White Burgundys - An introduction

The wide variety of white wines from Burgundy comes primarily from one grape: Chardonnay. Chardonnay adapts itself to the different soils and climates of the area to produce some of the finest white wines in the world.

In this guide to French Wines, we’re going to look at a handful of Burgundy whites. They are from different parts of the region and are sufficiently distinguishable from each other to give you a quick, but broad, knowledge base on the subject.

When you are looking for wines, do keep in mind that you will also see variations on the names. For example, when looking for Montrachet, you may also see Bâtard-Montrachet or Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru. These wines are from areas very near and associated with Montrachet. But they are in fact different than Montrachet, even if only by specific degrees. For purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the benchmarks. Starting with...

The only grape permitted in Chablis is Chardonnay, known locally as Beaunois. Chablis should be a pale yellow in color, sometimes with even a greenish tinge, but should never look too watery. The bouquet is decidedly flowery, but not heavy. Rather it should smell fresh and clean. In the mouth, Chablis is crisp and fruity, and it should have a solid finish. Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru are often preferred as superior examples of what Chablis should be.

These wines are often considered to be one of the finest examples of white Burgundy. They are rich and nutty, full-bodied, and extremely long-lived – 10 years or more from the vintage date. A well-aged Corton-Charlemagne should have a rich greenish gold color. The bouquet and palate of these wines is fruity, but with generous doses of almonds, cinnamon, honey, and oak.

If white Burgundy had a poster child, it would be Meursault. These are the prototypical white Burgundy wines. They are extraordinarily varied, but the good ones share a buttery, nutty, rich characteristic that is unmistakable. They should not be heavy-handed, however, and the finish should be dry and clean. As with Chablis, the Meursault Premier Cru wines are more reliably fine examples of the wine.

Montrachet is the pinnacle of white Burgundy. The soil (particularly high in limestone content) and climate conditions are unmatched and not replicated anywhere in the world. The bouquet is a Montrachet’s first telltale sign: floral. Intensely floral. On the mouth it is rich and full of finesse, very fruity, and with honey and almond notes. Yet for all its richness, the finish is clean and dry. Montrachet typically needs about five years in the bottle to reach its best maturity. These are pricey little numbers, so shop wisely; but a great Montrachet is heaven, pure and simple.

Mâcon Blanc (or Pinot-Chardonnay-Mâcon) and Mâcon-Village
Mâcon Blanc and Mâcon Village are Chardonnays, (with sometimes a bit of Pinot Blanc in the Mâcon Blancs), from the Mâconnais area of Burgundy. These wines are generally lighter, clean, fresh and fruity. Look for green apple and citrus notes with these wines. They should be drunk young, generally within two years of the vintage. These are great go-with-food wines, since they match nicely with just about all fish, poultry, hors d'oeuvres, etc. They are also easy-drinking on their own. Prices are generally low here, and you can often get great value for your money.

Crisp, refreshing, with plenty of tart apple, citrus, and an appealing grassy quality, this is a go-with-seafood wine if ever there was one. Fresh finish, if a bit short.

Pouilly-Fuissé is also from the Mâconnais, but generally considered to be the finer white wine from the area. They are extremely popular because of the balance between rich complexity on the one hand and youthful green freshness on the other. When you taste a properly aged Pouilly-Fuissé (generally three to five years), you will be aware of both elements. The bouquet is floral, though less so than a Montrachet. It’s the green wood, sappy, new, grassy (you get the idea) note that is the Pouilly-Fuissé signature.

Chablis is pale yellow in color, crisp and fruity in the mouth, with a firm finish.
Corton-Charlemagnes are typically rich and nutty Chardonnays with honeyed and/or spicy notes.
Meursaults are rich and buttery, but with a dry clean finish.
Montrachets have a floral bouquet that gives way to a fruity sophisticated palate that is usually nutty and rich. Finish clean.
Mâcon Blancs typically have a citrusy, crispness balanced young, fresh fruit notes. These are great go-with-food and drink young wines.
Pouilly-Fuissés balance rich complexity with youthful green freshness and often have a floral bouquet.

There is a wide range of prices available, and you should be able to find something that fits your budget. Cheers!