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Burgundy is confounding as it is glorious. It can take the wine lover to exalted heights and the lowest lows. Pinot Noir, the fickle grape that it is, is king here, while Chardonnay is his queen. Some pawns exist like Aligote, Gamay and some Pinot Gris but when people wax poetic about Burgundy, it tends to be red wine. 

Burgundy is the anal-retentive wine lover's dream with its literally hundreds of iterations of Pinot Noir  grown here and here. Chardonnay too. Once you have a great White Burgundy it is very hard to go back to the same old tried and true oaky Chardonnay from California, Australia or Argentina.

The most important thing to know about Burgundy from a consumer perspective is WHO made the wine. Nothing else matters when weighing in on a bottle of Burgundy. Vineyard, vintage all become secondary. The best wines tend to be made by the most rigorous and passionate winemakers whose goal is to express his/her small piece of land within the weather patterns of a full year with the most minimal yet necessary intervention in the cellar.

Sounds easy right? Hold up . . .it really isn't. There are many cases in Burgundy of neglected vineyards and producers riding on the reputation of their Domaine and or the particular prized vineyard. There are over 80 people who make a Clos Vougeout, a Grand Cru vineyard in Burgundy, but how many of them would you want to serve their wine at your dinner table? Probably not many. That is the most extreme example but there are loads out there.

There are countless tiny estates cranking out even tinier amounts of wine that can at their best, compete with any other in the world. Below that exalted level of sublime wine, there are tons of delicious wines at all price points from arcane and unfashionable villages such as Marsannay, Ladoix or Fixin to great Bourgogne Blanc's and Rouge's from the top producers. Most of the top producers least exalted wines tend to be where the values lie. The producer banks on the idea that the most people will get to experience his/her Bourgogne Rouge versus his/her Musigny so he/she wants to put all the effort into making that top-notch Bourgogne Rouge.

Within all these villages are countless vineyards that each can, when conditions are right, fully express themselves. The true Burgundy lover relishes in a Fixin 1er Cru just as much as he/she can relish in the inhumane amount of perfume in an ethereal
magnum of La Tache. That is what is so great about Burgundy. The vast expanse. The more you know, the less you know. The Pinot Noir grape, even though it really only thrives at its peak in this area of the world, has so many iterations that can max out in any particular year, it can take a lifetime of dedication and experiences to relish in that wealth of that great wine and knowledge. 

As an addendum, the only way to get this experience and knowledge besides reading and tasting is to become friendly with a small number of wine merchants who, over time, you can trust and they can be a very good guide to the mystique and frustrations of Burgundy.  They will either recommending producers you might not have heard of or point you away from certain producers. It can prove invaluable on your Burgundian journey and also can possibly save you some dollars.

Burgundy is divided into three principal regions under the umbrella of the Cote d'Or or "golden slope." They are the Cote de Beaune, to the south, the Cote de Nuits, to the North and Chablis which is way up north (it is closer to Champagne than it is to Burgundy). There is also the Cote Chalonnaise, south of the Cote d'Or,  which is a wonderful region for values, red and white, along with the Maconnais which is awash with tremendous white wine values. 

Bourgogne Blanc and Bourgogne Rouge
Within the five appellations below and nearby there is an all encompassing quality level that must be discussed here and that is Bourgogne Blanc and Bourgogne Rouge which can mean many different things. Technically it is a wine that can be sourced from all of the Cote de Nuits, Cote Beaune or Cote Chalonnaise. Some producers will mix southern Beane juice with northern Beaune juice and that is their Bourgogne. Others have a vineyard right outside of the designated village of say Volnay or Fixin and they classify that wine as Bourgogne Rouge. It is really on a producer by producer basis but Bourgogne Rouge and or Blanc can be a great deal. These typically retail for between $19 and $50.

Bourgogne Passetougrains
There is also an appellation called Bourgogne Passetougrains and few are made but the ones that are are lovely, light and luscious. They can be made with Gamay and may of them are blends of Pinot Noir and Gamay. The traditional blend of the wine is 2/3 Gamay and 1/3 Pinot Noir but many producers use more Pinot Noir and everybody is hush hush about it.  Many top producers make one and they can be a lovely value as many people hear Gamay and run away which drives priced down. They can be charming with vibrant berry fruit. 

Bourgogne Aligote
An appellation based on the "other" white grape of Burgundy, which is Aligote. It can make tart and sometimes acrid wines but when cared for carefully in the vineyard and raised hands-off in the winery some very delicate and complex ones can be made. It is always placed at the top and bottom of hills as the more profitable Chardonnay takes the glorious middle positions. There is no doubt Aligote could make long-lived complex white wines if planted on the great slopes of the Cote d'Or but these people do need to make money. Aligote cannot be mentioned of course without the mention of the the popular drink mixed with blackberry kir. There are also many plantings up and near Chablis that merit attention but more of those wines will be covered in the Chablis section. 

Notable Recent Vintages for Bourgogne Aligote: 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2005, 2004, 2002, 2001

Top producers of Bourgogne Aligote (in no particular order) include:
  • Domaine d'Auvenay (Lalou-Bize Leroy)
  • Arnaud Ente
  • Michel Lafarge
  • Ramonet
  • Francois Mikulski
  • Hubert Lignier
  • Domaine Roulot
  • Pierre Morey
  • Jean-Phillipe Fichet
  • Coche-Dury
  • Bruno Clavelier
  • Alice & Olivier de Moor (near Chablis!)
  • A et P. Villaine
  • Arnaud Goisot
  • Domaine Roulot
  • Domaine Bachelet
  • Domaine Chevillon
Notable Recent Vintages for Bourgogne Blanc: 2010, 2008, 2007, 2004, 2002, 2001, 1999

Top producers of Bourgogne Blanc (in no particular order) include:

  • Domaine Roulot
  • Domaine Leflaive (pricey!)
  • Simon Bize
  • Comte Vogue (de-classified Musigny Blanc, poor value as it is over $150 a bottle)
  • Boyer-Martenot
  • Domaine Ramonet
  • A. et. P. Villaine 
  • Etienne Sauzet
  • Domaine Fourrier
  • Paul Pernot
  • Marc Colin
  • Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey
  • Sylvain Dussort
  • Jean-Phillipe Fichet
  • Patrick Javillier
  • Pierre Morey
  • Coche-Dury
  • Alice & Olivier de Moor (Bourgogne-Chitry, near Chablis)
  • Olivier Morin (Bourgogne-Chitry, near Chablis)
  • Thomas Morey
Notable Recent Vintages for Bourgogne Rouge: 2010, 2009, 2008, 2005, 2003 (varies), 2002, 2001,1999

Top producers of Bourgogne Rouge (in no particular order) include:
  • Robert Chevillon
  • Domaine Lafarge
  • Domaine de Montille
  • Denis Bachelet
  • Mugneret-Gibourg
  • Ghislaine Barthod
  • Domaine Billard
  • Bernard Dugat-Py
  • Coche-Dury
  • Robert Arnoux
  • Rene Leclerc
  • Jacky Truchot
  • Bitouzet-Prieur
  • A. et. P. Villaine 
  • Roblet-Monnot
  • G. Roumier/Christophe Roumier
  • Jospeh Roty
  • Rapet Pere & Fils
  • Simon Bize
  • Alain Burguet
  • Sylvian Cathiard
  • Domaine du Chateau de Chorey (Germain)
  • Hubert Lignier
  • Sylvie Esmonin
  • Joseph Voillot
  • Catherine & Claude Marechal
  • Domaine Marquis d'Angerville
  • Thomas Morey
  • LIgnier-Michelot
  • Rossignol-Trapet
  • Emmanuel Rouget
Top producers of Bourgogne Passetougrains (in no particular order) include:
  • Michel Lafarge
  • Robert Chevillon
  • Bruno Clavelier
  • Hubert Lignier
  • Sylvain Pataille
  • Emmanuel Rouget
  • Vincent Dureil-Janthial
Chablis