Friends enjoying a Christmas dinner together

Burgundy is a region in eastern France famous for wine-making. According to the Burgundy Wines website, wine-making in the region dates as far back as 312 A.D. with the first Chateau built by monks in 1115. It is recognized for its rich complex reds like Nuits St. George, and its crisp, dry whites like Chablis. Burgundy produces wines of varying qualities but there are some key characteristics and background to wine-making in the region that will help you understand more about France’s position as one of the preeminent old-world wine producers.

Burgundy Regions

Burgundy wines come from one of the five principle areas within the region: Chablis and Grand Auxerre; Cote de Nuits; Cote de Beaune; Cote Chalonaise; and Maconnais. These areas each have different soil properties and micro-climates that affect the quality and flavor of the grapes that go into wine-making. The final characteristics of Burgundy wine are greatly influenced by the different soil conditions and micro-climates in the region.

Red Burgundy Wine Basics

Burgundy red wine is made almost exclusively from the pinot noir grape. The pinot noir grape has a complex set of flavor characteristics that it imparts to Burgundy wine. It produces a rich and complex red that is not particularly heavy or strong in alcohol. Burgundy reds reflect a wide range of shades, including cherry, brick red, garnet, purplish red, ruby red, tile red and mahogany. Burgundy reds usually peak at between five to eight years of aging and should be dry and smooth on the palate. They are often accompanied by a complex set of aromas in the nose reminiscent of black cherry with hints of spiciness such as cinnamon or sassafras, along with earthy notes such as mushrooms, leather, truffles and meat.

Red Wine Key Characteristics

Red Burgundy reflects fresh fruit notes only in very young or very old wines. Scents of raspberries, blackberries and cherry are typical. In well-aged high-end wines, floral notes of rose, peony or violet are evident, and in young, immature wines plant tones such as tobacco or cut grass can be detected. If the wine smells of cooked fruit such as figs or jam, this may indicate a wine produced from very mature grapes. Wines left for longer in the barrel will display more spiciness such as cinnamon, bay or ginger as well as coffee, licorice and grilled almonds. Mature wine will often display the scent of meat, game or of earthy undergrowth with most fruit tones disappearing completely.

White Burgundy Wine Basics

Chablis is the classic Burgundy white that arguably started the world’s love affair with chardonnay-based wines. The chardonnay grape imparts a distinctly fresh and zesty aroma to Burgundy whites. It smells strongly of fruits such as peaches, citrus and apples. It can be a delicate variety, prone to being overpowered if blended with other grapes, but it produces at the same time a powerful and full-bodied white. Chardonnay is the only variety allowed in Chablis under the strict Appelation d'Origine Controllee (AOC) laws. Good Chablis will be exceptionally dry on the palate with light acidity. The nose will resonate with fruit and other more complex buttery and vanilla notes, and depending on how it has been finished it may have hints of oak.

White Wine Characteristics

White Burgundy may appear green gold, dark golden, white gold, yellow, pale yellow, orange yellow, green, straw yellow or dark yellow. Young fresh wines will give off familiar plant scents such as tobacco, fern or mint. Young wines also display more fruit such as apple, peach, lemon or grapefruit. More delicate higher-end wines will display key notes of chamomile, verbena, hawthorn, limewood, rose, wild rose, acacia, broom and honeysuckle. White wines that are beginning to age will be more complex and reflect almond, apricot, walnut or orange peel. Hazelnut tones are connected with barrel aging. With even more aging, spiciness of pepper, aniseed, vanilla and cinnamon will develop, while mineral flavors such as pencil lead, flint or stone powder are associated mainly with Chablis but also dry whites from Macon and Cote de Beaune. Butter, iodine, caramel and honey become evident once the wine is probably a few years old.