Wine Guide Burgundy /Chablis

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urgundy can be considered as four distinct entities. In the north lies Chablis, at its heart is the Côte d’Or (Cote de Nuits and Côte de Beaune), next comes the Côte Chalonnaise then, still further south, the Mâconnais. The main appellations for each are given below, with more detail in the individual sections that follow.

Chablis & Yonne
Chablis and the surrounding vineyards are isolated from the heart of Burgundy, being almost halfway to Paris from the Côte d’Or. All Chablis is produced from the Chardonnay grape and is classified by vineyard site as either Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru or Chablis Grand Cru. Other than Chablis there’s Sauvignon under the Saint-Bris AC and occasional pure cherryish Pinot Noir from Irancy AC. Pinot Noir or Chardonnay from other villages in the Yonne is suffixed Bourgogne.

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Côte d’Or & Côte Chalonnaise

The Côte d’Or is synonymous with Burgundy and includes all its great red wines. The two parts are the more northerly Côte de Nuits (mostly red) and extending southwards, the Côte de Beaune (white and red).

The CÔTE DE NUITS is Burgundy’s most classic red wine district and based primarily on just one grape variety, Pinot Noir. It runs from Marsannay and Fixin through the leading communes of Gevrey-Chambertin (including leading grands crus Chambertin and Clos de Bèze), Morey- Saint-Denis (with grands crus Clos de la Roche, Clos Saint-Denis, Clos des Lambrays and Clos de Tart), Chambolle Musigny (with Bonnes Mares and Le Musigny) and Vougeot (for Clos Vougeot), Flagey-Echezeaux (for Echezeaux and Grands Echezeaux), Vosne-Romanée (grands crus La Romanée, Romanée-Conti, Richebourg, Romanée-Saint-Vivant, La Grande Rue, and La Tâche) to Nuits-Saint-Georges.

The CÔTE DE BEAUNE is famous for great white Burgundy made from Chardonnay, although more Pinot Noir is planted. Much of both is at least potentially very high quality. In a confusion of appellations in the north, Aloxe-Corton with the famous grands crus of Corton (mostly red) and Corton-Charlemagne (white) stands out. Beaune, Pernand-Vergelesses and Savigny-lès-Beaune produce fine reds but some good whites too, while the celebrated Pommard and Volnay are restricted to red. Monthélie, and Auxey-Duresses provide more affordable red and a little white, while Saint-Romain and the often excellent Saint-Aubin do better with white. The big three white Burgundy appellations are Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet (including grands crus Chevalier- Montrachet, Le Montrachet and part of Bâtard-Montrachet) and Chassagne-Montrachet. The latter also produces red as do Santenay and Maranges in the tail of the Côte d’Or.

The CÔTE CHALONNAISE begins close to this tail. Both the wines and the countryside are distinctly different but the village appellations are again classified for wines from Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir – with the exception the first village, Bouzeron, which is classified for Aligoté. Rully makes more white than red, while Mercurey and Givry produce mostly red. The southernmost appellation, Montagny, is for Chardonnay alone. Crémant de Bourgogne is for the region’s sparkling wine.

The CÔTE CHALONNAISE begins close to this tail. Both the wines and the countryside are distinctly different but the village appellations are again classified for wines from Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir – with the exception the first village, Bouzeron, which is classified for Aligoté. Rully makes more white than red, while Mercurey and Givry produce mostly red. The southernmost appellation, Montagny, is for Chardonnay alone. Crémant de Bourgogne is for the region’s sparkling wine.

Mâconnais

As in the Côte de Beaune here too there is greatness in white wine (from Chardonnay), with a new wave of excellent producers beginning to emerge. Quality wine production is focused on Pouilly-Fuissé (with its four communes of Chaintré, Fuissé, Solutré and Vergisson), adjoined at its eastern end by the small Pouilly-Loché and Pouilly-Vinzelles ACs. Many other vineyards north and south of Pouilly-Fuissé qualify as Saint-Véran. There is fine quality too from Viré-Clessé and increasingly from several of some 43 villages that can be suffixed to Mâcon (eg Mâcon-Bussières).

Chablis background

Chablis is one of the great white wines of the world, and partly because the cultivation of the Chardonnay grape in these cool hills is so close to the limit of where obtaining full ripeness is possible. Success rarely comes easily, fraught with an annual battle against frost and rain, demanding constant diligence. The importance of fully ripe fruit cannot be understated. The wines should be vigorous, fresh, suffused with minerality but also with generosity and length of flavour without the greeness, harshness or indeed sulphur that some disciples have been duped into believing was authentic Chablis character..

Style

So what defines that unique Chablis character? A fine, subtle gun-flint, smoke or stony mineral character and greengage plum aromas are typical – but these must be ripe plums. Some wines are more floral or appley, citrusy or peachy but there should still be an unmistakable minerally aspect and marvellous depth, with a toasty, nutty (or honeyed) complexity with age. The vintage matters greatly; while the longevity of Chablis should never be underestimated, most wines from a weaker vintage will evolve quite quickly and the leaness, often greeness on the palate will never disappear.

Vineyards at Chablis

Controversy
Two major areas of debate in the past two decades have been the extension of the premier cru vineyard area and the use of new oak but as important to quality are the issues of yield (often too high) and mechanical harvesting, which is still widespread. The Union des Grands Crus in Chablis recently banned mechanical harvesting but many premiers crus are harvested in this way, in part due to the greater ease of using this method here in contrast to the Côte d’Or, where difficulties are posed by the more fragmented ownership of vineyards. Much of the argument over expansion of the vignoble concerns soil types and whether Portlandian, Jurassic and other limestones are capable of the same quality as fossilised Kimmeridgian limestone found in the established grands and premiers crus. The second area of debate is whether to oak or not to oak. There are now many good exponents of both schools of thought, though the style of each varies significantly. A grand cru from Domaine François Raveneau (aged in used oak) is a benchmark but most of the new oak versions from Drouhin or Verget are also of very high quality and have as much validity as those from the unoaked camp. Quality is the key, the question of style is more subjective and unless the oak overwhelms the wine it is down to personal choice. That said, Chablis should always taste of its origins and not be mistaken for something from the Côte de Beaune or further afield.

Classification
Understanding the Chablis classification is straightforward. The entire vignoble of more than 4600 ha (currently in production) is classified as one of four levels: Chablis Grand Cru, Chablis Premier Cru, Chablis or Petit Chablis.

The seven grands crus covering 100ha of vineyards (just over 2%) are Blanchot (12.7ha), Bougros (12.6ha), Les Clos (26ha), Grenouilles (9.3ha), Preuses (11.4ha), Valmur (13.2ha) and Vaudésir (14.7ha). Unsuprisingly, given the size of each cru, there are significant differences in altitude and exposition within each. In the right hands and from the best plots all seven are capable of real class even if there are arguably more consistently good examples of Les Clos, Valmur and Vaudésir than the
others.

Such is the importance of the producer, however, premiers crus from the best estates can easily outperform weaker grand cru efforts. Almost eight times the area is designated Chablis Premier Cru, encompassing forty names. Less than half of these are in common usage as the main premier cru name is usually taken. Regrettably this precludes a better understanding of individual plots or climats within these large vineyard areas that could help in identifying both style and quality. However some producers (lately Verget but others too) are increasingly identifying a special plot by adding the lieu-dit name to the label – and for regular Chablis as well as premier crus. Broadly speaking, those premiers crus with the greatest potential to be fine are Fourchaume, Montée de Tonnerre and Mont de Milieu, all lying on the same side (northern, right bank) of the river Serein as the grand crus and with similar exposures. But poorer examples of these will be surpassed easily by the best versions of premiers crus from the other side of the Serein (left bank), especially Montmains, Vaillons and Côte de Léchet. The quality of regular Chablis (from more than 3000 ha) is very much dependent on the producer whilst Petit Chablis is, for the most part, best avoided.

Yonne – life beyond Chablis
Most of the wines made in the area surrounding Chablis are made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Aligoté. If conditions are generally less favoured in terms of soil and climate than in much of Chablis, it is possible to produce wines of reasonable concentration and sufficient ripeness in both colours from villages such as Coulanges-la-Vineuse and Irancy providing there is a fastidious approach to viticulture – the wines of Anita & Jean-Pierre Colinot are proof enough. Irancy is an AC for red in its own right; other villages are suffixed Bourgogne (Bourgogne Coulanges-la-Vineuse, Bourgogne Chitry) for red and white. Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre covers other villages in the vicinity of Auxerre (including Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Saint-Bris-le-Vineux).

Those from around Tonnerre, to the east of Chablis, are labelled Bourgogne Épineuil (for Pinot Noir) or Bourgogne Tonnerre (recently sanctioned for whites). Some growers are at least as successful with rosé as red. If the cultivation of Sauvignon in the Yonne seems unusual, consider that it’s a relatively short hop to the Central Vineyards of the Loire Valley from here. Few examples of Saint-Bris (Sauvignon from around Saint-Bris, Irancy and Chitry) are better than green and edgy, despite its promotion in 2003 to appellation status. The real exceptions are those from Goisot whose brilliant wines (not to be missed) also include Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, seemingly from another planet in quality terms. Further afield, some Chablis-like white is made some 50 km to the south of Chablis and Auxerre at Vézelay (Bourgogne Vézelay).

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