Bourgogne is a wine region known throughout the world and romanticized by wine lovers everywhere. A region that is renowned for its highly coveted and esteemed Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from prestigious Premier Cru and Grand Cru sites. Many of these wines are produced in small quantities and command lofty prices, but there is more to Bourgogne than just drinking exclusive wines. I had the opportunity to experience Bourgogne in a true, authentic, and humble sense. Bourgogne is about single varietal wines, made with a focus on terroir. Many of the wines they produce are artisanal in style, made by small producers with a deep passion for winemaking. There are many lesser-known villages in Bourgogne that are making incredible wines.
Bourgogne was eye-opening. In my mind, I thought I knew all there was to know about Bourgogne. I was familiar with the five wine-producing regions and the famous villages, premier crus, and grand crus, like the legendary Corton-Charlemagne, Gevrey-Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée or Puligny Montrachet. What I did not realize was that these wines only made up about 20% of the Bourgogne region. My five-day journey through Bourgogne revealed the value in the lesser-known villages and the uniqueness of each of the five regions.
My first impressions of Chablis were probably some of my most memorable. Waking up early morning for the special Chablis sunrise is a sight so magical that is almost hard to put into words. There is a soft romantic hue that sets over the vines. In the distance, beautiful tones of pink, orange and lavender light the sky. Visiting in the autumnal month of October made for colorful memories amongst the rows of the vineyards that were glowing with colors of gold, yellow, orange and red.
Taking a hike up and around the grand cru trails of Chablis was a fun way to explore the terroir, to touch the soils and to be amongst the world-famous vines. Later through our travels, I was fascinated to learn more about the right bank and left bank premier crus of Chablis. The wines of Chablis are fairly easy to understand, there is only one grape, and that is Chardonnay. What made the region fascinating was how one grape can be so expressive over various soil types; some fruity, some stony, some with more acidity, and some with more minerality.
A few kilometers southwest of Chablis, in the town of Saint-Bris, we tasted some rare and exceptional wines from Bourgogne made from Sauvignon. Saint-Bris is considered an oddity in Bourgogne, an old stone village with incredible medieval cellars. It is the only village that makes Sauvignon. The wines of Domaine Jean Louis & Jean Christophe Bersan are made by a father and son team. The wines are unique and expressive. The Sauvignon Blancs were round, full, rich, textural and extremely age-worthy. I have found my new favorite wines to pair with oysters and seafood.
Côte de Beaune
Maranges is a village on the southernmost tip of Côte de Beaune, making primarily Pinot Noir. Maranges is considered to be the heart of Bourgogne. Here you find small family-owned wineries, making rustic wines that are small in production. It is here in Maranges that Domaine Chevrot is producing great Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and some truly exceptional Crémant de Bourgogne. The wines are offered at very affordable price points, starting at $15. Visiting the winery you will be greeted by the two brothers Vincent & Pablo and their dog Hermès, but you will surely run into the father, the children, and in our case their aunt who made delicious fresh-baked gougéres.
Côte de Nuits
Pernand-Vergelesses is a village that is tucked away behind the hill of Corton. In the shadows of its distinguished neighbors, Pernand-Vergelesses does not get the attention it deserves. We had taken a ride up to the top of the hill where the views were endless and breathtaking. We tasted the wines of Domaine Dubreuil-Fontaine. Here Christine Gruere-Dubreuil produces both reds and whites. The whites we tasted had distinct minerality, freshness, and complexity. The minerality is what makes the white wines of this village stand apart. The reds had fresh fruit, and minerality, The tannins of the red wines were silky and soft. It’s a lesser-known region that is producing exceptional wines at a relatively lower price point. Pernand-Vergelesses is a village that needs to be explored and discovered.
Many know about the wonderful Chardonnays of Pouilly-Fuissé, but its neighbor Pouilly-Vinzelles and Pouilly-Loché are also making exceptional wines. These wines are the real hidden gems of the region with great history and exceptional terroir. Much smaller in size than compared to Pouilly-Fuissé, but making wines of equal caliber. Pouilly-Vinzelles and Pouilly-Loché offer incredible value. The winemakers of these two regions are talented and passionate and have the vision to elevate the region and the quality of the wines. The Chardonnays of Pouilly-Vinzelles express the powerful minerality of the soils whereas the wines of Pouilly-Loché have more elegance and fruit.
The wines of Viré Clessé were not on my radar and were a delightful discovery. Due to a lack of premier crus or grand crus, the region may not be fully understood. It is the quality of the producer that differentiates the wines. The wines of Domaine Michel were exceptional. The generosity of the winemaker was heartwarming, we tasted over 30 wines from his cellar. The wines of Domaine Michel were big, creamy, and ripe with lots of tropical fruit and minerality that was expressive of the terroir.
Côte Chalonnaise was one of the most diverse regions of Bourgogne. A region of innovation, as there is a new breed of young winemakers making extremely high-quality wines. The wines are more affordable and approachable. No need to wait 10-15 years before opening these wines. Stephane Aladame in Montagny is making exceptional wines. At the very young age of 18, he knew he wanted to make wine and started building his estate. Many Michelin star restaurants now serve his wines. Stephane Aladame is doing incredible things in elevating the reputation of Montagny.
Bouzeron is known for exclusively making Aligoté. For many years Aligoté suffered from being known as a grape that was rustic in style with very high acidity and only suitable for making Kir. In Bouzeron the limestone soils allow Aligoté to express more minerality and a softer style. In recent years, Aligoté is having somewhat of a renaissance, thanks to the innovative and pioneering efforts of new young winemakers like Xavier Moissenet of Domaine Les Champs de Themis. Be on the lookout for Xavier Moissenet’s Aligotés. His old vine, low yielding Aligoté is mineral driven with balanced acidity, nice texture, and complexity. These Aligotés can age and will surely leave a lasting impression.
Bourgogne is a wine paradise. Many believe the story involves two main characters, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Though in reality there is a cast of characters, Aligote, Gamay and Sauvignon have a role to play too. The style of wines is immensely different, ranging from red, white, rosé and Crémant.
Many will argue that Bourgogne wines are overpriced and ridiculously expensive, but I beg to differ. A majority of the wines from Bourgogne are reasonably priced, some even offering great value. Look to the lesser-known appellations or villages and you will find dynamic winemakers making exceptional wines with a unique style and flavor profile at very affordable price points. So be sure to explore, discover and taste the lesser-known Bourgogne.