A Journey Through Burgundy, Part 1 Chablis and Côte d’Or

When it comes to Burgundy I am at a loss for words. It is the source of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the world and home to one of the world’s most expensive wine. I love to drink red Burgundy more than I love to drink anything else. Yet, I have never been to Burgundy and I have a very limited understanding of this iconic wine region. So when I try to write about Burgundy I feel like a pimple face school girl who has a crush on the captain of the football team, who does not even know she exists. Yet, every opportunity to write about Burgundy draws me one step closer in understanding.

Thankfully for the next two months the lovely L.M. Archer of BinNotes redThread™ is leading our #Winophiles group on a tour of Burgundy. Lyn is a great leader in this area because she is a French WIne Specialist and Bourgogne Master Level. We are beginning our journey this month in Chablis and the Côte d’Or. In June, we will travel through Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais, and Beaujolais. This month I selected a wine from the village of Volnay in the Côte de Beaune sub-region of the Côte d’Or. Got all that? Let’s step back and broaden our view for a minute as we work our way toward Volnay.

As you look at the Burgundy wine map you will notice Chablis is the northern most region of Burgundy. It is a cool climate region with four appellations and one varietal: Chardonnay. Furthermore, no sparkling wines are produced with the Chardonnay in Chablis, only still wine. As I prepared for my WSET Level 2 exam I learned a few key points to Chardonnay as it is a reflection of Chablis. The cool climate leads to a wine that is bone-dry wine with high acidity and austere notes of green fruit and citrus; characteristically recognizable notes of smoky, flinty, minerals, oak is used but flavors are largely undetectable. These key facts of Chablis lead to why it is my favorite white wine. Today, there are just over 5,400 hectares of vines planted in Chablis. In 2014, this resulted in 308,000 hectare liters of wine, or 40 million bottles.

Key figures for the CHABLIS wine region

The larger Burgundy region is divided into four sub-regions. The northern aspect is an escarpment known as the Côte d’Or. Within this area lies Côte de Nuits, producing almost exclusively red wine, and Côte de Beaune, producing red and white wine. These two sub-regions within the Côte d’Or make up the second part of our focus today. My WSET Level 2 studies provided me some insight into the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir produced in Côtes d’Or. This area is the heart of Burgundy. It has a moderate climate and produces the highest quality Chardonnays in the world. Most Chardonnay is grown in the southern half of Cotes d’Or known as Côtes de Beaune, with two villages of note Mersault and Puligny-Montrachet; wines from these two villages are typically full body, complex, with flavors of white stone, tropical fruit, oak, spice, and savory notes. In regards to red Burgundy this is the classic region of Pinot Noir and by many accounts produces the best Pinot Noir in the world. Bourgogne AC typically is a medium body red wine with red fruit notes, savory notes, light tannins and medium to high acidity. Côte De Nuits has  two villages of note: Gevrey-Chambertin and Nuits-Saint-Georges, along with Côtes de Beaune’s villages of Beane and Pommard, Pinot Noir typically offers more intensity, complexity, and length, particularly those Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards.

The history of Burgundy goes back 2,000 years, marking an interesting juxtaposition of war and the religion. The Bourgogne web site explains in the year 52BC after the Romans conquered Gaul, they settled the town of Autun and began planting vineyards to quench the Gaul’s thirst for wine. In the 5th century fall of the Roman Empire brought the spread of monasteries and abbeys in Burgundy. The monastic orders of Cîteaux and Cluny aided in the spread of viticulture throughout the region. Like I always say, there is no separation of church and wine! Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries the popularity of the wines from Burgundy continued to spread. Scientific discoveries in the winemaking and viticulture practices lead to continued international growth in sales. Burgundy was hit as hard as the rest of the wine world from the phylloxera outbreak but within thirty years all the vines had been replanted, grafted onto American rootstock. The 20th century brought setbacks with two World Wars and a global economic depression. However, Burgundy held strong and recovered brilliantly. Today, the greatest concern for the beautiful wines of Burgundy is the weather. Increased hail storms and late frosts prove devastating to many wine regions, but Burgundy seems to be hit the hardest; resulting in lower yields and increased prices.

“No separation of church of wine.” ~ Me! Cross at the entrance of Domaine Romanee Conti in Burgundy via thedrinksbusiness.com

One reason I find Burgundy a bit overwhelming is here it is important to know vineyards, villages, and producers. Villages and producers is one thing but knowing individual vineyards is a lot to learn. Furthermore, Burgundy classifies its top wines the opposite of Bordeaux. In Bordeaux the five famous “best” wines are First Growth Premier Cru Classe Wines. However, in Burgundy it’s the opposite. The Grand Cru status is the highest level of achievement and represents less than 1% of all Burgundy wines.

Santenots in Volnay via http://www.burgundy-report.com

The wine I selected is from the village of Volnay, within the sub region of Côte de Beaune, within the Côte d’Or. I chose the wine because I have enjoyed Volnay wines in the past, I have enjoyed this producer in the past, and I saw the distributor on the back label and knew they had a great portfolio of French wines from attending one of their tastings a year or so ago. Labeling is also tricking with Burgundy because the producer name can be the smallest print on the label, typically with the village or sub-region looming the largest. From my label you can see Volnay 1er Cru is the largest. This means the wine is from the village of Volnay and is a premier cru class. The appellation Volnay includes 29 premier cru climats (read single vineyard site), one of those is Santenots. The Santenots climats (vineyard) is a bit unique within Volnay. The soil is comprised of harder limestone and is more reddish in nature due to its rich iron content. The area is covered with large stones that provide draining, resulting in stressed vines in a difficult growing condition and fruit of higher quality. The climats mesoclimate allows for extended sun exposure, allowing the grapes to ripen slowing while retaining high levels of acidity and flavor. I know this is all wine geek speak but it really played out in the glass.

2014 Domaine Nicolas Rossignol Santenots Volnay Premier Cru France ($115): Dark ruby with crimson hues in the glass; pronounced aromas of rich dried black and red fruit, leather, smoke, menthol, dried rose petals and tobacco leaves, crushed stone, graphite, toasted coconut, dark baking spice; huge on the palate, after a two hour decant it still had pronounced acidity and grippy, pronounced dusty tannins, large on the palate rich and aggressive however, great structure with a lot of lift, and a pungency that penetrated through the bottle for hours; we finished it the night we opened it but it would have drank well the next day I am sure; huge wine for a Burgundy; to be completely honest I think if I tasted it blind I would have thought it to be a nebbiolo due to its massive size on the palate and resounding rustic nature with bold tannins that I am not accustom to in Burgundy. However, I loved it and will head back to Pogos to buy a couple more bottles to age. The soil notes I provided above really shine through this wine; terroir to its finest! Wine was crafted from a blend of young vines (20 years old) and older vines (60-70 years old).

This wine paired perfectly with the earthy qualities of Chicken with Artichoke Pan Sauce and Orzo with Fresh Herb Vinaigrette for an awesome Friday night al fresco dinner. Ironically a more Italian style meal was a perfect match for such a bold, rustic Burgundy. The chicken recipe was made with sherry and lots of fresh herbs, resulting in a very earthy dish.

Learn more about Burgundy from my fellow #Winophile friends:

Jeff Burrows of foodwineclick  “Northern Burgundy Served Up With Rabbit.”

Jill Barth of L’Occasion  “Thomas Jefferson in Burgundy.”

Lynn Gowdy of Bordeaux  “Saint-Aubin in Burgundy Invites You To Dine.”

Martin Redmond of Enofylz Wine Blog   “Back to Back White Burgundy: Chablis vs. Côte” d’Or.”

Gwendolyn Lawrence Alley of Art Predator “Chablis and the Sea.”

L.M. Archer of binnotes  “Burgundy: Wines of Intention.”

Jane Niemeyer of Always Ravenous  “White Burgundy paired with Corn Soup.”

Join us this morning at 10CST on Twitter using #Winophile to share and learn about Burgundy.

My Song Selection: The sound of Burgundy as I hear it….

Get your own bottle of Burgundy and let me know what song you pair with it. Cheers!

15 responses to “A Journey Through Burgundy, Part 1 Chablis and Côte d’Or”

    • Michelle, I hope you get the opportunity to visit Burgundy soon. The passion of the people there is infectious and the wine is truly in a class of it’s own. Understanding the classification system probably comes with a lot of tasting to appreciate the unique climats. Great work describing your wine, even the color looked more intense. Your pairing looks delicious!

  1. All your studying and preparatory wine sampling will pay off handsomely when you do get to visit. You’ll enjoy walking the vineyards and visiting vignerons that much more!

  2. Great post. I tried to write something similar on my blog to help myself with my understanding of the region as well. I think when you actually visit the region all the dots will finally be connected for you.

  3. That Volnay sounds great! Dare I say it’s more “masculine” than “feminine”? Sounds like a great pairing for your meal. And I absolutely adore al fresco dining. One of life’s great pleasures in my book! dish

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