A Brief Guide to RedBurgundy Appellations
The Beaujolais region occupies 22,000 hectares between Mâcon and Lyon, and covers 34 miles north to south. Beaujolais is almost exclusively planted with the Gamay grape, and produces mostly red wines.
From north to south, St Amour, Juliénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Chénas, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié (a Cru since 1988), Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly are situated along the 15 mile strip of granite hills to the north of the region. They range from light, lively and fragrant to rich and velvety. While most Beaujolais should be drunk as soon as possible the Crus are infinitely more concentrated and have much more personality. They can be kept for up to 10 years at which age the best examples resemble mature Pinot Noir.
At its best simple Beaujolais is fruity and eminently drinkable, especially lightly chilled in summer. Most Beaujolais displays a pear-drop edge to its soft red fruit, and often notes of banana and bubble gum too. These traits come largely from the vinification method (semi-carbonic maceration) rather than the Gamay grape itself, where a swift fermentation highlights the aromatics and fruit while minimising the tannins. Amongst the top Crus, however, there has been a return to more traditional Burgundian vinification methods and even oak ageing.
Bourgogne is the term is used to describe the Bourgogne Appellation, a wide-reaching classification that covers the generic wines produced across the length and breadth of Burgundy that are not represented under area-specific AOCs.
Bourgogne Rouge applies to red wines from Burgundy, which can be produced by over 350 individual villages across the region. As with Bourgogne Blanc and Bourgogne Rosé, this is a very general appellation and thus is hard to pinpoint any specific characteristics of the wine as a whole, due to the huge variety of wines produced
Around 4,600 acres of land across Burgundy are used to produce Bourgogne Rouge, which is around twice as much as is dedicated towards the production of generic whites
Pinot Noir is the primary grape used in Bourgogne Rouge production, although Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and in Yonne, César grapes are all also permitted to make up the rest of the wine. These wines tend to be focused and fresh, with the fruit less cloying than in some New World Pinot Noir wines, and they develop more floral notes as they age.
Although an entry-level wine, some Bourgogne Rouges can be exquisite depending on the area and producer, and yet at a very affordable price.
Côte de Beaune Reds
Beaune: The wines of Beaune are usually on the lighter side, especially if from the flatter vineyards on the Pommard side, or the sandier soils towards Savigny. The sturdiest wines with most depth of flavour come from the steeper slopes overlooking the town itself. It covers 322 hectares of premier cru vineyards, of which Greves, Clos des Mouches are the most acclaimed.
Pommard: It produces the most powerful red wines of the Côte de Beaune. The clay soils are iron-rich resulting in deep coloured, muscular wines. Volnay produces the finest and most elegant red wines of the Côte de Beaune. This is a village which has strong similarities with Chambolle- Musigny in the Côte de Nuits, for the high active chalk content in the soil and comparatively low clay content. Whereas in earlier times Volnay was made in a particularly light, early drinking style, these days there are many producers making wines which age extremely well.
Savigny-Les-Beaune red wines are typically as good as those of Beaune itself, a local motto describing them as ‘Théologiques, Nourissants et Morbifuges’. They are usually good to drink at three to five years old. Best vineyards include the 1er Crus of Les Lavières, La Dominode, Les Vergelesses.
Chassagne Montrachet: Perhaps surprisingly, given that the name Montrachet is so synonymous with white wine, much of the soil in Chassagne is more suited to Pinot Noir than Chardonnay. Indeed it was only really in the second half of the 20th century that white wines began to dominate here. The reds have a firm tannic style that needs time to soften, with the best examples coming from the Premier Crus Morgeot, Boudriotte and Clos St Jean. At their best they combine the weight of the Côte de Nuits with the suppleness of the Côte de Beaune.
Côte de Beaune Villages is a red wine that can be made from a number of lesser, named villages in the region while Hautes-Côtes de Beaune (mostly red) is produced from vineyards in the hills to the west of the appellation, divided in two by St Romain.
Côte de Nuits Villages
The wine appellation of Côte de Nuit Villages in Burgundy includes wines from a small number of villages, mostly in the extreme north and south of the Côte de Nuits: Fixin and Brochon in the north, Comblanchien, Corgoloin and Prissey to the south. The wines are usually red and are often good value.
- Côte de Nuit Villages lies above the basic AOC Bourgogne in the hierarchy of local appellations. Hautes Côtes de Nuits is also mostly red and is produced in the hinterland to the south-west of Nuits St Georges.
- Many of the vineyards below Premier Cru, known as ‘village’ wines, are also well worth looking at. Many growers vinify their different vineyard holdings separately, which rarely happens in Puligny or Chassagne. Such wines can be labeled with the ‘lieu-dit’ vineyard alongside, although in smaller type to, the Meursault name.
Nuits Saint Georges
The wines of Nuits St Georges vary according to their exact provenance. Those of the hamlet of Prémeaux, considered to be part of Nuits St Georges for viticultural purposes, are often on the lighter side.
The richest and most sought after are those just south of Nuits St Georges such as les Vaucrains, les Cailles and les St Georges itself. The third sector, including les Murgers, Les Damodes and Les Boudots are at the Vosne Romanée end of the village and demonstrate some of the extra finesse associated with Vosne.
Gevrey-Chambertin is the largest wine-producing village in Burgundy’s Côte d'Or, with its vineyards spilling over into the next door commune of Brochon. Located in the far north of the Côtes de Nuits above Morey St Denis, classic Gevrey Chambertin is typically deeper in colour, firmer in body and more tannic in structure than most red Burgundy. The best can develop into the richest, most complete and long-lived Pinot Noir in the world. This is largely thanks to the iron-rich clay soils, though much depends on whether the vineyard is located on either the steeper slopes (Evocelles, Clos St Jacques) or the richer, flatter soils (Clos Prieur, Combottes).
A host of fabulous Premier Cru vineyards can reach Grand Cru quality. Brimming with flavour and intensity, Le Cailleret and Les Pucelles, which both lie across the road from Le Montrachet, are prime candidates, along with Les Demoiselles, Les Combettes and Folatières.
In all Gevrey boasts an impressive 9 Grands Crus, with the name of Chambertin retaining a regal omnipresence throughout its finest vineyard names.
- Le Chambertin may not be quite as sumptuous as Musigny or Richebourg or as divinely elegant as La Tâche or Romanée St Vivant, but it is matched only by the legendary Romanée-Conti for completeness and luscious intensity
- Chambertin Clos de Bèze which has the right to sell its wines simply as ‘Chambertin’ and is the only wine allowed to put the Chambertin name before, rather than after, its own. Situated slightly further up the hill, the wines are fractionally less powerful but are full of sensual charm and finesse.
- Quality-wise the next best are generally acknowledged to be Mazis- (or Mazy-) Chambertin and Latricières-Chambertin. The former is incredibly concentrated and very fine but its structure is a little less firm than Le Chambertin. Latricières is less about power, although it can be explosively fruity, and more about an entrancing silkiness
The small commune of Vosne-Romanée is the Côte de Nuits’ brightest star and produces the finest and most expensive Pinot Noir wines in the world. Its wines have an extraordinary intensity of fruit which manages to combine power and finesse more magically than in any other part of the Côte d’Or. The best balance extraordinary depth and richness with elegance and breeding. Situated just north of Nuits St Georges, Vosne-Romanée boasts 6 Grand Cru vineyards:
- Romanée-Conti, La Romanée, La Tâche, Richebourg, Romanée-St-Vivant, and La Grande Rue
If that wasn’t enough, Vosne-Romanée also boasts some absolutely magnificent Premiers Crus headed by Clos des Réas, Les Malconsorts (just south of La Tâche, and arguably of Grand Cru quality) and Les Chaumes on the Nuits St Georges side, Cros Parantoux (made famous by Henri Jayer), Les Beauxmonts and Les Suchots on the Flagey-Echézeaux border. The old maxim that ‘there are no common wines in Vosne-Romanée’ may not be strictly true, but it is not far off.
Drinking dates vary, but as a general rule of thumb Grand Crus are best drunk from at least 10 to 25 years, Premier Crus from 8 to 20 years and village wines from 5 to 12 years.
Chambolle Musigny produces the most elegant wines in the Côte de Nuits, having more active chalk and less clay in the soil than the other villages. The wines may be a little lighter in colour and less tannic than Gevrey-Chambertin but they have a sublime concentration of fruit. Village Chambolle Musigny usually provides excellent value.
- It encompasses two grand cru vineyards: Bonnes Mares and Le Musigny. Le Musigny is one of the top half dozen vineyards in Burgundy, producing wines of extraordinary intensity and yet with a magical velvety character.
- The best 1er Cru vineyards include Les Amoureuses, Les Charmes, Les Fuées, Les Baudes and Sentiers. Les Amoureuses is immediately appealing, a wonderfully sensual wine which deserves grand cru status. Bonnes Mares tends to have a firmer structure and ages very well.
Being one single entity, and with a place of great importance in Burgundian viticultural history, the Clos de Vougeot was unsurprisingly classified as grand cru on the arrival of appellation controlée. Fairly obviously, the 50 hectares do not comprise a homogenous block. A glance at the map of the Côte de Nuits shows that the top of the Clos is probably grand cru territory but the rest is sandwiched between village level Vosne-Romanée and premier cru Vougeot.
Clos de Vougeot is the smallest commune and largest clos in the Cote d’Or. It consists of 50 hectares of vineyards owned by 82 owners, with six soil types.