A couple of days in Burgundy are eye opening, mouthwatering, and never enough for a wine lover! This region shows off its grapes like no other in the world. Winemaking has been an integral part of the region even before recorded history, eventually earning it the title of Côte d’Or, the “Golden Slope,” because of the sheer number of rolling golden vineyards in the fall, and the value of the wines they produce.
We hop off the train in Burgundy (almost regretting leaving our comfortable first class seats) and find ourselves in the charming town of Beaune. Walking down the cobblestone streets, we see the iconic tiled roofs of Burgundy, first designed to replicate the homeland of a noble woman from Flanders that the designer wished to woo. An entire region’s architecture created out of love—just like the nectar we have come to taste!
Our little group drops our luggage off at a small private luxury inn, attached to the home of a Burgundy winemaker. We enjoy a personal introduction to Burgundy as we visit his 14th century cellars, located just under our lodging. This is where we learn the unique qualities and process for making Burgundy wines from the expert himself.
We say “unique” because only two grapes represent almost the entirety of production: Chardonnay for white and Pinot Noir for red. The focus here is on the soil and the artful process of winemaking: nowhere else in the world is there such an emphasis on “terroir” and location. What is truly amazing is the variation in flavor that results from these two things. Winemakers here can’t blend grapes (since only 1 of each color is grown), and they can’t blend things grown on different plots of land (or they lose their ranking). “Terroir” is all.
Even the ranking of the wines is determined by which plot of land grew the grape, rather than the winemaker or Domaine. Each bottle bears the name of the plot, each so famous that everyone knows them and what they produce. Everyone in our group eagerly takes in each name to decide on a favorite!
Burgundy creates about 180 million bottles per year, but only 2% of these will get the regal ranking of Grand Cru. We taste about 15 Grand Cru –from Corton Charlemagne (white) to Echezaux (red), to Chambertin (red) and the mythical Clos Vougeot (red). The flavor and depth have tremendous variety.
Another 12% of production is Premier Cru. These very fine wines are known by their village—Meursault, Puligny Montrachet, Gevrey Chambertin—and the plot of land in that village where the grapes were grown. One of our favorite experiences is tasting a Premier Cru Meursault “Les Charmes” from the barrel. By the end of our 4 day stay, we will have tasted 4 or 5 wines from this very same small parcel of land, all from different years and different wine makers. And, interestingly, we will be able to identify that the wines came specifically from “Les Charmes”—a source of pride for the group. The parcel really does have a distinct flavor, just as different winemakers put their own special mark on each bottle.
This is the intersection of nature and art. Burgundy is where we get to taste how they work together—not something we could do if we were in Bordeaux for example. In France’s other major winegrowing region, the winemaker can take grapes from wherever they want, and often mix different grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot…) in any way they choose. In Bordeaux you taste the skill of the winemaker, instead of a special plot of land or a single grape.
Both regions offer incredible wines and memories for wine lovers. There is nothing like tasting a wine at the vineyard it grew in, and we encourage any enthusiast to put the experience on their bucket list!