In Food + Drink

Bordeaux Vs. Burgundy: Battle Of The Exquisite French Wines

When it comes to French wine, Bordeaux and Burgundy are the cream of the crop. These two French regions are known for their top-quality bottles, many of which fetch some pretty hefty price tags – and rightfully so.

The insanely talented producers and distinct terroirs (don’t worry, we’ll get to that in a second) of these two regions make them home to some of viticulture’s best talents and top growing sites.

So what are the main differences between these two fine wine greats? Believe it or not, aside from being French, these areas don’t actually have much in common at all.

Image: Jeff Siepman / Unsplash

We’re breaking down the differences between Bordeaux and Burgundy once and for all through our handy explainer, here – because nothing screams ‘savvy drinker’ like knowing what’s in your glass.

Burgundy

Location: Eastern France

Grape varieties: White – Chardonnay & Aligoté (minimally); Red – Pinot Noir

Regional breakdown (Appellations): Burgundy is broken down into five major regions: Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise, and Mâconnais. (The Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune are often collectively referred to as the ‘Côte d’Or.’) Each of these five regions are extremely diverse, marked by various microclimates and climate conditions.

Burgundy is often referred to as the birthplace of the concept of terroir, meaning that soil types, weather patterns, and geographical conditions are so distinct, that two rows of vines within the same vineyard can create two completely different wines. This also makes Burgundy home to the concept of lieu-dit (site-specific) bottlings, which means bottles are crafted from individual vineyard plots for the sake of showcasing regional characteristics. There are 100 appellations in Burgundy and they are broken down into four categories: Bourgogne, Village, Premier Cru, and Grand Cru.

Image: Matthieu Joannon / Unsplash

Terroir: Burgundy is located from Auxerre (north) to Mâcon (south). The region is known for its combination of steep slopes and flat plains, dotted with countless small villages in between. Burgundy has a continental climate, which is characterised by chilly winters and hot summers. Rain, hail, and frost all pose potential threats and are very unpredictable within the region. The region is also known for its limestone-rich soils, which fosters healthy and high-quality fruit.

Tasting notes: White wines from Burgundy’s northernmost region of Chablis are known for their flavours of citrus, lemon, and gunflint, marked by high amounts of thirst-quenching acidity. Dry White Burgundy from the Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise, and the Mâconnais, are known for their flavours of lemon, apple, citrus, grilled nuts, and wet stones. Dry Red Burgundy is known for showing flavours of cherry, red berries, wet earth, mushrooms, tobacco, and flowers.

Top producers: Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC), Domaine Roulot, Domaine Leflaive, Domaine Dujac, Domaine Coche-Dury, Domaine Bachelet, Domaine des Comtes Lafon, Domaine Roumier

Bordeaux

Location: Southwestern France

Grape varieties: White – Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Sauvignon Gris, & Muscadelle ; Red – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Carmenere

Regional breakdown (Appellations): Bordeaux is broken down into three major regions: Left Bank, Right Bank, and Entre-deux-Mers. The Left Bank of Bordeaux is situated on the left side of the region’s two major rivers and is home to the cities of Bordeaux, Graves, and Médoc, as well as the region’s five ‘First-Growth’ wineries. These wines are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon.

Bordeaux’s Right Bank is found on the right side of the region’s two major rivers and is home to the cities of Libourne and Saint-Emilion. These wines are Merlot dominant. Entre-Deux-Mers (‘Between Two Seas’) comprises the area located between the Dordogne and Garonne rivers. Unlike Burgundy’s ‘Cru’ system, Bordeaux’s top wines are classified by ‘growth.’ After that, they are broken down into the Graves, Saint-Emilion, and Crus Bourgeois du Médoc systems.

Image: Marcel Gross / Unsplash

Terroir: Bordeaux is highly influenced by its proximity to water, which includes the Gironde estuary/tributaries, the Garonne and Dordogne rivers, and the Atlantic ocean. The region’s oceanic climate is warmer and more humid than that of Burgundy, which makes it conducive to growing different grape varieties other than Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Bordeaux is the largest AOC vineyard of France, which is due to its great diversity of high-quality terroirs and the passionate winemakers behind Bordeaux wines. It’s always been an innovative region, which you can see today with the measures we take with keeping Bordeaux vineyards sustainable.

This results in a broad range of wines, such as contemporary, fruit-forward reds diverse white wines, that go far beyond the classic Bordeaux style and reach the needs of modern wine drinkers.” – Bernard Farges, President of the Bordeaux Wine Council

Soils on Bordeaux’s Left Bank are gravelly, whereas the Right Bank’s soils are more clay-dominant. The region’s high humidity is also conducive to the growth of botrytis cinerea, also known as ‘noble rot.’ This highly desirable fungus dehydrates white grapes in Sauternes and Barsac, leading to concentrated grapes with soaring sugar levels, which create some of the world’s most highly sought-after dessert wines.

Tasting notes: Dry white wines from Bordeaux are characterised by their high acidity and zesty, citrus-driven notes. Dry red wines from Bordeaux’s Left Bank (Cabernet Sauvignon dominant) are full-bodied and powerful, marked by notes of red and dark fruit, cedar, mint, and earth. These wines tend to have more backbone and more prominent tannins than wines from the Right Bank, making them extremely ageworthy. Dry red wines from Bordeaux’s Right Bank (Merlot dominant) tend to be silkier, smoother, and more fruit-forward, as well as more approachable in their youth. Sweet wines from Bordeaux (Sauternes, Barsac) are exquisitely rich and palate-coating, marked by notes of peaches, apricots, and honey.

Top producers: Château Margaux, Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château Haut-Brion, Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Cheval Blanc, Château d’Yquem, Château Ducru Beaucaillou

(Lead image: Pexels and Timur Saglambilek / Pexels)

Published 22 October, 2019