France’s Burgundy region serves as the reference point for wines produced from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Over many centuries vine growers here recognized that wines could express the nuance of their individual parcels, thereby establishing the concept of terroir. Examining the five major subregions from north to south will give you insight into what makes Burgundian bottles so desirable to novices and connoisseurs alike.
Chablis and the Grand Auxerrois represent Burgundy’s cool, northernmost reaches, with the former distinguished for yielding crisp, mineral-driven styles of Chardonnay often finished with little or no oak treatment. The Serein river flows through Chablis, providing vignerons with nearby hillsides and valleys to cultivate grapes for whites of exquisite purity and freshness. These wines fall under four main categories in ascending order: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru, and Chablis Grand Cru.
Côte de Nuits
Quite a ways southeast of Chablis, Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits constitutes the upper half of the larger Côte d’Or and boasts an unparalleled wealth of Premier and Grand Cru vineyards celebrated for Pinot Noir. The legendary Romanée-Conti Grand Cru is a gem among gems from which powerfully perfumed and enduring wines command staggering prices due to their low production and unprecedented demand. Bottles from appellations including Côtes de Nuits-Villages, Fixin, and Marsannay offer pleasing interpretations of the subregion’s wine styles without breaking the bank.
Côte de Beaune
The southern half of the Côte d’Or contains the Côte de Beaune where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay flourish. The latter, however, is perhaps best expressed and most fancied in the Grand Cru vineyards of Montrachet. Village wines such as Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault for whites and Volnay and Pommard for reds, along with their Premier Cru climats, may prove more accessible from a price and availability standpoint. Other appellations like Hautes Côtes de Beaune shouldn’t be overlooked either, especially in stronger vintages.
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay also translate into beautiful wines directly south of the Côte de Beaune in the Côte Chalonnaise. The plentiful hills and warm, dry growing seasons lead to the reliable ripening of grapes here, including Aligoté, an often overlooked white variety. Village appellations such as Givry, Mercurey, Montagny, and Rully also hold some Premier Cru climats, while wines from Bouzeron must be produced entirely from Aligoté.
Even further south, the sun-kissed Mâconnais subregion enjoys a reputation for ripe, elegant expressions of Chardonnay. The Vergisson and Solutré rock formations tower above the verdant, rolling landscape, with many of the finest vineyards planted along their foothills. Among the area’s leading appellations are Saint-Véran, Viré-Clessé, and Pouilly-Fuissé, which just had 22 vineyards promoted to Premier Cru status last year!