On the third day of Unit 2 in The Intensive Sommelier Training at the International Culinary Center we studied Burgundy, Chablis and Côte d’Or Whites and tasted 8 wines. Without a doubt, Burgundy is one of the most complex regions in France and it is one of the most terroir-focused regions in the world. On Day 4 we studied Côte d’Or red wines, so much of the information provided here will be background for the wines that will be described in the next review.
The Grapes of Burgundy (Bourgogne)
The top white grape in Burgundy is Chardonnay and the top red grape is Pinot Noir. But Aligoté (a white grape) and Gamay are also minor grapes grown in small quantities in the region. Gamay produces soft fruity wines and is at times mixed with Pinot Noir to make a wine called Passe-Tout-Grains.
There is one AOC that produces Sauvignon Blanc which is Saint-Bris. located around the village Saint-Bris-le-Vineux in the Yonne department, a few kilometers southwest of the Chablis AOC area
The Climate and Soils of Burgundy (Bourgogne)
Burgundy is about 200 miles from north to south. Whereas in California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is best when grown within close proximity to the ocean, in France Burgundy’s inland location in east-central France is responsible for its cool-continental climate. Another contrast between California and Burgundy is, Cali is fairly moderate with relatively consistent weather form year to year in Burgundy vintage variation can be dramatic and hail is a common threat.
In fact, on July 23, 2013 at around 4 p.m. a hailstorm pummeled the area that ruined sections of France’s 8 billion-euro ($10.9 billion) vineyards. Hail the size of ping-pong balls trashed a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) swath of Burgundy vineyards ruining some of France’s most-prized vineyards and which put some winemakers out of business as it reduced the vintage production by 4 million bottles.
The Hierarchy of Burgundy
Unlike the United States with its universal AVA system, France does not have a single method for classifying wines which makes learning to read the labels a real challenge. However, the American AVA systems only convey location and delineate requirements for labeling grape varietals. In contrast, the classifications of France seek to convey to the consumer a level of quality which is determined by the land form which the grapes are derived and various other requirements which must be met in order to receive the AOC designation and various other indicators of enological aristocracy.
The Burgundy classification system, from the lower to the most specific and highest tier is as follows:
Regional: These wines consist of mostly quality blends made from grapes sourced from throughout the region. An example of a regional classification wine would be “Appellation Bourgogne Contrôlée.”
Commune/Village: The second tier indicates the wine is generally of higher quality than a regional wine. They are produced from grapes grown in the vineyards surrounding one of Burgundy’s important sub-regions (communes) or one of the famous villages. An example of a village classification wine would be “Appellation Côte de Beaune Contrôlée.”
Premier Cru Vineyard: These are “first growth” wines from top-quality vineyards that have historically proven themselves to produce important and high quality wines. There are 562 Premier Cru vineyards located throughout Burgundy. The wines are labeled with the name of the village or commune they are grown in or around and the name of the vineyard itself and the title Premier Cru or 1er Cru. An example of a Premier Cru classification wine would be “Appellation Pommard Epenots Premier Cru Contrôlée.”
Grand Cru Vineyard: This is the highest designation in Burgundy. Wines with this designation must be produced from grapes in one of the famous Grand Cru vineyards. There are only 34 Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy, 1 Grand Cru in Chablis and 33 Grand Cru in Côte-d'Or. These make up 1% of Burgundy’s total production. A bottle of wine from a Côte-d'Or vineyard will merely mention the same of the vineyard such as “Appellation Le Montrachet Grand Cru Contrôlée.”
The Regions of Burgundy (Bourgogne)
The top regions in Burgundy from north to south include Chablis, Côte-d'Or, Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais and Beaujolais.
Chablis is located about 60 miles northwest of Côte-d'Or and has a cooler climate than the rest of Burgundy. The region is also susceptible to late frosts. Chablis is known for its Kimmeridgian-limestone soil that is the fossilized remnants of oyster shells. The region is totally producing Chardonnay made in neutral oak and the wines have a very distinctive chalky note. Chablis is home to 40 Premier Cru vineyards and one Grand Cru vineyard which is divided into 7 climats or parcels which are: Blanchots, Bougros, Grenouilles, Les Clos, Les Preuses, Valmur, and Vaudérsir. There is also La Moutonne which straddles the Grands Crus boundaries of Preuses and Vaudésir. All of the Grand Cru cites have southwest exposure.
The Côte d’Or (French for “golden slope”) is the most well-known region of Burgundy and is on the eastern side perfectly oriented towards the sun. This commune is about 13 miles long from north to south. It rests on limestone soils mixed with marl. Limestone is any basic sedimentary rock that consists primarily of carbonates, the best white wines come from these soils. Its alkalinity encourages grape production with relatively high acidity. Marl is cold calcareous clay-like soils that slows ripening and retains acidity. The region has and 33 Grand Cru vineyards and is general divided into two areas:
Côte de Nuits is in the north end of the Côte d’Or. About 99% of Côte de Nuits is dedicated to Pinot Noir (Hint: I remember this because “Nuits” begins with an “N” as does “north” and “Noir”). Côte de Nuits has 12 village designations, 140 Premier Cru vineyards and 25 Grand Cru vineyards. All the red Grand Crus of the Côte d’Or are in the Côte de Nuits, except Corton.
Côte de Beaune is located the south of Côte de Nuits, is 18 miles long and is planted to both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. But, it is best known for its Chardonnay. (Hint: I remember this because “Beaune” sounds like “bone” which is white). In fact, 7 of the 8 Grand Cru vineyards grow only Chardonnay. Côte de Beaune is home to 313 Premier Cru vineyards and 8 Grand Cru vineyards. All the white Grand Crus of the Côte d’Or are in the Côte de Beaune, except Musigny Blanc.
The Côte Chalonnaise is directly south of the Côte de Beaune. It is a collection of five communes located near the village of Chalon-sur-Saône which are: Bouzeron, Givry, Mercurey, Montagny and Rully. They produce both white and red wines similar to the Côte d’Or but are not considered to be on par with their northern neighbors. The region is also home to 119 Premier Cru vineyards but they have no Grand Cru vineyards.
The Mâconnais is a fairly large region named after the largest village in the commune, Mâcon. This is the southernmost region of Burgundy that produces mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The most well-known commune in Mâconnais is Pouilly-Fuissé. There are no Premier Cru vineyards and no Grand Cru vineyards in Mâconnais.
Beaujolais is the southernmost district of Burgundy as well as the largest producing almost half of the wine in the region. The dominant red grape in Beaujolais is Gamay and there are three classes: AOC Beaujolais, AOC Beaujolais-Villages and Cru Beaujolais. Within Beaujolais there are 10 communes: Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, Regnié, Fleurie, and Saint-Amour.
AOC Beaujolais Nouveau is a wine that is quickly made within 7 to 9 weeks after the grapes have been picked which is ready to be released on the 3rd Thursday after November – just in time for the holidays. The wine is made using carbonic maceration in which whole grape clusters are put uncrushed into tanks filled with carbon dioxide (CO2) causing the grapes in the bottom of the tank to be crushed and start fermentation within the grapes. As more CO2 is created by the fermentation process it envelops all the grapes in the top of the vat releasing more juice. This type of fermentation extracts very little tannin form the grapes skins creating a very soft red wine that is designed to be consumed young as red wines need tannin in order to be able to age. The result is a purple-pink wine reflecting its youth, that is dominated by such fruity ester flavors as banana, grape, strawberry, fig and pear juice. The wine is best served slightly chilled to 13°C (55°F).
On the third day of Unit 2 we tasted the following white wines from Burgundy:
1. 2011 Paul Pernot, Bourgogne Blanc
This is a clear star-bright white wine, straw at the core of minimal variation at the rim with medium viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of fresh peaches, golden apples, white flowers, vanilla bean and a hint of yeasty boiled bagels followed by a distinct scent of chalk – the hallmark of white burgundies. On the palate it is clean with flavors of green apples, flowers and wet stone with hints of neutral French oak. It is dry with crisp medium+ acidity, medium alcohol, medium body, moderate complexity and a medium+ length finish. This wine retails for about $19-$24.
2. 2010 William Fevre, Chablis 1er Cru, Fourchaume
This wine is clear, star-bright straw in color with medium concentration, low rim variation and medium viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of fresh green apples, peach skins, white flowers, floral soap, dusty chalk, yeasty bread and a lingering hint of Parmesan cheese. On the palate it is clean and dry with medium to medium+ acidity, medium alcohol, medium body and moderate complex flavors of with fresh flavors of apples, lime and peach with a stony minerality that drives the medium+ length finish. This wine retails for about $42.
3. 2010 Louis Michel, Chablis Vaudésir Grand Cru
This wine is clear, star-bright straw in color with medium concentration, low rim variation and medium viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of fresh green apples, peach skins, orange blossoms, vanilla, nutmeg, dusty chalk, and yeasty bread dough. On the palate it is clean and dry with medium to medium+ acidity, medium alcohol, medium body with a full-mouth creamy texture and medium+ length finish. This wine retails for about $49.
4. 2009 Vincent Morey and Sophie, Saint Aubin Les Charmois, 1er Cru
This wine is clear, day-bright yellow-gold in color with medium concentration, low rim variation and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of baked apples, peach cobbler, quince, butterscotch, vanilla, nutmeg, cloves, and just a hint of dusty chalk. On the palate it is clean and dry with medium to medium+ acidity, medium alcohol, medium+ body with medium+ length finish with lingering notes of caramel and hazelnuts. This wine retails for about $39.
5. 2010 Domaine Jean-Marc Moret, Chassagne-Montrachet
This wine is clear, star-bright yellow-gold in color with medium concentration, low rim variation and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean has moderate intense aromas of, peaches, lemons, cardamom, wet autumn leaves and just a hint of minerality. On the palate it is clean and dry with medium+ acidity, medium alcohol, medium+ body with medium+ length finish with oranges and chalky flint. This wine retails for about $52.
6. 2011 Marc Colin et Fils, Le Trezin, Puligny Montrachet
This wine is clear, day-bright straw-yellow in color with medium concentration, low rim variation and medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of, fresh green apples, lemon, vanilla, Crème brûlée and a hint of clove. On the palate it is clean and dry with flavors of apricots, oxidized apples dried pears and vanilla. It has medium+ acidity, medium to medium+ alcohol, medium body, medium complexity and a medium+ length finish. This wine retails for about $49.
7. 2010 Albert Grivault, Meursault
This wine is clear, star-bright yellow-gold in color with medium concentration, low rim variation and medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of, tangerines, lemons, green apples and minor tropical notes as well as orange blossoms, vanilla, tarragon and just a hint of buttery popcorn. On the palate it is clean and dry with flavors of tangy tangerines and lemons with underlying notes of buttery popcorn and a hint of chalk. It has medium+ acidity, medium to medium+ alcohol, medium body, medium complexity and a medium length finish. This wine retails for about $52.
8. 2010 Domaine Louis Latour, Grand Cru, Corton Charlemagne
This wine is clear, star-bright yellow-gold in color with medium concentration, low rim variation and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of cooked and dried fruits – baked apples, dried peaches – followed by butterscotch, caramel, cloves, cinnamon and buttered popcorn. On the palate it is clean and dry with flavors of fresh apricots, dried peaches and backed apples along with butterscotch and vanilla. It has medium acidity, medium to medium+ alcohol, medium body with a creamy full-mouth feel, moderate+ complexity and a medium+ length finish. This wine retails for about $115.
My two favorites in this tasting were #4, the 2009 Vincent Morey and Sophie, Saint Aubin Les Charmois, 1er Cru, and #8, the 2010 Domaine Louis Latour, Grand Cru, Corton Charlemagne.
You may notice that the descriptions of these wines may seem similar to many California Chardonnays. What sets these wines apart from California Chardonnays that are made in a similar style is the distinct minerality of the Burgudians. Also, with the exception of the 2010 Albert Grivault, they are not has tropical as California Chardonnays.