Chardonnay vineyards in the south of the Côte de Beaune surrounding the town of Meursault.
Burgundy (Bourgogne in French) is the name given to certain wines made in the Burgundy region of France.
Red Burgundy wines are usually made with the Pinot Noir grape, and white Burgundy wines are usually made with Chardonnay grapes, as dictated by the AOC. Geographically, the wine region starts just south of Dijon and runs southward to just short of the city of Lyon. The area of Chablis stands on its own to the west of Dijon, about as close to Paris as it is to the heart of Burgundy. The main wine regions in Burgundy proper (those that are entitled to the AOC Bourgogne designation) are the Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune – which collectively are known as the Côte d’Or – and further south the Côte Chalonnaise. Also viticulturally part of Burgundy are Beaujolais, Chablis, and Mâcon, and they show some similarity. However, a wine from one of these regions would rarely be referred to as a “Burgundy.”
Burgundy is home to some of the most sought-after wines in the world, and the most expensive, including those of Domaine de la Romanée Conti. Burgundy is in some ways the most terroir-oriented region on the planet; immense attention is paid to the area of origin, and in which of the region’s 400 types of soil a wine’s grapes are grown. It has a carefully demarcated quality hierarchy: the grand crus are at the top, followed by premier crus, then village, and finally generic Bourgogne. Bourgogne is where grapes other than Chardonnay and Pinot Noir begin to be introduced, allowing pinot blanc and Pinot Gris, two Pinot Noir mutations that were traditionally grown and now are in decline in the area. Other Burgundy AOCs that are not as often seen are Bourgogne Passetoutgrains (which can contain up to two thirds Gamay (the grape of Beaujolais) in addition to Pinot Noir), Bourgogne Aligoté (which is primarily made with the Aligoté grape), and Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire. The latter is the lowest AOC, and Grand definitely refers to the size of the area eligible to produce it, not its quality. There are certain regions that are allowed to put other grapes in miscellaneous AOCs, but for the most part these rules hold.
From about the year 900 up to the French Revolution, the vineyards of Burgundy were owned by the Church. After the revolution, the vineyards were broken up and sold to the workers who had tended them. The Napoleonic inheritance laws resulted in the continued subdivision of the most precious vineyard holdings, so that some growers hold only a row or two of vines. This led to the emergence of négociants who aggregate the produce of many growers to produce a single wine. It has also led to a profusion of increasingly small family-owned wineries, exemplified by the dozen plus “Gros” family domaines.