The vineyards of the Bourgogne region are home to some celebrated varietals. With more than 80% planted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the Bourgogne winegrowing region is also a showcase for Gamay and Aligoté. Find out about the varietals grown in the Bourgogne winegrowing region before savoring your favorite wines.
Bourgogne’s winegrowers favor four varietals:
• Chardonnay (white), accounting for 48% of land under vine
• Pinot Noir (red), with 34%
• Gamay (red) and Aligoté (white) which account for 10% and 6% respectively
• Sauvignon, César, Pinot Beurot, Sacy, Melon, and a few other minor varietals make up the remaining 2%
Pinot Noir juice is clear!
To take on its lovely red color, the grapes must be macerated in vats to put the skins containing the color in contact with the juice.
If they were vinified without maceration, Pinot Noir grapes would produce a white wine. This is the case for Crémant de Bourgogne Blanc de Noir wines.
In the Bourgogne region, the wines are mainly single varietal. This “purity of expression” means that each plot gives each vintage its own personality and unique characteristics.
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the ultimate references in the Bourgogne winegrowing region, have thus become wines with a unique aromatic expression. Their rich aromas can evoke flowers, fruit or even spices.
Bourgogne wines also come in the full range of color nuances, depending on the varietal, appellation, vintage and age of the wine:
• The White wines (accounting for 62% of production) and the Crémant de Bourgogne wines (8%) can vary from pale yellow to golden yellow, with hints of green, straw yellow, orange or amber.
• Red wines (29%) come in all kinds of tones including cherry, bright red, mahogany, burnished red, and brick.
• Rosé wines (1%) range from violet to grey pink, with a range of shades including raspberry, orange and salmon.
Pinot Noir vines were probably brought to the Bourgogne region when it was first planted with vines in the Roman era. The varietal established the reputation of the region’s great red wines. Pinot Noir produces compact bunches of small berries that are dark violet in color, producing a sweet juice.
Its thick leaves are dull and dark green in color, with a lighter underside. As long as they are wide, they have three or five lobes, that vary in how apparent they are depending on the plant’s fertility.
Cultivated by locals for centuries, the Chardonnay grape is responsible for the reputation of the great white wines of the Côte de Beaune, the Côte Chalonnaise, the Mâconnais and Chablis. This grape grows in pretty golden bunches with berries just as small as Pinot Noir grapes, but longer and more tightly packed.
Its tiny berries make a white juice that is deliciously sweet. It is easy to recognize because the two veins closest to the stem hug the edges of the leaf.
Another very old varietal, the Gamay grape bears the name of a hamlet in Saint-Aubin, close to Puligny-Montrachet. A popular varietal for red wines from the Mâconnais, it is also used as part of the blend for Coteaux Bourguignons, Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains and some Crémant de Bourgogne.
The Gamay grape is famous for having been banished from the Bourgogne region by Duke of Bourgogne Philip the Bold, who decreed in 1395 that it should be replaced by Pinot Noir. The southern part of today’s Bourgogne, which at the time wasn’t included in the edict, held on to the tradition of growing Gamay.
The Gamay vine is a fairly fertile plant that produces bunches that vary in tightness depending on the strain.
Aligoté is another old Bourgogne varietal. It can be found around the region in places not suited to Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, but which are nonetheless good places for growing vines. This fairly vigorous white varietal produces more grapes per bunch and bigger individual berries than Chardonnay. Winegrowers use it to make Bourgogne Aligoté, an AOC Régionale. This oft-overlooked grape was publicly recognized in 1998 with the creation of Bouzeron, an appellation Village using 100% Aligoté.
Aligoté, just like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gamay, can also be used in the production of Crémant de Bourgogne.
If you head into the Auxerrois, you might encounter some other less well-known varietals such as Sauvignon and César. The first produces a light and fruity white wine called Saint-Bris (an appellation Village). The second, when combined with Pinot Noir, gives solidity and a certain length on the tongue to red wines from the Irancy appellation Village.
Some winemakers defend the Pinot Beurot or Pinot Gris white varietals, which were probably originally from the Bourgogne region, but which have now almost completely disappeared. They can be found in some of the world’s other winegrowing regions in Switzerland, Hungary, Germany, and Alsace in France, among others.