Burgundy, which prefers to be called Bourgogne, can be rather intimidating. When iconic brands such as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti start at more than $7000 for a bottle of wine, Bourgogne can seem rather unattainable. But rest assured, Bourgogne is not only for the collectors and Michelin-starred restaurants. While it is true that most of us will never taste some of Bourgogne’s greatest wines, there are the secret gems of Burgundy which are incredibly delicious and affordable.
The two primary grapes of Bourgogne are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Aligoté, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Blanc are also grown in Bourgogne. Pinot Noir is just shy of 40% of the total planting in Bourgogne yet Pinot Noir is often synonymous with the region.
Pinot Noir’s birthplace is Bourgogne. Winemaking has occurred in Bourgogne since as early as the 2nd century A.D. but the first written record of the variety, under the name Pinot Noir, was in 1375. The name Pinot Noir was inspired by the pinecone shape of the bunches (“pinot”) and the deep violet hues of the berry (“noir”). Pinot Noir is also the father to numerous other grape varieties, including Chardonnay, Gamay, and Aligoté, which would not exist without Pinot Noir.
An official classification of Burgundy wines began in 1861 and was formalized on the national level in 1936 under appellations d’origine contrôlées (AOC) laws. Today there are 84 different AOC wines which represent more than 23% of all AOCs in France. Thirty-three of the AOCs are classified as Grand Cru, which is less than 2% of the total production in Bourgogne. Premiere Cru, with 570 ‘Climats’, or single plots, make up 10% of the total production. The Village appellations, which include 44 AOCs, make up 36% of the total production, and the Regional appellations, with 23 AOCs, make up 52% of the total production. What is important to note is that AOCs do not guarantee quality, instead they guarantee typicity, meaning the wines will taste like the area from which they come.
The wine region of Bourgogne is small and located in east-central France. It is approximately 140 miles from the north to the south, and ranges from one mile to 20 miles wide. There are 66,375 acres under vine, 4000 independent wine growers, 250 negotiants, and 23 cooperatives within five winegrowing areas. Chablis in the north and Mâconnais in the south are both almost entirely Chardonnay regions. Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune produce mostly Pinot Noir and in Côte Chalonnaise, two-thirds of the production is Pinot Noir. While this sounds like a large area, Bourgogne only produces 3% of all commercial wine in France.
The soils of Bourgogne are 140-180 million years old and range from sedimentary, marl, clay, and limestone. And each of these soils affects the Pinot Noir that grows in it. Pinot Noir grown in limestone is lightly pigmented but produces highly aromatic and beautifully elegant wines; Pinot Noir grown in marl, a combination of limestone and clay produces less elegant red wines with more structure and fruit; Pinot Noir grown in clay, which has more water retention, produces red wines that are less aromatic but have more body and tend to need 5-7 years of bottle age to express themselves.
The Côte de Nuits is a predominately Pinot Noir area, which totals 89% of the production. Côte de Nuits extends from Dijon to just south of Nuits-Saint-Georges and covers fourteen communes. Within the Côte de Nuits are many secret gems to discover that fall within the Village and Regional categories.
Bourgogne Le Chapitre
In the north end of Côte de Nuits is Bourgogne Le Chapitre, an appellation given to wines produced from the 13-acre Le Chapitre vineyard in the commune of Chenôve, a southern suburb of Dijon. A handful of producers make wine here. Most Bourgogne wine can come from any one of more of 300 communes around Bourgogne, but Le Chapitre was signaled out in 1993 as worthy of appending its name to that of the Bourgogne appellation.
2017 Louis Jadot, Bourgogne Chenôve, Le Chapitre ($32)
Two-thirds of this parcel were planted in 1953. The grapes are hand-harvested, fermented in a mixture of large oak vats and stainless-steel tanks, and then spend 18 months in French oak barrels (1/3 new). The wine has bright cherry and mineral notes and is light and lively yet structured with a richness in the midpalate.
Located in the very north of the Côte de Nuits, Marsanny is the only village that makes white, rosé, and red wines.
2017 Charles Audoin, Marsannay Les Favieres ($47)
Cyril Audoin makes seven different wines from five plots within Marsannay. Les Favieres is a hillside vineyard that has notably little topsoil above its core of limestone soils. The wine smells like a clean barn with aromas of fresh earth, saddle leather, hay, and sandy tannins. This wine has more structure, texture, and weight and can be aged.
Fixin (sounds like Fissan) received orifical recognition in 1936 and produces Village and Premiere Cru wines.
2018 Domaine Pierre Gelin, Fixin ($50)
This wine comes from a seven-acre plot of calcareous and clay soils. The Pinot Noir, which comes from vines that average 35 years of vine age, spends 20-24 months in French barrique (10% new). It is a very clean wine with a very pretty, floral nose. On the palate, the tannins are silky but grippy and there is a lovely light juiciness on the finish.
A region famous for its nine Grand Cru and 26 Premier Cru wines, the Village level is often ignored.
2018 Bouchard Pere & Fils Bourgogne ($59)
A negociant since 1731, Bouchard Pere & Fils purchased the grapes from local growers and the wine was aged for 10-12 months in French oak (25-30% new). The wine opens opulently with ripe red fruit and then gets more structured with a silky mouthfeel.
Morey Saint Denis
Home to 20 Premiere Crus and five Grand Crus, Morey Saint Denis is known for full and powerful wines.
2019 Michel Magnien, Morey Saint Denis ($56)
A blend of grapes from different vineyard plots, this wine has dark red fruit and earth notes on the nose. On the palate, there is depth but also a freshness. Intense acid is met by tannins felt around cheeks and tongue, and a line of minerality runs straight down the tongue to the back of the palate, almost like throwing a fishing line down the mouth.
With 24 Premier Crus wines and two Grand Cru wines, Musigny is the only Côte de Nuit Grand Cru to make both white and red wines.
2018 Thibault Liger Belair, Chambolle-Musigny ($103)
The Pinot noir is composed of five different parcels from mostly clay soils. The grapes are 40% whole cluster and spend 18 months in oak barrels (39% new). There is a lovely menthol note and earthy quality on the nose that gives way to drying tannins on the tongue but freshness on the midpalate.
Producing 14 Premiuer Crus and 8 Grand Crus, this region is famous with known names such as La Romanée, Romanée Conti, and Romanée Saint Vivant.
2019 Jean Grivot Vosne Romanée ($121)
The Pinot Noir grapes are destemmed and undergo cold maceration for 102 days before a native yeast fermentation followed by malolactic fermentation in the barrel and then 15 months in French oak (25% news). Smelling this wine, you can almost smell the place where it is from. It is very clean and precise with and balance between freshness and structure. This is a very sexy wine with velvety tannins and the depth and body to age.
Nuit Saint Georges
While Côte de Nuits is 89% red grapes, Nuits Saint Georges is 97% red. An area with 762 acres, there are 41 Premier Cru wines and one vineyard that has been pending for Grand Cru status since 2013.
2018 Bouchard Pere & Fils, Nuits Saint George ($63)
The Pinot Noir grapes, purchased from local growers, are grown in a mix of limestone and clay soils. The wine spends 10-12 months in French oak (25-30% new). The wine has a very pretty nose with musky notes of rose hips. The wine is also pretty on the palate, with a balance of acid and tannins and an elegant juicy finish.
Bourgogne is a region filled with secret gems. Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines may sound more prestigious, but these eight wines offer beauty, structure, and value, and are not classified as Premier or Grand Cru. While we can all aspire to drink the wines that garner thousands of dollars, there are lots of wines that will not break the bank. These are the secret gems of Bourgogne.