Jeroboams Education is a new series on our blog providing you with the lowdown on the most iconic wine producing regions of the world. Led by our super buying team, Peter Mitchell MW and Maggie MacPherson will introduce you to the key facts and a little history of all the regions you recognise but perhaps don’t know too well. To help really further your education, why not drink along? Browse our White Burgundy selection.
Unlike its red sibling, white burgundy has more genuine equals in the world of wine, with Chardonnay a more malleable variety to different terroirs than Pinot Noir is. This does not stop the wines from the region, at least from its more famous villages, selling for high prices. At its pinnacle, it still produces the most compelling examples of the grape and in Chablis, has a style that is almost unique in the world, managing the tightrope of being just ripe yet with a certain sumptuous weight at the core. Around 60% of Burgundy’s output is white wine, strongly influenced by the relatively large quantities made in the Maconnais. Although white wine is made in the Côte de Nuits, which can be very good, it is very much a curiosity and not of commercial significance.
The greatest and most famous wines all come from the Côte de Beaune, whilst the lion’s share of volume comes from further south. Within Burgundy, there are small plantings of both Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris (known here as Pinot Beurot), which can be blended with Chardonnay subject to local regulations and more significant plantings of Aligoté (with over 600 hectares in the Côte d’Or), most notably in the Chalonnais village of Bouzeron, where it has its only village appellation. Most wine made from this variety elsewhere is labelled Bourgogne Aligoté and is very high in acidity, although in warmer years its ripe apple fruit can achieve a nice balance with the acidity and it shows some affinity to oak.
Wine has almost certainly been made here since the 1st century AD or earlier and signs of commercial viticulture remain from the 3rd century and the wines were highly regarded by the 6th century. The first vineyard gifts to monasteries were around this time and by the medieval times, the monks were responsible for producing most of the excellent wine. By the 13th century, the monks of Cluny owned all of the vineyard land around Gevrey, as well as the great vineyards of Vosne (including Romanée Conti, Richebourg and La Tâche), whilst not long afterwards the abbey of Citaux owned the Clos de Vougeot and large tracts of Nuits and the Côte de Beaune. With a highly skilled workforce and the time to learn and study, the monks discovered the importance of terroir and began the process of defining the crus we know today. When the Papal court moved to Avignon in the 14th century, the wines became regarded as the best in the world and demand soared and under the dukes of Burgundy wine was the region’s most important export.
Pinot Noir has probably been here much longer, but is first mentioned in the 1370s, with Gamay also present (and regarded lowly) at the same time. The fall of the dukedom and rise of the power of France saw the vineyards slowly taken from the church and sold to powerful local merchants and the first négocients were founded in the 1720s. The revolution saw the lands confiscated from the church and the nobility and sold in small pieces to multiple owners. The Napoleonic rules of succession meant these were further subdivided with each generation, leading to the fragmented nature of ownership that exists today. The ravages of Phlloxera devastated the region and when the vineyards were replanted, only the best sites saw new vines.
An informal classification already existed, but it was not until the 1930s that the appellation system was introduced. Virtually all Burgundy was matured and sold by the négocient houses until the 1930s when the first co-operatives started to be formed and the likes of Gouges, d’Angerville and especially Rousseau began to bottle their own wine. By the 1960s, 15% of the wine was domaine bottled and that has risen to around half today. The 1980s saw more prosperity come to the region and a new generation took over at often moribund estates. With greater technical expertise and a more outward view, better and better wines were made and prices began their inexorable rise to where they are today. In 1996, a bottle of Echézeaux from Domaine de la Romanée Conti would cost you £50 retail, now a five year old example of the same wine is £2000.
Whilst the region has thus far largely remained in the ownership of the families who have been here for generations (in stark contrast to Bordeaux) the value of the land and French inheritance taxes possess an existential threat to this.
Geography & Climate
The vineyards of Chablis are the furthest north in Burgundy and amongst the furthest from the equator to grow Chardonnay. Located 100km north of Beaune, the vineyards are actually closer to those of Champagne than to the rest of burgundy. Located on the edge of the Paris basin, the soils here are Kimmeridgean (named after the Dorset village of Kimmeridge) and are made up of clay and limestone filled with fossilised Oyster shells, and help give the wine its unique character. The vineyards are located on south and west facing slopes around the village of Chablis at 150-220m and the climate is continental, with long and cold winters and hot summers. Spring frosts and summer hail are ever present hazards.
Further south, the basic layout of the Côte d’Or is simple enough, a long limestone outcrop that has weathered over the years, with the limestone being mixed down the gentle slopes in different proportions. High on the slope, the soil is thin, the climate cooler and grapes ripen late. At the bottom of the slope, frost is more of a risk, the soils are deeper, younger and richer and wines from here can be good but are never great. It is towards the centre of the slope, where there is a perfect mix of limestone and marl that the greatest wines are made. The finest vineyards face east or slightly to the south of east, warming them early in the day.
Whilst a marginal climate for Pinot Noir, the Côte d’Or ripens Chardonnay quite reliably in all but the coldest years, although generous acidity is a hallmark of the grapes from here and spring frosts can occasionally reduce the crop. Severe summer hailstorms periodically cause severe localised damage and the last few years have seen a notable number of these.
To the south, the Côte Chalonnais has similar soils but lacks the escarpment with perfect exposure, so vineyards are more scattered where a south-east exposure is available. The climate is very similar to the Côte d’Or.
Further south still, the Mâconnais is also on limestone, but the terrain is more rolling hills and it is noticeably warmer here, with less rain and little frost risk and the Chardonnay grapes reaching full maturity with ease. One notable geographic feature is the steep line of limestone hills a few kilometres west of the town of Mâcon which culminate in the impressive rock of Solutré. It is in these craggy valleys that the finest wine made this far south in Burgundy, Pouilly-Fuissé is made.
It is easier to make good white Burgundy than it is to make good red, but truly great whites are as rare as the reds.
Winemaking varies somewhat depending on where in the region the wine is made. In the Côte d’Or, nearly all the grapes will be hand harvested, sorted and then pneumatically pressed without prior skin contact. Whole bunch pressing (as opposed to destemming before pressing) generally produces clearer and higher quality juice, although it requires more press space. Slower pressing will also yield better juice with less bitter phenolics, but this will be weighed against available press space. Juice will be left to settle for up to 24 hours, depending on how clear the winemaker wants the juice and enzymes may be added to aid this clarification, before the juice is run off to oak barrels (with anywhere from 10% to 100% new) for fermentation. Most of the best producers rely on ambient yeast to carry out the alcoholic fermentation, although there are exceptions.
Fermentation temperatures will generally be kept around 18-20C and after fermentation, the wine is racked off the gross lees into another barrel for maturation. Battonage (stirring up of the fine lees) used to be a regular weekly event, however most producers have reduced this and some completely stopped the practice. Malolactic conversion occurs, usually spontaneously, around the spring following the harvest. The wine will generally be racked from barrel to barrel once during this time, normally after malo. The majority of wine will be bottled before the following harvest, but some domaines and some top wines will see a second winter in oak before bottling, whilst a few, such as Leflaive, move the wines to tank after a year in wood, leaving them there for a few months before bottling.
At bottling a grower must decide whether to fine or filter the wine. Either process may remove flavour or texture but will also add to the long term stability of the wine. Whites are generally fined.
Winemaking in the Côte Chalonnais is broadly similar, although not all wines will see oak and little new wood is used. In the Maconnais, machine harvesting is the norm (although not at the better estates) and the bulk of the wine is made at the excellent cooperatives and sees no oak maturation, the exception being Pouilly-Fuissé and top St.-Véran which generally is made in the same way as Côte d’Or white. Malolactic is sometimes partially blocked here to maintain freshness in the wines.
Chablis, far to the north, is also seeing an increase in machine harvesting, although not in the Grand Crus, and is mostly fermented and aged in stainless steel. A few premier crus and most Grand Crus will see a small amount of new oak ageing. Malolactic is essential to tame the fierce acidity in the wines.
The Classification Structure
There are four levels of appellation for white burgundy:
Regional: Bourgogne Blanc, Bourgogne Aligoté, Mâcon Blanc, Mâcon-Villages (some villages may add their name to either of these last two)
Communale (Village): e.g. Meursault, Chablis, Montagny, Pouilly-Fuissé
Premier Cru: Specific vineyards that are deemed to produce wines of a higher quality are classified as premier cru and are named on the label as Village + premier cru, e.g. Puligny-Montrachet premier cru. If the wine comes wholly from a single named climat (vineyard), then the name of that climat may also appear on the label, eg Puligny-Montrachet premier cru les Pucelles.
Grand Cru: Only found in the Côte d’Or and Chablis, there are 8 of these for white wine. The appellation Chablis Grand Cru may also have the name of one of the 7 individual climats on it if it was made from grapes exclusively grown in that climat.
In theory, quality rises as you go up the appellation ladder, in practice this is not always the case as some growers are more competent than others. It is also arguable that the original classification of the vineyards is somewhat suspect. It is no coincidence that it was administered from Beaune and 80% of that communes’ vineyards were rated premier cru.
The White Burgundy Appelations
The White Wine Producing Villages of the Côte d’Or from North to South
Key info: Area of white grapes: 40 Ha (16.6% of total); Average white production: 18,000 cases; Premier Crus: 0.
Historically famous for its delicious rosé, Marsannay was elevated to village Appellation Controlée in 1987, which led to a fall in the production of rosé and an increase in red. Rosé still makes up around 15% of production and this i the only village appellation for rosé in the Côte d’Or. Around 15% of production is of leaner fresher styled white that is best drunk young.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 5.29 Ha (5.2% of total); Average white production: 2,400 cases; Premier Crus: 6 totalling 18 Ha of which 0.8 Ha are planted to white varieties.
Just to the North of Gevrey-Chambertin lies Fixin (pronounced Fissin). The vast majority of production is red (95%) and there are 6 named premier crus, all located in the south near Gevrey. The rare white wines are solid and sturdy and can represent good value.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 4.93 Ha (4.4% of total); Average white production: 2,000 cases; Premier Crus: 20 totalling 41 Ha of which 1.23 Ha are planted to white varieties.
The second smallest of the Côte de Nuits communes, over half of the land is taken up by premier or grand cru vineyards, yet this is one of the least well known and celebrated villages. The vast majority of production is red, however a very small amount of white villages and premier cru wine is made, which is generally opulent in style with some phenolic grip to it. Dujac make a particularly nice example and Domaine Ponsot also make a premier cru, Monts Luisants, unusual as it is 100% Aligoté.
Although no white wine is made under the Chambolle-Musigny appellation, the village does contain 0.66 hectares of Chardonnay vines owned by de Vogüé and located in the Musigny Grand Cru – see Grand Cru section for details.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 3.66 Ha (25.5% of total); Average white production: 2,000 cases; Premier Crus: 4 totalling 11 Ha of which 2.83 Ha are planted to white varieties.
The smallest Côte d’Or commune and dominated by its Grand cru, the village and premier cru wines are rarely seen outside of the region. Red and white of both are made (about twice as much of the former). The reds tend to be tannic and solid and not of great merit, whilst the whites can be interesting if a little austere.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 9.78 Ha (3.2% of total); Average white production: 5,000 cases; Premier Crus: 41 totalling 144 Ha of which 6.79 Ha are planted to white varieties.
Nuits extends for some 5km, making it by some way the longest communal appellation (although Gevrey is 40% bigger) and, perhaps, because of this, it also has the greatest variety. It is also the commercial centre of the Côte de Nuits and home to many of the négocients. As elsewhere on the Côte, the lower land near the route nationale is classed as village wine, with the land further up the slope premier cru. There are no Grand Crus in Nuits.
White wine from here can be sewriously high quality and tends to be quite rich and floral, often with honeyed notes. Domaine de l’Arlot makes the finest example in a blend that also includes some Pinot Gris, whilst Gouges make a characterful white from a mutation of Pinot Noir that produces white berries.
Côtes de Nuits Villages
Key info: Area of white grapes: 10.28 Ha (6.1% of total); Average white production: 4,700 cases; Premier Crus: 0.
The Côtes de Nuits Villages is a disparate appellation covering vines from 5 villages, that were historically considered superior to regional wines, but not perhaps good enough to have their own appellation. Brochon, and Fixin to the north of Gevrey (although Fixin also has its own appellation) and the parts of Prémaux not included in the Nuits appellation, Comblanchien and Corgoloin to the south of Nuits.
As it is little know or understood, this appellation can offer superb value compared to village wines and some quite serious domaines own land in these villages. Whites tend to be amiable, peachy and for early consumption, although some age gracefully.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 24.84 Ha (24.9% of total); Average white production: 12,000 cases; Premier Crus: 11 totalling 24 Ha of which 7.96 Ha are planted to white varieties; Grand Crus: 2 (shared with Aloxe-Corton) totalling 147 Ha; Corton and Corton-Charlemagne.
The wines from here are labelled Ladoix. A part of the Grand Crus Corton and Corton-Charlemagne are found in Ladoix and these are some of the earliest ripening sections.
The village whites tend to be quite structured and fresh with a buttery note and whilst never great, can be enjoyably good value.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 1.36 Ha (0.59% of total); Average white production: 600 cases; Premier Crus: 14 totalling 38 Ha of which 0.27 Ha are planted to white varieties; Grand Crus: 2 (Shared with Ladoix-Serrigny) totalling 147 ha; Corton and Corton-Charlemagne.
This tiny village below the hill of Corton has the largest Grand Cru of the Côte d’Or and the Côte de Beaune’s sole red Grand cru. 147 hectares of this village is classified as Grand Cru Corton (red), Corton Blanc or Corton Charlemagne (white).
Whites from the village appellation are very rare, but can have real charm and solidity.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 78.42 Ha (44% of total); Average white production: 42,000 cases; Premier Crus: 8 totalling 83 Ha of which 40.17 Ha are planted to white varieties; Grand Crus: 1 totalling 17.5 Ha; En Charlemagne. This is labelled Corton when Red, Corton-Charlemagne when white.
This small village, nestled to the north-west of the hill of Corton produced both red and white wine, with a noticeable shift towards white in the last 30 years, with over 40% of production now white. The soils are fine, often with a high limestone content, but many of the vineyards face west and spend much of the day in shade. The vineyards on the valley floor, Ile de Vergelesses and Les Vergelesses get the most sunshine and tend to produce the best wines outside of Corton.
Whites have a distinct flinty note when young and plenty of density and the best, with a few years of bottle age, can resemble Corton Charlemagne with honeyed and nutty notes. They are under-priced in the context of burgundy.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 45.21 Ha (13% of total); Average white production: 24,000 cases; Premier Crus: 22 totalling 139 Ha of which 9.85 Ha are planted to white varieties.
Just a few kilometres from Beaune in a side valley that also carries the main Paris motorway, Savigny makes both red and white wine, although 85% is red. The soils on the valley floor are quite deep and rich and are all villages land, whilst above this there are two groups of premier crus on thinner, finer soils. The first group, including Serpentiéres has a southerly exposure and ripens a week before the second group, facing north-east and including Marconnets and Narbantons.
Savigny contains some very good growers and the whites can offer fine value in a floral and citrussy style.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 11.47 Ha (8.6% of total); Average white production: 4,700 cases; Premier Crus: 0.
Located on the ‘wrong’ side of the route nationale, Chorey only got its appellation in 1974 and has not a single premier cru. Most of the production is red and the whites are fairly basic in quality.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 58.43 Ha (14.2% of total); Average white production: 15,000 cases; Premier Crus: 42 totalling 318 Ha of which 39.7 Ha are planted to white varieties.
The largest commune of the Côte d’Or and the viticultural capital with many of the leading négocients based in the town. Over 80% of production is red.
The vineyard, located to the west and north-west of the town, comprises 35 Ha of Côte de Beaune, a lesser appellation on top of the hill, 94 Ha of Beaune AOC and an excessive 318 Ha of premier cru. The best of these, which are certainly worth the title, are found directly north west of the town and are Champs Pimot, Clos des Fèves, Perrières, Bressandes, Grèves, Marconnets and Clos de Mouches.
Much of the vineyard land is owned by the big Beaune négocients and in recent years there has been an overdue increase in the quality of their bottlings. The whites tend to be quite full and rich with a note of almond and there is one star white wine, arguably better than any of the reds, Drouhin’s Clos des Mouches which can age beautifully over a decade or more.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 13.8 Ha (11.2% of total); Average white production: 6,000 cases; Premier Crus: 15 totalling 37 Ha of which 1.8 Ha are planted to white varieties.
The second smallest commune on the Côte d’Or, for many years most of the production of Monthélie was sold to Beaune négocients and garnered little interest. In recent times, more wine from here has been domaine bottled. The rare whites from here can taste very similar to Meursault.
Monthélie wine remains largely unknown and can be hugely under-priced for its quality.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 49.36 Ha (37% of total); Average white production: 25,000 cases; Premier Crus: 9 totalling 29 Ha of which 3.74 Ha are planted to white varieties.
Heading up a side valley off the Côte, Auxey has recently started to be more appreciated for both its reds (90% of production) and whites. Attaining full ripeness here can be an issue and in lesser vintages the whites can be tart, but in fully ripe vintages, they have an appealing gunflint note.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 69.5 Ha (65% of total); Average white production: 28,000 cases; Premier Crus: 0.
Not on the Côte d’Or, Saint Romain is a very pretty village that sits up a side valley beyond Auxey-Duresses and is probably more famous for its cooperage, François Frères, than for its wines. Whites are lively and refreshing, but need a warm vintage to have real depth to them.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 396 Ha (of which 13.5 Ha are Pinot Noir); Average white production: 200,000 cases; Premier Crus: 18 totalling 107 Ha.
One of the most famous places in the world for white wine production, although it contains no Grand Crus, it has a couple of Premier Cru vineyards that are perhaps of Grand Cru quality. Meursault can produce some of the richest and broadest wines of Burgundy, notably in the Gouttes d’Or premier cru in the heart of the village, and the village vineyards of Narvaux and Tillets alittle higher up the slope. The crown jewels of Meursault however are the premier crus Les Charmes, Les Genevrières and especially Les Perrières, all located towards Puligny to the south. The best wines from these vineyards have a tight minerality under the ripe orchard fruits, command high prices, but are paradoxically often fine value compared to their peers.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 298 Ha (of which less than 1 Ha is Pinot Noir); Average white production: 130,000 cases; Premier Crus: 19 totalling 98; Grand Crus: 4 totalling 21 Ha; Bâtard-Montrachet (half), Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet, Chevalier- Montrachet, Le Montrachet (majority).
Legendary around the world, Puligny is to white wine what Vosne is to red. Puligny should combine power, grace, finesse and elegance and is capable of making the world’s finest dry white wines. The average quality is very high and four of the premier crus, Les Pucelles, Les Combettes, Les Folatiéres and Le Cailleret are frequently of Grand Cru quality. Prices are high and at the lower end the wines often don’t justify this, but wines from the top producers should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 304 Ha (of which 92.2 Ha are Pinot Noir); Average white production: 125,000 cases; Premier Crus: 48 totalling 149 Ha (of which 28 Ha are Pinot Noir); Grand Crus: 3 totalling 10 Ha; Bâtard-Montrachet (half), Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet, Le Montrachet (minority).
At the end of the second world war, Chassagne was a red wine village, 80% of its production being from Pinot Noir. The 70 years since have seen a marked shift, with only a third of the production now red. Much of the land moved over to white is too fertile to make fine Chardonnay, but as almost all Chassagne appellation vineyards are eligible to be planted with either grape, fashion has driven this unfortunate development.
The area below the village (which is designated AC communale) has deeper soils and is where most of the red is made. The best whites come from soils with more limestone in them which are mostly located higher up the slope. In style, a good Chassagne Blanc has less opulence than Meursault and less floral aromatics than Puligny when young, with a tighter, flinty and powerful core to it. With a few years of bottle age they open out and become more like Puligny.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 157 Ha (of which 31 Ha are Pinot Noir); Average white production: 82,000 cases; Premier Crus: 20 totalling 117 Ha (of which 22.4 Ha are Pinot Noir).
Heading up a side valley, St Aubin’s finest vineyards lie adjoining the western edges of Chassagne and Puligny. and then also on a south facing slope beyond the village. A very high proportion of the vineyard area is entitled to 1er cru status and around 25% of production is red. Whites can be elegant and from warmer vintages and warmer sites, notably the premier crus En Remilly and Murgers Dents de Chien, can taste very similar to Puligny. In cooler years the wines can have slightly uncomfortable acidity.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 46 Ha (14% of total); Average white production: 25,000 cases; Premier Crus: 11 totalling 123 Ha (of which 12.6 Ha are planted to white varieties).
Santenay has long had a reputation for making decent honest and well priced burgundy. Soils have more clay marl than in the great villages to the north and as a consequence the wines can lack a little finesse, however they remain very fairly priced and from the vineyards towards the border with Chassagne can be very good value.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 15.66 Ha (9.2% of total); Average white production: 8,000 cases; Premier Crus: 8 totalling 130 Ha (of which 4.8 Ha are planted to white varieties).
The newest village appellation of the Côte d’Or, created in 1988, covers three villages and 90% of the production is red. Previously known as Côte de Beaune, white production is increasing and the wines are appealing and quite fruity.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 5,358 Ha; Average white production: 2.897 cases; Premier Crus: 40 (although 17 are considered ‘main’ climats and seen on labels) totalling 783 Ha; Grand Crus: 1 including 7 climats (that can appear on the label) totalling 101 Ha. The climats are; Blanchot, Bougros, Les Clos, Grenouilles, Preuses, Valmur & Vaudésir.
A lot of wine is made in Chablis, which accounts for a fifth of the total production of Burgundy and of this volume, a fifth is Petit-Chablis and two thirds is Chablis AC, with just 14% being Premier or Grand Cru. The vineyard area has expanded considerably over the past 25 years, somewhat controversially when it comes to land being awarded premier cru status and in this very marginal climate, there is great variability in quality with too much sour and indifferent wine wearing this great name.
Petit Chablis covers much of the less good outlying land and is generally a wine of little character, although some coax more from it. Basic Chablis had a firmness, but not hardness to it and can be delightfully refreshing when made at a good cellar. The premier and Grand Crus, when they are good, are one of the world’s great wines and seldom, if ever, copied successfully elsewhere. They should have rapier acidity, a mineral flintiness and a core of ripe apple fruit, overlayed with a whiff of hay. Nearly all of it is drunk way too young as it improves in bottle for many years and can last decades. Traditionally unoaked, barrels are being seen more and more for the top wines, albeit mostly used discreetly.
With typical French Bureaucracy, 40 climats are listed as premier cru, but many are entitled to use a different (more famous) premier cru name on their label, so in practice only 17 are likely to be seen and only around 10 are common. Amongst the best premier crus are Montée de Tonnerre, Mont de Mileu, and Fourchaume. Annual production varies considerably as the weather can have a dramatic impact here and prices have lacked stability in recent years, although worldwide thirst for the wine seems to be holding up.
The Côte Chalonnais White Wine Villages
Key info: Area of white grapes: 329 Ha (of which 121 Ha are Pinot Noir); Average white production: 115,000 cases; Premier Crus: 23 totalling 96 Ha (of which 27.9 Ha are planted to Pinot Noir).
Rully blanc is mostly quite simple and a little tart, but has a refreshing honesty to it and is good value. A few producers, such as Faiveley, are coaxing something a little more substantial from here which warmer recent vintages have helped.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 56 Ha; Average white production: 38,000 cases; Premier Crus: 0.
The only village appellation that insists on Aligoté as the sole variety, Bouzeron makes the finest examples of this grape. Whilst still full of acidity, it has a floral and honeyed note alongside the citrus and mineral character. De Villaine is the mot serious producer.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 646 Ha (of which 106 Ha are planted to white varieties); Average white production: 62,000 cases; Premier Crus: 32 totalling 161 Ha (of which 17.8 Ha are planted to white varieties).
The largest, best known and generally the finest quality village in the Côte Chalonnais, Mercurey produces around four times more red than white wine. The best whites from here have a fine peachy character and develop nutty notes with age and are the match of many lesser wines from around Beaune and can represent good value – although prices have been rising steadily since the 1990s. Whilst the number of premier crus has jumped from 5 in the ‘80s to 32 today, they are mostly worth the small premium charged.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 269 Ha (of which 55 Ha are planted to white varieties); Average white production: 28,000 cases; Premier Crus: 38 totalling 108 Ha (of which 18.7 Ha are planted to white varieties).
Another village which makes four bottles of red for each bottle of white, the quality tends to be a notch down from Mercurey and wines are less fine and generally less polished, however the prices charged tend to be commensurately lower and this is often an introductory point to the wines of the region. Around 40% of the vineyard is now classified as premier cru, somewhat taking away from its meaning.
The Hautes-Côtes is divided into two, with either the suffix ‘de Nuits’ or ‘de Beaune’ and encompasses the land in the beautiful rolling hills above the Côte d’Or. At up to 500m altitude, it is noticeably cooler here and in lesser years the wines can be a bit sour and lacking fruit, however with a diligent producer and the effects of global warming, some very good wines can be found here at reasonable prices.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 4,116 Ha (of which 349 Ha are planted to red varieties); Average white production: 55,800 cases (Mâcon), 2.48 million cases (Mâcon-Villages).
Producing nearly as much wine as Chablis in an average year, the Mâconnais is less of a monoculture than the vineyards further north, with rolling hills and other crops and livestock interspersed with the vineyards. Whilst a small amount of red is made, this is overwhelmingly Chardonnay country and is dominated by a handful of cooperatives. Most of the production is the (theoretically) superior Mâcon-Villages, however as almost all of the villages are included in this, it is of little meaning. Further up the quality scale is Mâcon-Villages, where the name of a single village is included (and the fruit must all come from that village). The 27 best villages are entitled to this and ones to look out for include Davayé, Solutré-Pouilly, Prissé, Uchizy, Vergisson and Vinzelles. Wines may often be domaine bottled and fine value. Mâcon never has the structure or tension of the top wines of Burgundy, but it can have lovely ripe fruit, good balance and a certain drinkability, a quality that critics often overlook.
Key info: Area of white grapes: 743 Ha; Average white production: 448,000 cases.
This appellation was created in 1971 and covers 7 communes, 3 of which are on limestone soil, adjoin Pouilly-Fuissé and are capable of making genuinely interesting wine. The other 4 are on less good soils towards Beaujolais and are not. Sadly the label does not tell you where the fruit comes from, so whilst some St. Véran is like a slightly lesser version of Pouilly, much is just a slightly improved cousin of Mécon-Villages. Wines are generally unoaked or have very little barrel influence and prices tend to be reasonable and from growers such as Château de Fuissé, the wine offers a very good quality/price ratio.
Pouilly-Fuisse / Pouilly-Vinzelles / Pouilly-Loché
Key info: Area of white grapes: 759 Ha/ 61 Ha/ 34 Ha; Average white production: 470,000 cases/ 37,000 cases/ 21,000 cases.
This important appellation covers 4 communes with 2, Fuissé and Solutré producing very rich wines whilst Vergison at higher altitude, produces wines of greater freshness. Most wines will see at least a year in barrel and whilst there is an awful lot of very dull and disappointing wine from here (perhaps a legacy of its early international popularity) there are now a handful of fine producers who have joined the original 2 estates of repute, Domaine Ferret and Château de Fuissé. Wines are generally very full bodied, verging on the blowsy and best drunk relatively young, although some of the single vineyard bottlings from the top estates do benefit from 5-7 years in bottle. Vinzelles and Loché are neighbouring villages that produce similar wine, mostly in the (good) cooperative.
Other white Burgundies
Bourgogne Blanc is made from Chardonnay (with small amounts of Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris tolerated) and can come from anywhere in the region, leading to a marked variation in quality and styles. Some fine Bourgogne is made in the Côte d’Or and will have some of the character of the top wines and since 2017 has been permitted to have the suffix ‘Côte d’Or’ on the label, but the majority is grown in lesser areas such as the Mâconnais and the outlying parts of the Côte Chalonnais. The Hautes-Côtes (the land in the hills above the Côte d’Or) is entitled to use the name, but generally wines from here are sold under the Hautes-Côtes appellation at a higher price. Approximately 2,000 hectares of land are farmed as Bourgogne Rouge.
Bourgogne Aligoté is for wines from the region made from Aligoté. Significant amounts are made, but most is consumed in France. Côteaux Bourguignons was created in 2013 and allows the inclusion of Chardonnay, Aligoté, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Melon de Bourgogne in any proportion.
Premier & Grand Crus of the Côte de Beaune
The White Grand Crus
The following list details the number of hectares of each Grand Cru and, with the exception of Chablis, the number of different owners in the Grand Cru, average total production and a subjective list of the most famous producers, with the area they hold in brackets. At the end is a short list of Premier crus that regularly produce wines of Grand Cru quality, share similar geology and micro-climate to neighbouring Grand Crus and which could make a legitimate claim that they should be re-classified. All the white Grand Crus are in the Côte de Beaune with the exception of Musigny.
Chablis Grand Cru
Key info: Area under vine: 101 Ha; the climats are: Les Clos 26.7 Ha, Bougros 15.1 Ha, Vaudésir 13.4 Ha, Blanchot 12.1 Ha, Preuses 11.1 Ha, Valmur 10.6 Ha, Grenouilles 8.7 Ha; Average production: 44,500 cases; Important Producers: Billaud Simon (balance and elegance are the hallmarks. Now owned by Faiveley), Brocard, Dauvissat, Droin, Févre (for a ‘modern’ style with oak),Louis Michel (archly ‘traditional’ with no oak used), Raveneau (probably the richest wines come from here).
Chablis Grand Cru makes up just 1.5% of Chablis production and comes from 7 named climats on the steep south-west facing hill overlooking the town of Chablis. The appellation is ‘Chablis Grand Cru’ and wine can be a blend from any of the named vineyard sites or, if it comes from only one site, it may also have the climat named on the label (and in practice most is sold this way). As the largest climat, Les Clos is also the most often seen, but some top producers feel Vaudésir is the finest. Grenouilles makes the most generous and accessible wines and Blanchot the best in hot vintages as it has a different south-easterly aspect to the others. Whilst oak is not used for most Chablis, many Grand Cru wines will see some maturation in wood, though rarely will a significant portion be newer barrels. The wine should be intense, powerful and full, yet bone dry and with mouth-watering acidity. Decent Grand Cru should be matured 10 years in bottle at least. With the speculation that has affected the Côte d’Or largely passing these wines by, they can represent superb value and if not a match for top Côte d’Or Grand Crus, they can be of a quality level akin to the finest premier crus.
Key info: Area under vine: 10.7 Ha (0.66Ha of which is Chardonnay); Average production: 240 cases; Number of Owners: 1 of white grapes; Important Producers: de Vogüé (1.21Ha).
Whilst Musigny produces one of the greatest red wines of Burgundy, the white is also of the highest quality, although unlike the white Grand Crus from the Côte de Beaune. Coming from soils more suited to red varieties, it has a certain phenolic grip to it and whilst it has great power, it can lack a little finesse. Rarity means it sells for around £1,000 a bottle.
Corton Blanc / Corton-Charlemagne
Key info: Area under vine: 72 Ha; Average production: 28,300 cases of Corton-Charlemagne, 220 of Corton Blanc; Number of Owners: 75; Important Producers: Louis Latour (11Ha), Bonneau de Martray (9.5Ha, 2.8Ha are leased to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti), Bouchard Père (3.67 Ha), Rapet (3 Ha), Michel Voarick (1.66Ha), Louis Jadot (1.6Ha), Faiveley (0.86Ha), Leroy (0.43Ha), Joseph Drouhin (0.34Ha), Bruno Clair (0.34Ha), Jacques Prieur (0.22 Ha), Christophe Roumier (0.2Ha), Simon Bize (0.2Ha).
Whilst the majority of the production on the hill of Corton is red, a significant amount of fine and long lived white is also made. Nearly all of this comes from near the top of the hill, where limestone is more prevalent in the soils and on the western and south-western portion near Pernand-Vergelesses and is sold as Corton-Charlemagne. In addition, a small amount is made elsewhere on the hill on ‘red wine soils’ and is sold as Corton Blanc. Two of the 21 climats on the hill, En Charlemagne and Le Charlemagne, account for 50% of total white production, whilst parts of 7 other climats are also eligible for the appellation.
A vineyard this big and with such diverse soils does not lend itself to generality very well, however Corton-Charlemagne should have more structure and fuller acidity than whites from further south and the high quantity of lime in the soils lends a distinct minerality to the wines, which can make them reticent when young. As long as there is sufficient concentration of ripe fruit behind the acidity, with age the wines develop an opulence and majestic spectrum of flavours, leading towards nutty and spicy notes with hints of blossom.
Key info: Area under vine: 7.36 Ha; Average production: 3,355 cases; Number of Owners: 16; Important Producers: Bouchard Père (2.54 Ha), Domaine Leflaive (1.99Ha), Louis Jadot (0.52Ha), Louis Latour (0.51Ha), d’Auvenay (0.16Ha).
Of the great Grand Crus of Puligny, Chevalier is located furthest up the slope of Mont Rachet on the thinnest soils and this results in the Grand Cru of the greatest finesse and refinement of all and one that is unquestionably superior to all except Le Montrachet itself. On a visible slope at 265-290 meters, the soil is infertile and full of stones which aid drainage and retain heat. This combination leads to wines with abundant ripe acidity allied to florality and understated power. Chevalier is a wine that improves significantly with age in bottle and their natural structure means good example will age for 20 years superbly.
Key info: Area under vine: 3.69 Ha; Average production: 1,793 cases; Number of Owners: 15; Important Producers: Domaine Leflaive (1.15Ha), Faiveley (0.51Ha), Vincent Girardin (0.46Ha), Ramonet (0.45Ha), Sauzet (0.15Ha).
The furthest down the slope of the Grand Crus, Bienvenues adjoins Bâtard in its north-east corner and is an effective continuation of it with the same soils and microclimate and it can legally be sold as Bâtard-Montrachet. Bienvenue tends to be more expensive than Bâtard reflecting rarity rather than any qualitative advantage.
Key info: Area under vine: 11.87 Ha (6.02 Ha in Puligny, 5.85 Ha in Chassagne); Average production: 5,522 cases; Number of Owners: 49; Important Producers: Domaine Leflaive (1.91Ha), Ramonet (0.64Ha), Faiveley (0.5Ha), Pierre Morey (0.48Ha), Blain-Gagnard (0.46Ha), Jean-Noel Gagnard (0.36Ha), Fontaine-Gagnard (0.33Ha), Vincent Girardin (0.18Ha), Sauzet (0.14Ha), Marc Morey (0.13Ha), Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (0.13Ha) – not sold but consumed ‘in house’ at DRC.
The largest of the great Puligny Grand Crus Bâtard also has the most diverse ownership making it harder to define a style on it. Lying directly below Le Montrachet and extending further south into Chassagne than its illustrious neighbour, Bâtard is generally considered better than Criots, but a smidgen below Chevalier and Le Montrachet in the quality hierarchy, but this may be as much to do with the large number of owners (and their relative skills) as it is to do with terroir. In style it certainly tends to a certain fatness and good Bâtard is fuller and riper than Chevalier or Le Montrachet with notable spiciness and a level of opulence, but all underpinned by fine acidity and a touch of phenolic grip. It generally improves in bottle for 5-8 years, but only the best keep for as long as Chevalier, Le Montrachet or Corton-Charlemagne.
Key info: Area under vine: 8 Ha (4.01 Ha in Puligny, 3.99 Ha in Chassagne); Average production: 3,410 cases; Number of Owners: 17; Important Producers: Marquis de Laguiche (Joseph Drouhin makes and markets this) (2.06Ha), Baron Thenard (1.83Ha), Bouchard Pére (0.89Ha), Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (0.68Ha), Jacques Prieure (0.59Ha), Comtes Lafon (0.32Ha), Ramonet (0.26Ha), Fontaine-Gagnard (0.08Ha), Blain-Gagnard (0.08Ha), Domaine Leflaive (0.08Ha).
The King of Wines and the Wine of Kings (Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum) may have been how Louis XV described Tokaji, but it would perhaps now be more appropriate for Le Montrachet, the greatest and rarest of white wines in the world (although little royalty left could afford it today). Famed for a dozen centuries, Le Montrachet is absurdly expensive, with prices starting around £500 for Thenard’s example and going comfortably over £6,000 a bottle for the Leflaive’s. With rarity and price come expectation and at first glance there is little about Montrachet that is more impressive than Chevalier or Bâtard – it is not significantly more powerful, oakier, richer – yet it has an intensity neither can match and an exceptional textural refinement that feels almost like the silkiest red wine and that other white wines can only dream of. In style it can perhaps be thought of as having Bâtard’s richness and Chevalier’s finesse bought together with impeccable balance. Sadly few wine lovers will ever get to drink a bottle of this liquid perfection as it becomes ever more of a trophy to be acquired by the new royalty – the world’s uber rich.
Key info: Area under vine: 1.6 Ha; Average production: 800 cases; Number of Owners: 7; Important Producers: Roger Belland (0.6Ha), Fontaine-Gagnard (0.33Ha), Blain-Gagnard (0.21Ha), d’Auvenay (0.06Ha), Hubert Lamy (0.05Ha).
Located off the southern end of Bâtard on slightly stonier soils lies the smallest white Grand Cru. With under 10,000 bottles made in an average year, it is not often encountered and is most commonly seen as a négociant bottling. It tends to be the most delicate of the Grand Crus with fine acidity and minerality and can age well.
White Premier Crus with a Legitimate Claim to Grand Cru Status
Puligny-Montrachet Les Cailleret
Key info: Area under vine: 3.93 Ha; Average production: 1,730 cases; Number of Owners: 9; Important Producers: Jean Chartron (0.86Ha), de Montille (0.85Ha), Domaine des Lambrays (0.37Ha).
Located as Le Montrachet’s northern extension. This small vineyard is in many ways similar to Montrachet, but with slightly stonier soil and turned a fraction more to the east. On such small details lie the difference between greatness and immortality, but Cailleret, especially with warming vintages, is capable of producing wine of Grand Cru quality and has become collectable in recent years.
Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles
Key info: Area under vine: 6.60 Ha; Average production: 2,390 cases; Number of Owners: 7; Important Producers: Leflaive (3.06Ha), Jean Chartron (1.16Ha), Vincent Girardin (0.27Ha), Marc Morey (0.2Ha).
Directly below Cailleret and to the north of Bâtard and Bienvenues, Les Pucelles (the twins) owes much of its fame to the wine produced here by Leflaive which is frequently of Grand Cru standard. Very similar to Bâtard in style, perhaps a touch more exotic in youth, it is capable of long ageing and is frequently mistaken for its more expensive neighbour.
Meursault Les Perrières
Key info: Area under vine: 13.7 Ha; Average production: 6,000 cases; Number of Owners: ~25; Important Producers: Albert Grivault (2.49Ha) this includes the Clos des Perriéres (0.95Ha), Bouchard Père (1.2Ha), Comtes Lafon (0.77Ha), Matrot (0.53Ha), Michel Bouzereau (0.5Ha), Darvioy-Perrin (0.29Ha), Jacques Prieur (0.28Ha), Coche-Dury (0.23Ha).
Of the three great Meursault premier crus, Genevrières, Charmes and Perrières, this has the greatest claim to being primus inter pares achieving a level of ripeness allied to fine steely acidity one normally expects from a grand cru. The Bardet family, who own domaine Grivault, have been petitioning to get the Clos des Perrières, a small walled section of the vineyard that they own, reclassified as Grand Cru for several years now, so far without success.
Others with a claim to this list: Meursault Les Genevrières and les Charmes, Puligny-Montrachet Les Combettes and Folatières.
The region now exports over 7 million cases and €1 billion worth of wine with the USA (22% of all exports) and UK (17%) the two largest markets (we import 1.2 million cases worth €146 million). Other significant markets include Japan, Canada, Belgium, Sweden and Germany. White wine makes up 60% of the total (with nearly 40% of that coming from the Maconnais and a quarter as Bourgogne Blanc), red wine 29% and Crémant 11%. Around a third of the red wine volume comes from the prized region of the Côte d’Or villages, with just under half being Bourgogne. Chablis exports have declined in the past couple of years owing to small harvests and rising prices. Volumes are split roughly equally between domaine bottlers on one side and 250 merchants and co-operatives on the other side. Prices have risen well ahead of inflation for two decades now and worldwide demand continues to grow.
Recent and Great Vintages
1978: A legendary year and still great. Only the very best whites are still going.
1985: Excellent year and top Grand Crus are still going strong.
1989: Very rich wines that have survived better than anticipated.
1990: Very good vintage if not great. Most are past their best now. Chablis superb and still a joy.
1992: Fine vintage of refined wines, the best of which are still very enjoyable
1995: Small but very good year with real concentration and balance.
1996: High acidity has meant a slow evolution. Some lacked the fruit to stay the distance, but the best are stunning and still youthful.
1997: Lacked structure but delightful early on. Now past it.
1998: Weak vintage long forgotten.
1999: Fine harvest with nice acidity and good depth. Top wines are perfect now.
2000: Sumptuous wines that have mostly faded. Fine in Chablis..
2001: Wet and hot made this tricky. Mixed results and few worth keeping.
2002: Very good vintage, the best drinking still.
2003: Too hot and showed. Those that were attractive young died long ago.
2004: Acidic and lean, they have kept well but have never been generous.
2005: Really fine year and the best just reaching their apogee.
2006: Not a great summer produced adequate wines for early enjoyment.
2007: A challenging vintage, better for white than red but not one to remember.
2008: Another year of rain and disease pressure. High acidity, but some fine wines were made with long ageing potential. Very good Chablis.
2009: After 3 poor years, 2009 was greeted as a saviour. Very good if not quite great.
2010: More classic in style than 2009 with some lovely wines made. Great in Chablis
2011: Light in the Côte d’Or and Chablis
2012: Good wines on the Côte despite poor weather and fine Chablis that is not ready yet.
2013: A small crop of decent wines. Indifferent in Chablis.
2014: A lovely vintage, but with high acidity meaning a slow evolution in bottle. Great in Chablis.
2015: Very ripe vintage with wines that are lovely young, but probably won’t last the course. Ripe in Chablis producing atypically rich wines.
2016: Low yields but some good quality throughout the region.
2017: Small crop of very good quality.
2018: Long hot summer produced charming wines. Many may lack the acidity for long ageing, but they will drink beautifully in the short to medium term.