Well let me be the first to put my hand up and say that I don’t know Burgundy – though I’m trying! Given the sizeable tomes that are published seemingly every year, Burgundy is a complicated wine area that gets a lot of attention – it certainly takes up the most space in on my book shelves.
Though fairly simple in terms of grape varieties – as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir make up the vast proportion of plantings – Burgundy is a complex wine region in terms of appellations – there were 83 at the last count*. In an attempt to simplify the story for the average wine drinker, Burgundy is often broken down into the main sub-regions – see Phil My Glass’s Beginners’ Guide to Burgundy article.
Some commentators focus on the most celebrated Burgundy wines – those from the Côte d’Or – and pass over Chablis, the Côte Chalonnaise and the Maconnais. Of course the elephant in the room is Beaujolais and its Gamay reds, which are part of Burgundy according to some criteria, but are usually considered distinct from the rest.
Here are some wines from less-celebrated appellations within Burgundy – mostly generously donated by Nomad Wine Importers apart from the Saint-Bris which was kindly brought direct from the vineyard by Tony & Liz of DNS Wineclub.
Most wine drinkers have, of course, heard of Chablis, but far less well known is the larger area within which Chablis is situated – the Basse-Bourgogne. There are some reds up here – Irancy is an AOC producing light, delicate Pinot Noir (try M&S’s Irancy as an example of the style) – but white grapes are the majority, and apart from a few rows of Sacy that means Chardonnay and Sauvignon!
In 1850 there were 40,000 hectares of vineyards compared with around 7,500 in 2015 – there’s lots more potential in the area!
Domaine Goisot Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre 2015 (13.0%, RRP €22 from: Blackrock Cellar)
Auxerre is the largest town in the Yonne, with Chablis very close. Grapes from the hills around Auxerre qualify for their own appellation, which still (helpfully) has Bourgogne at the beginning for easier recognition by more casual drinkers. As with Chablis, the wines are 100% Chardonnay.
Based in Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, Guilhem (son) and Jean-Hugues (father) Boisot are known as the “Popes of Saint-Bris” for their outstanding local wines. They are certified organic and biodynamic, believing that high quality wines are only possible with meticulous care in the vineyard.
This Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre is flinty, smoky and fresh – it would stand up against pretty much any AOC Chablis I have tasted.
Domaine Sorin DeFrance Saint-Bris Sauvignon 2014 (12.0%, bought at winery)
After promotion up from VDQS status in 2003, this is the only Sauvignon (Blanc and Gris) based AOC / AOP within Burgundy, based around the town of Saint-Bris-le-Vineaux.
Domaine Sorin DeFrance is the result of the marriage of Henry Sorin and Madeleine DeFrance, though the Sorin family have been making wine since 1577. Their Saint-Bris is 100% Sauvignon – I presume Sauvignon Blanc, though you never know. It is far more expressive than many French Sauvignons, showing notes of grass, nettles, elderflower, lychees and garden mint.
Domaine Goisot Bourgogne Aligoté 2014 (12.5%, RRP €20 from: Blackrock Cellar, Jus de Vine, Lilac Wines, Redmonds and Mortons)
Although a traditional grape of Burgundy, as it has long been considered second class to Chardonnay, Aligoté was relegated to inferior sites (just like Barbera in Piedmont and Sylvaner in Alsace), and became something of a bulk wine where yields were more important than quality. Acidity was so fierce in those wines that local crème de cassis was often added to tame it, and thus the kir cocktail was invented.
The search for something new (even if old) and authenticity has reawakened interest in Aligoté – especially when they are simply superb wines such as this one from Domaine Goisot. Although Bourgogne Aligoté can be made all over Burgundy, Goisot’s vines are in the Yonne. It has floral aromas and spicy pear flavours, all delivered with refreshing – but not austere – acidity.
Côte d’Or – Côte de Beaune
A simple rule of thumb is that many of the best red Burgundies come from the Côte de Nuits and the best whites are often found in the Côte de Beaune. Together they make up the Côte d’Or and have all but one of Burgundy’s Grand Cru AOCs. But to the west of the posh addresses of Beaune and on the top of the the main Côte d’Or escarpment is the appellation Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune.
Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune La Justice 2014 (12.5%, €21 at Redmonds, Donnybrook Fair)
The Billards (not Billiards!) are based in Rochepot close to Beaune and have 17 hectares spread over 12 different appellations, both red and white. This wine is from the lieu-dit (or named vineyard) La Justice and is both fermented and matured in oak barrels, though the latter is mainly older oak. It is very approachable and drinkable now but has the structure and texture to develop over the coming five to ten years.
The Beaujolais wine area was legally attached to the Burgundy wine area though a civil case in 1930, reinforced by the decree in 1937 which created the Burgundy AOC. While arguments for an against continue, I’ll just concentrate on the wine – in particular the rare whites. Chardonnay is the principal white variety with small amounts of Aligoté, Melon (de Bourgogne, the Muscadet grape) and Pinot Gris also planted.
Domaine des Nugues Beaujolais-Villages Blanc 2015 (13.0%, RRP €18 at Blackrock Cellar, Jus de Vine, Martin’s Off licence)
In the northern marches of Beaujolais there has always been some overlap with the most southerly villages of the Maconnais, the most southerly region of Burgundy “proper”, but this is bona fide real-deal Beaujolais-Villages Blanc. Of course the -Villages part means that it is above standard Beaujolais but not made in one of the Cru communes.
Gérard Gelin took over the domaine from his father in 1976, and now runs it as a joint venture with his son Gilles. They have 36 ha in total of which over 20 is in Beaujolais-Villages.
This wine is 100% Chardonnay from young vines, with some lees ageing to add character and texture. It’s quite floral on the nose then mainly citrus on the palate.
* excluding Beaujolais!