BURGUNDY WHITE WINES

Burgundy white wines

 

Burgundy is the spiritual place for Chardonnay, where most wines have stunning complexity. Its vineyard dates back from the Roman Ages, the wines of which were particularly appreciated back then. Barbarian tribes took care of the vineyards after the collapse of the Roman Empire. King Clovis and an army of monks followed suit until the 11th century.

 

At that very moment, the Benedictine and Cistercian monks began the tremendous work of parcelling the whole burgundy vineyard, according to various criteria; the most important was the terroir specificities of each climat (name given in Burgundy to a specific plot). During the following centuries, they delineated and codified the vineyard, as we know it today. Burgundy vineyard is today a huge mosaic of climats, where each wine is different from its neighbours. Blind tasting red and white burgundy wines is one the most complicated exercise possible.

 

The Burgundy region is characterized by a very cool climate, which can alter the ripeness of the grapes from time to time (especially in Chablis, the northernmost part of the vineyard). There are huge variations of the vintage quality depending on the meteorological and climatic variations (hail storms can destroy partially or totally a crop, Pommard is no stranger to that since 2010). As a result, it is rare to find perfect similitudes in a bottle of burgundy wine of two successive vintages.

 

One of Chardonnay’s specificities is its propensity to natural vigour, especially in the south part of the Burgundy vineyard (Mâconnais). Yet, thanks to dense planting (up to 13000 vines per hectare) and canopy management, vine growers manage to tackle that issue. Most winemakers use French oak barrels to age their Chardonnays, sometimes more than 10 months. Steering of the lees after the second fermentation is a widespread method in Burgundy, and allows the wine to be more integrated and complex.

 

Chablis is located in the Northern part of the vineyard, and is even closer to Champagne then the Côte de Nuits vineyards. Climate is wet there, and temperatures are very cold all along the year. As a consequence, Chablis wines are often crisp and very racy. Soils are made of crusty limestone. One can find oyster shells in the rolling hills of the Chablis vineyard, given its mineral notes to the wine. Even if most Chablis wines are aged in stainless steel vats, the Grands Crus are intense enough to support oak barrel ageing. The Grands Crus hill of Chablis is made of seven different plots (Blanchot, Bougros, Grenouille, Les Clos, les Preuses, Valmur, Vaudésir): the Grands Crus are the finest expression of the Kimmeridgian terroir.

 

The Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune vineyards soils are mainly made of Jurassic limestone (relatively poor soils in essence), allowing good drainage. The main features of those vineyards are a high density of plenty (on average 10000 vines per hectare), and the predominance of the simple Guyot system. These sub regions are home for legendary white wines: Meursault, Chassagne-Montrachet, and Puligny-Montrachet for instance. These wines deserve patience, and long term cellaring before appreciating them at their highest level.

 

Information by Jean-Baptiste Martin

 

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