Wine 101 - The Wines of Burgundy

Why this complex region is one of the world's best


Côte de Beaune

To the south of the Côte de Nuits, and separated by only a line drawn in one’s imagination, lies the Côte de Beaune -- the name coming from the town of Beaune, the region’s largest. In contrast to the Côte de Nuits, the Côte de Beaune is more renowned for its white wines, though world-class reds are also produced here.

The hill of Corton is one of the most important features of the Côte de Beaune. With more than 160 hectares of vines it is the largest Grand Cru in all of Burgundy, larger even than some communes in their entirety. 

The red wines of the Côte de Beaune tend to be lighter and more elegant than those found in the Côte de Nuits -- lighter and more elegant being relative of course, since these are all Pinot Noir-based wines. The most famous communes include Pommard and Volnay for red wines; Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, and Chassagne-Montrachet for white; as well as Corton for both.

Hautes-Côtes de Beaune

The labeling conventions in the Côte de Beaune are identical to those of the Côte de Nuits. Essentially all the wines are entitled to be labeled as AOC Bourgogne, and the next classification is generally the Côte de Beaune Villages wines, though there are the slightly confusingly labeled Côte de Beaune wines, coming from a tiny set of four vineyards that lie above the hills of Beaune.

As in the Nuits, the additional designations identify each village appellation, then the Premier Cru vineyards and finally the Grand Cru vines. Wines labeled as Hautes-Côtes de Beaune come from a distinct appellation that is comprised of hillside vineyards located to the west of Beaune.

This appellation is much like that of the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits in that both Chardonnay and Pinot Gris are allowed for the whites, and up to 15% of Pinot Noir vineyards used for red wines’ production can be planted to Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and/or Pinot Blanc.

Map courtesy of Kobrand

The Côte Chalonnaise

The Côte Chalonnaise abuts the southern reaches of the Côte de Beaune, and the vineyards in the north of the Côte Chalonnaise pick up right where the Côte de Beaune leaves off -- which is to say that the wines tend to be a bit rustic and, while they can be very good, there is a distinct difference in quality if we are to paint with a broad brush. Having said that, the prices don’t even approach those garnered by the more famous appellations to the north, so this is prime country for discovering Burgundian values.

There are Premier Cru vineyards in the Côte Chalonnaise, though no Grand Cru, and while the labeling regulations require that wines labeled as Premier Cru come from these designated vineyards, the truth is that here in the Côte Chalonnaise the designation Premier Cru is much more loosely applied. In practice, virtually all wines from the region that have a minimum alcoholic strength of 11.5% can be labeled as Premier Cru.  

The best villages in the Côte Chalonnaise include Rully, Mercurey, Givry and Montagny.

Map courtesy of Kobrand

The Mâconnais

The Mâconnais picks up the Burgundy wine trail several kilometers after the Côte Chalonnaise peters out. Unlike in the Côte Chalonnaise, where both reds and whites abound, the Mâconnais is primarily Chardonnay country and in fact some of the most well-known white burgundies come from the southern Macon.

While there are no Premier Cru vineyards in the Macon, Pouilly-Fuissé is a near equivalent, though the name is no guarantee of quality. Additional villages that have become associated with the production of rather fine wines include Mâcon-Viré and Mâcon-Clessé in the north of the region as well as Saint-Véran, the most southerly portion of the appellation and in fact an only relatively recently created appellation that includes wines previously been referred to as Beaujolais Blanc.

This similarity to Beaujolais also extends to the small amount of red wines produced here. In addition to Pinot Noir, Gamay grapes are allowed in the red wines.

Map courtesy of Kobrand


Beaujolais is often considered the southern-most extension of Burgundy and, while the wines frequently do have a certain character that links them to the wines of Burgundy, they are a breed apart. To learn more about Beaujolais, visit Wine 101 – Beaujolais.

Map courtesy of Kobrand

Exploring Burgundy

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  • Hi Gregory. The map is too small. Could you create an image that could be enlarged if you click on it?

    Nov 24, 2010 at 6:17 PM

  • Snooth User: japiok
    558329 2

    Jullie vergeten de Santenay. Smaakt beter dan de Côtes.

    Nov 24, 2010 at 10:12 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    Hi Elinore,

    You can visit Kobrand's website to see the image in their full glory. We do not, at this time, have the systems in place that would allow enlarging the images.

    Thanks for your thoughts though, we will add this to or to do list!

    Nov 25, 2010 at 3:28 AM

  • The author Roald Dahl once wrote that "to drink a Romanée-Conti is like having an orgasm in the mouth and nose at the same time".

    Is that all we need to know?

    Nov 25, 2010 at 11:02 AM

  • A very nice overview but, as you allude to in the introduction, is really only scratching the surface of the complexity that is Burgundian wine; a complexity that can be very vexing to fans of the region that are not flush with cash. The fragmentation of the vineyards, and the vast cast of characters at work within them, means that there is a tremendous diversity of styles and quality within each commune, making it very difficult to really ascribe a particular character to a commune and, from the consumer's point of view, extremely difficult to make an informed buying decision. One thing is certain: there is no such thing as a good cheap Burgundy from the Beaunes or Nuits; there may well be plenty of not-so-good expensive ones though. Nonetheless, we forgive all such shortcomings upon opening a good one, for the rewards are beyond the narrow view of accounting.

    Nov 26, 2010 at 2:07 PM

  • Nodding in agreement with Aylwin Forbes here. For years I had same issue. Occasional beauty with real strawberry, tannin, oak balance, others smelling of damp cabbage, thin and acidic. Many just dull compared to more reliable Oregon, Russian River, US wines.
    I was only helped by going to tastings of the en primeur offerings.
    I would still recommend dumping any prejudices against new world pinot noirs, there are many fine ones coming out of NZ for instance.

    Feb 23, 2011 at 4:55 AM

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