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April 13, 2022 | Elden Selections

Why Choose Burgundy, part 3 - The Terroir

Cote de Beaune

Why choose Burgundy? It’s a simple question. With so many wines on offer from all around the world, it’s a question some may find themselves asking. The answer—or rather, answers—will take us on a journey of discovery from the Kings, Dukes and thirsty monks of the Burgundian past to the colorful characters of the present day, via rolling hillsides and mysteries of the terroir. In this, the third part of our series, we look down beneath our feet and explore the earth itself that gives life to Burgundy’s grape vines. We discover what part geology plays in the character of a wine, and look at the twin influences of weather and aspect. 

"Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” So said Galileo Galilei. History does not record, but he may also have observed that it’s not only sunlight and water that are needed, but the—the terroir—that really seals the deal. That single French word encapsulates all the various words that English needs to describe this most important of concepts. In Burgundy, more so than other regions, the nature, character (and price) of the wine is dictated by the terroir, but importantly not always the quality of the wines, for various reasons some hidden gem wines drink better that the classification, this is our speciality area, bringing these wines to you. But there is no doubt that no other French wine-growing region can be said to rely on a vineyard's sense of place for so much of its reputation. Here, the soil plots vary from yard to yard, and each is affected by the weather and the sun in different ways. So when we talk about terroir, it’s of soil, weather, aspect (location and the way the sun falls on the vines), geology and local ecology, some would add even the winemakers themselves that we are speaking of. It’s also one of the best reasons to choose Burgundy. 

Without having to revisit any school science lessons, it is still worth taking a moment to understand just why Burgundy stands apart from other regions when it comes to terroir. At a basic level, the gifts that nature bestowed on this enchanting countryside are miracles in their own right, and that they come together here is most fortuitous. Limestone, (of which there are many sizes and different examples from the various ‘periods’ in geology) helps drainage and retains moisture in the summer, and gives wines with good acidity and a wonderful mineral character. The addition of  Clay helps to retain water, and can produce strong, muscular wines. Of course, the hand of the winemaker also hovers nearby, waiting to impart its own personality on the wines, in harmony with the natural processes and the soil. That’s the true genius of Burgundy wine. Experimentation is the way to really learn, and there’s no substitute for trying wines from a variety of terroir to discover your favorites. Here at Elden Selections, we work with producers who make wines from a diverse range of soil types throughout Burgundy. When you choose Burgundy, you get all of the following variations, and more: 

The terroir of Burgundy is complex, each village, each vineyard, every ‘lieu-dit’ displaying an individual expression. People spend their lives learning, drinking, obsessing about the terroir of Burgundy. It is a hard task to compress this into a few paragraphs but we will try!

In Chablis, you get a real sense of aspect – how the differently situated vines on the left and right banks of the slopes of the valley have their own characters. Left Bank wines have an almost severe minerality (much loved by the locals) whereas right bank Chablis is rounder, riper. For example, the Jean Dauvissat Père et Fils Chablis 1er Cru 'Côte de Lechet' is a model of Left Bank precision, razor sharp, with juicy, mouth-watering acidity. On the other hand, his 1er cru Fourchchaume is a classic Right Bank wine—round, mature fruit, crystalline purity, sweet, lemony acidity, and classic cool river-rock minerality. That famous minerality comes from remnants of oyster shells, especially prevalent in Chablis, because at one time the area would have been under the ocean. 

The Côte de Nuits is just over 12 miles long and around 300 yards in width is not big however is famed for its red wines, holding the most prized villages and vineyards in the world.  Produces the most complex and deep Pinot Noir, unmatched anywhere else. It is simply the benchmark ! The Côte de Nuits produces little white Burgundy although there are great examples coming from the Hautes Côtes de Nuits; the very best ones show an indication of the limestone escarpment that runs high in the soil. We have many Côte de Nuits wines available to you.

The Côte de Beaune is the region also has villages famed for its reds such as Pommard and Volnay, not discounting Grand Cru Corton. A diverse selection of different styles of Pinot Noir. The Côte de Beaune is also home for the world's very best Chardonnay with Grand Cru vineyards like Corton Charlemage, to Le Montrachet. Of course Burgundy wine is not just about these famous vineyards, the Grand Cru sits on the mid-slope however we should also consider the winemaker, the vintage and climate change. There is a saying that “quality is climbing the hill” this is where we are a valuable resource for you, finding the wines that are drinking above the AOC. All the other villages in the Côte de Beaune produce unique examples of chardonnay, explore with us to show you the hidden gems.  Check out the full range of Côte de Beaune wines.

Further south still comes the Côte Chalonnaise Here sits five villages The most northern, Bouzeron  is home to Burgundies second white grape, Aligoté. The most southern village in this region is Montagny, famed for its wonderful white premier cru vineyards. Please do not make the mistake of discounting the three remaining villages that sit in-between, Chardonnay from Rully, Givry and Mercurey is of wonderful quality and value. Our range from the Côte Chalonnaise.

Finally we come to the Mâconnais, which (due to its most southerly location in all of Burgundy), is responsible for some of the fullest, ripest Chardonnays that Burgundy has to offer. To retain elegance and acidity the best vineyards are higher on the slope surrounding the impressive rock escarpments that are prominent. These vineyards have now had the rare donor of being promoted from village level to premier cru ! Check out the wine of the Mâconnais.

Elden Selection’s Burgundy Wine Club also offers members the chance to find out more about the wines of Burgundy, sending four shipments per year. Members also receive invitations to member- only virtual events in the US; 2 specially selected wine glasses; tasting notes; and the chance to win a stay at the Burgundy manor house Domaine de Cromey.

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