White Burgundy includes 4 primary styles to know, but once you’re hooked on white Burgundy, there’s no going back. White Burgundy is the crack cocaine of Chardonnay. Sommeliers and retailers who sell white Burgundy sound like drug dealers: “Just try some, you’ll love it…”
White Burgundy may just be the ‘Helen of Troy of Chardonnay’, because nearly everyone who’s ever made Chardonnay has looked towards white Burgundy as the golden standard. All in all, white Burgundy is just Chardonnay, but the region is the origin of the variety and the area simply holds a combination of climate, land and tradition that can never be precisely replicated anywhere else.
Broadly, white Burgundy can be found in four main production areas within Burgundy. Each area has a different ‘Terroir’ and characteristics and thus, different flavor profiles. ‘Terroir’ is a sense of place – it means that when you drink a wine, you completely taste the region where the wine was made. Most simply, ‘Terroir’ is the concept that the land from which the grapes are grown imparts a unique quality that is specific to that single vineyard. Here are four of the most renowned White Burgundy profiles:
Simple white wines of Burgundy
Bourgogne blanc are easy-drinking unoaked wins with mineral fresh apple-y and lemon-y citrus notes. The wines will usually be marked by appealing cheese rind or yogurt-like aromas, as well as a slightly nutty, salty quality. Bourgogne blanc almost never see any oak and are light-bodied. They are true vin de soif (“thirst wines”).
What’s to know: Bourgogne blanc is the basic white appellation of Burgundy which means grapes used for a single bottle can come from anywhere in the entire region. Although, in practice, they’re usually from vineyards around where the producer is located. Because of this, Bourgogne blanc are often the most affordable and provide the foundational taste profile of white Burgundy.
Food pairing: Great with chicken, middle-weight pastas, or random Thursday nights on the couch.
Buying Tips: Expect to spend about $20 for a decent a bottle and look for top vintages or quality producers for the best values.
Succulent fruity everyday whites
Flavors range from yellow apple-and-citrus like flavors to tropical honeydew, melon pineapple and star fruit notes in richer vintages. Most wines are unoaked and light bodied. Expect more specificity and intensity than the average Bourgogne blanc, but with slightly less power and filigree than the wines from the Côte de Beaune. Mâconnais whites can often have the heft and weight of their more serious Côte de Beaune cousins, but are a little bit more rustic in nature. The more expensive examples will likely have some new oak which adds hazelnut and baking spice notes.
What’s to know: Mâconnais is in the far south end of Burgundy (nearly 150 miles to the south of Chablis) right next to Beaujolais. It’s much warmer than the rest of Burgundy and thus offers the most fleshy and plump of all white Burgs.
Food pairing: Great with any sort of middle-weight dishes. Cured pork products, anyone?
Buying Tips: Expect to pay between at least $15 and up to $45 for the best examples. Also, if you’re accustomed to California Chardonnay, a warmer vintage village-level Mâconnais wine will be an excellent introduction to white Burgundy.
The antithesis of buttery Chardonnay
The wines here are marked by even leaner, tarter fruit aromas (lime zest, tart green apple, quince and under-ripe pear), than the average Bourgogne Blanc. In addition to this, there’s often a brine-y, oyster liqueur like aroma to the wines along with the classic subtle notes brie rind, yogurt, and white flowers.
What’s to know: Chablis is the northernmost region in Burgundy, and therefore the coldest. Chablis almost always has the tartest, crispest acid profile of all white Burgundy. Famous for its intensely chalky white soils, Chablis also contains several Grand Cru vineyard sites. Many producers will oak their Grand Cru wines, leading to a richer style similar to Côte de Beaune.
Food pairing: Oysters and anything from the raw bar are the classic pairings of Chablis. With high acidity and no oak, it is an ideal choice for mixed company. Pairs with everything? Maybe.
Buying Tips: Expect to spend from $20 to up to $75 for the fanciest examples. Quality-to-price ratio is always great for Chablis.
Côte de Beaune
A paradigm in oaked Chardonnay
The most powerful of all French Chardonnay. Expect slightly fleshier, apple-y fruit aromas: Meyer lemon, golden apple, golden pear, quince, and yellow plum. There’s also usually a fresh, earthy aroma of white button mushroom or truffle. The hundreds of years of experience the Burgundians have with new oak really shows well-integrated, balanced aromas of cinnamon, toasted almond, and toasted bread.
What’s to know: The Côte de Beaune is the Beverly Hills of white Burgundy production, and is home to some the most expensive vineyard land on Earth. The roughly 25 Kilometer strip of the Côte de Beaune produces some of the most show-stopping, intense expressions of the Chardonnay on the planet.
Food pairing: Many of the best wines from the Côte de Beaune are a visceral, meditative experience that you could savor without food. However, richer fish dishes, pork, chicken and anything in a cream sauce or with fungi are highly recommended.
Buying Tips: The white wines of the Côte de Beaune are the pinnacle of white Burgundy and they are not cheap. Lesser village-level wines start at $25-$30, premier cru quality typically start around $40, and a few grand crus can be found in the low $100’s but often command much higher prices.
NOTE: As you move up in specificity, you move up in price, and generally in oak usage. Famous white wine villages in the Côte de Beaune include, but are not limited to: Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault, St. Aubin, Beaune, and the hill of Corton.