light tannins.
• Aligoté is not nearly as successful as the aforementioned in the region, but is grown for making Bourgogne Aligoté and sparkling wines.

This should help you a little in navigating lists that list wines by the region. Now, when you see “Burgundy Reds” and “Burgundy Whites” in a section, rest assured they’re more than likely offering Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, respectively. Sometimes a little bit of info can get you a long way!

What personal experiences have you had with great Burgundies, red or white.

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