An introduction to the Bourgogne wine region of France

The Burgundy wine region of France can be found roughly halfway between Paris and the Mediterranean in the northern part of the Rhone Valley. Its dominant river is the Saône River, a tributary of the Rhone River before the Saône joins the south-flowing Rhone River at Lyon. The separated Chablis subregion can be found on the Serein River, which flows in the opposite direction from the Rhone, northwards into the Yonne and then Seine Rivers.

Subregions

There are 5 subregions in the Burgundy wine region. From north to south, they are Côté d’Auzerre (Chablis), Côté de Nuits, Côté de Beaune, Côté Chalonnaise and Mâconnais.

Most wine maps also include Beaujolais as one of the subregions of Burgundy. Although Beaujolais is technically the southernmost part of the Burgundy wine region, its wines are closer in character to the wines of the Rhone Valley region.

Terroir

All the wines of Burgundy are grown on limestone soils. However, the wines produced by each vineyard in Burgundy have unusually strong individuality. Of all the wine regions of France, Burgundy’s wines may be the most responsive to the unique combinations of grape, soil, climate, vineyard placement, and the human touch which together make up “terroir.”

Wines

The Burgundy wine region is best known for its Burgundy dry reds, which are made from Pinot noir grapes. While many other wine regions of France and other countries also produce dry reds from Pinot noir grapes, the only wines which can legally be called Burgandies come from this region.

Two other famous wines from the Burgundy region are also named for their respective subregions. Beaujolais wines are dominated by Gamay noir grapes, a cross between Pinot noir and Gouais. Chablis wines are made primarily from Chardonnay grapes, and can be found in the microregion surrounding Chablis and Auxterre.

After Chardonnay, the most popular grapes for dry whites in this region are Aligoté grapes, with roughly 1/8 the acreage of Chardonnay grapes. Aligote grapes are commonly used in the sparkling wine Crémant de Bourgogne.

The Côté de Nuits specializes in Pinot noir wines. It is particularly known for full-bodied Burgundy wines which can be aged for decades. Just a little further south, the Côté de Beaune specializes in light Chardonnays, along with lighter Burgundies which do not need to be aged for more than 5 years to bring out their character. Together, the Côté de Nuits and the Côté de Beaune make up the 2 most historically important wine subregions of Burgundy.

Getting there

The easiest way to tour the Burgundy wine region is by car. From Paris, take the A6 southeast to Beaune. The drive takes about 3 hours, and ends in the northern part of the Burgundy wine region. From there, a network of smaller roads can take you northeast to Dijon or southeast to Mâcon, the major cities which bound the Burgundy wine region.

From the south, the best way to reach the Burgundy wine region is to drive along the Rhone Valley north to Lyon, also a drive of about 3 hours. The A7 will take you from Marseilles to Lyon. From there, a short drive on the A6 will take you the rest of the way to Macon.

Chablis is a little off the beaten track from the rest of the Burgundy wine region. It can also be accessed directly from the A6, on the Paris side of the Burgundy wine region, roughly an hour’s drive closer to Paris than the rest of the Burgundy wine region.