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06. The geography of Burgundy

franceOn a macro level, the region of Burgundy is roughly central on a map of France (top to bottom) and to the right-hand side – let’s say at 3 o’clock. The orange area on the map is the ‘département’ of Bourgogne, for which you could variously read; state, Canton or County. The département’ of Bourgogne is further split into four sub-regions: Clockwise they are the Yonne (whose cars wear a license-plate ending with 89), the Côte d’Or (21), Saône et Loire (71), Nièvre (58).

bourg_departmentsFrom a wine-producing perspective, the core of the region i.e. that area that people traditionally think of when confronted by the word (or bottle of!) Burgundy, is the Côte d’Or – 30 miles of (roughly) east, south-east facing hillside that was formed at the same time as the Vosges. This is the area that I will concentrate on, but there are some very important ‘satellites’ of vines that you will know from this text, so a word about them first:

Chablis

Chablis is white burgundy, but from the the Yonne! Despite using the same chardonnay grape raw material, the wines are of a very different style to the more opulent liquors of the Côte d’Or. With it’s pure, mouth-watering acidity and intense minerality a good Chablis can cut your palate like a knife – it is a refreshing and sometimes exhilarating drink.

Chablis is truly ‘arms length burgundy’, positioned some 60 miles north of Beaune – the spiritual center of all things Burgundian. ‘Chablis’ the wine region sits just north-east of the town of Auxerre, and includes not just the village of Chablis but also 19 surrounding villages and hamlets and their vines. There is almost a 30 mile ‘exclusion zone’ where no vines are planted between Dijon (to the south) and first vineyards of Chablis. Chablis itself is a surprisingly small and unpresumptuous town for such a world-renowned ‘name/brand’ – only around 2,500 people live there – it lacks the grandeur and partly medieval charm of Beaune.

Côtes d’Auxerre and the Côte de Dijon

For occasional land-bridges between Chablis and the Côte d’Or. I never yet visited, neither do I remember many bottles from the region – so it’s probably better that somebody else describes the area to you.

The Côte d’Or

The Côte d’Or – or Golden Slope – starts a fraction south of Dijon with the town and vines of Marsannay, it ends with the village of Santenay roughly 40 miles to the south, in fact Santenay marks the end of the Côte d’Or département. Golden in both history and aspect; the Côte is not just oriented towards the golden daytime sun, the wines and grapes of this place have been exchanged for real gold for over 1,000 years.

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