Burgundy is king

Arguably the best wine in the world

Let’s discuss Burgundy this month. Not the color, but the renowned region located in central eastern France where arguably the best wine in the world is made. If you are interested in wine, then French wine is a must, and Burgundy is king.

To understand French wine, you have to first understand the geography of France. Most of its wine is labeled by place, not grape. For example, Chablis is the northernmost area of Burgundy which produces dry white wine from the Chardonnay grape. Yes, Chablis = 100 percent Chardonnay. All Burgundian whites are made from Chardonnay and nothing else. The term Chablis (as well as the term Burgundy) has been exploited and can be found on non-authentic Burgundies because the French didn’t protect the name. So don’t be fooled by a box of wine that says Chablis, because it’s not. I once worked in a restaurant (about 20 years ago) that served “Chablis” on tap. Let’s say that’s not what the French intended. In fact, they even have quality levels: Chablis (grapes can be grown anywhere in the region, a Village level wine), Chablis Premier Cru (better quality wine and specific vineyards), and Chablis Grand Cru (highest quality, most expensive, only seven vineyards earn this qualification). A Grand Cru can age for three to eight years, and its cost starts at around $80/bottle. On a restaurant wine list, cost starts at about $120. My suggestion is to start at the Chablis level and get a vintage that’s not more than two years old. You can probably find a Joseph Drouhin or an Olivier Leflaive around town. FYI, those quality levels mentioned before apply to all the regions of Burgundy: Village, Premier Cru, Grand Cru. All white Burgundies are dry.

There are only a few grapes grown in Burgundy, and the ones you should know are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gamay. The region produces white and red wine, but far more white than red, which is a surprising fact because red Burgundy is so celebrated and distinguished. Red Burgundy is made from Pinot Noir, and it’s the standard by which all other pinots are measured. At least by winemakers. Most of it is very expensive, but there are a few wallet-friendly exceptions you can find.

The main regions of Burgundy are, from north to south: Chablis, Côte d’Or (which means the Gold Coast and breaks down into Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune), Côte Châlonnaise, Mâconnaise and Beaujolais. The Côte de Beaune has elegant white and red wines; you may have heard of the villages: Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Chassange Montrachet, Beaune and Aloxe-Corton. All of these villages will be on the label of the bottle, and now you know that Chardonnay or Pinot Noir will be inside that bottle, even though the grape isn’t mentioned! The Côte de Nuits produces mostly reds, the most famous of which is the Grand Cru Romanee-Conti. I suggest you start with a Nuits-Saint-George or a Marsannay. Beaujolais is made of 100 percent Gamay, and it’s light and fruity, very affordable and great with a light chill on the bottle.

Honestly, we haven’t scratched the surface of Burgundy. It’s a very complex region and possibly my favorite. Go to a wine store and talk to the rep there; a rep can guide you to a good and affordable bottle. Or a very expensive one! Have fun. Now go start tasting.

Carmen McGee holds the Court of Masters Sommeliers certification. With chefs Aaron Butts and Sean Richardson, she will be opening a new restaurant, The Golden, in downtown Fort Wayne’s new Ash Brokerage building this spring.

First appeared in the May 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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