Burgundy is renowned for its single variety wines, made from Chardonnay for white wines and Pinot Noir for red wines. It produces the model wine of which the rest of world attempts to emulate. The land was divided by medieval monks in the 2nd century, and onwards, into individually named plots, known as climats. They noticed the subtle differences between wines produced from the same grape, but grown on different vineyard sites. Over thousands of years the land was cut up into over 1,200 climats, making Burgundy the most complicated wine region to fully understand.
The 4 main sub-regions of Burgundy are Chablis, Cote d'Or, Cote Chalonnaise, and Maconnais.
Chablis is the name of the town and appellation in the most northern part of Burgundy. It well known for its Chardonnay. Due to the colder climate and chalky soils, the wines have a distinct lively acidity. Known for their purity, oak is rarely used in the region. In general, the top wines of Chablis do not match the most expensive wines from the Cote d'Or. However, they still offer outstanding wines at great price when compared to other parts of Burgundy. There are 4 appellations in Chablis:
This appellation was created in 1944 and is considered the lowest in the quality tier. Typically, these vineyards are in the higher, cooler areas with Portlandian soils which is not as respected as Kimmeridgian soils.
The Chablis appellation is a large area of Kimmeridgian soil. These wines are lighter in body than the Premier Cru or Grand Cru, and are ready to drink soon after release.
Chablis Premier Cru
There are 40 named climats in this appellation, mostly on Kimmeridgian soil. These wines will either display the name of the climat on the label, or just say "Chablis Premier Cru" if they chose to blend from other Chablis Premier Cru sites.
Chablis Grand Cru
There are only 7 named climats (Preuses, Bougros, Vaudésir, Grenouilles, Valmur, Les Clos and Blanchot), which are all on Kimmeridgian soil and cover only 250 acres. They represent just 1% of the region's total production. These are age-worthy wines that you can lay down for 10+ years.
Although the medieval monks began the delineation of Burgundy, the classification system was formalized in the 1930s. It is a four tier hierarchy of lieux-dits (named places), which includes regional appellations (ex: Bourgogne AOC), village appellations (ex: Meursault AOC), premier cru (ex: Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Clos Saint-Jacques AOC), and grand cru (ex: Romanee-Conti Grand Cru AOC). The production by volume is: 1% grand cru, 47% village and premier cru, and 52% regional appellations.
Cotes de Nuits
This area within the Cote d'Or specializes in Pinot Noir wines, and boasts some of the most celebrated grand crus and premier crus. The most important villages from north to south are:
Gevrey-Chambertin AOC - Only produces red wine. Includes the grand crus of Charmes Chambertin AOC and Chambertin Clos de Beze AOC.
Morey-Saint-Denis AOC - Almost exclusively produces red wine. Includes the grand crus of Clos de Tart AOC and Clos de la Roche AOC.
Chambolle-Musigny AOC - Only produces red wines for its village appellation. Includes the grand crus of Bonnes Mares AOC and Musigny AOC.
Vougeot AOC - It is a tiny village appellation that producers red and white wine. Its grand cru is Clos de Vougeot AOC and it is larger than the entire village appellation.
Vosne-Romanee AOC - Only produces red wine. Includes a number of the most famous grand crus, including La Tache AOC and Romanee-Conti AOC.
Nuits-Saint-Georges AOC - Almost exclusively produces red wine. No grand crus. Includes the important premier crus of Les Saint-Georges and Les Vaucrains.
Cote de Beaune
This region of the Cote d'Or is the most important area for white wine production, though some red wine is produced. The most important villages from north to south are:
Aloxe-Corton AOC, Pernand-Vergelesses AOC, and Ladoix-Serrigny AOC - These 3 villages surround the hill of Corton. The village and premier cru appellations mainly produce red wines. However, the most famous vineyard Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru AOC is produces only white wine. Corton Grand Cru AOC is mostly planted to Pinot Noir, but has some Chardonnay.
Beaune AOC - Mostly red wine production, but some white. No grand crus. Important premier crus include Le Clos des Mouches and Les Greves.
Pommard AOC - Only produces red wine. No grand crus. Important premier crus include Les Rugiens and Clos des Epeneaux.
Volnay AOC - Only produces red wine. No grand crus. Important premier crus include Clos des Chenes and Les Caillerets.
Meursault AOC - Only produces white wine. No grand crus. Important premier crus include Perrieres and Genevrieres.
Puligny-Montrachet AOC and Chassagne-Montrachet AOC - Puligny-Montrachet only produces white wine. There is a small amount of red wine produced at village and premier cru level in Chassagne-Montrachet. Includes the most celebrated white grand crus in Burgundy, Le Montrachet AOC and Batard-Montrachet AOC, which are between these two appellations
St Aubin AOC - Only produces white wine. No grand crus. Important premier crus include Sur le Sentier du Clou and En Remilly.
Premier cru is the highest tier in this region. More red wine is produced than white. Good value can be found in this region for regional, village, and premier cru level wines. The most important villages from north to south are:
Bouzeron AOC - 100% Aligote white wines are produced in this village. Aligote is the second white grape variety of Burgundy.
Rully AOC - Produces more white then red wine. It is important region for the production of Cremant de Bourgogne, which is a sparkling wine from Burgundy that is made by traditional method.
Mercurey AOC - Produces significantly more red than white wine.
Givry AOC - Mostly produces red wine with over 40% of it premier cru.
Montagny AOC - Only produces white wine, with over 65% of it premier cru.
The region produces mostly white wine. Currently, there are no grand crus or premier crus, but the region is close to formalizing premier cru status for some of its vineyards, most notably Pouilly-Fuisse AOC.
Macon AOC - Mostly red or rose wines produced, with a small amount of white wine.
Macon-Villages and Macon-[named village] - Only produces white wine.
Named village appellations - Some well known examples include Pouilly-Fuisse AOC, Saint-Veran AOC, and Vire-Clesse AOC.
The complexity of Burgundy's land divisions was largely created by the Napoleonic inheritance laws, which forced parents to give equal inheritance rights to all of their children. Unlike, in Bordeaux where families split ownership of a chateau into shares. Burgundy, instead, divided the land amongst heirs over the generations.
Prior to the French Revolution of 1789, the church and nobility owned most of the vineyards in Burgundy, but they were sold off by the revolutionary government.