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Burgundy farmers have been growing grapes since Roman times, and Burgundy’s wines are some of the most renowned in the world. In recent years, though, Burgundy’s vineyards, and those in other regions of France, have suffered due to competition from the southern hemisphere. However, because of stringent legal restrictions banning watering and other interference, French wines, more than others, remain a faithful reflection of the terroir where they are produced, and Burgundy experts remain confident that the climate and soil of their region will fight off any temporary economic challenges.
Burgundy’s best wines come from a narrow strip of hillside called the Côte d’Or that runs southwest from Dijon to Santenay, and is divided into two regions, Côte de Nuits (the better reds) and Côte de Beaune (the better whites). High-quality wine is certainly produced further south as well though, in the Mâconnais and on the Côtes Chalonnaises. Reds from the region are made almost exclusively from the Pinot Noir grape, while whites are largely from Chardonnay. Fans of bubbly should look out for the often highly regarded sparkling whites, which crop up across the region and won’t set you back half as much as a bottle of Champagne.
The single most important factor determining the “character” of wines is the soil. In both the Côte d’Or and Chablis, its character varies over very short distances, making for an enormous variety of taste. Chalky soil makes a wine drier and more acidic – while clay brings more fruitiness and body to it.
For an apéritif in Burgundy, you should try kir, named after the man who was both mayor and MP for Dijon for many years after World War II – two parts dry white wine, traditionally aligoté, and one part cassis. To round the evening off there are many liqueurs to choose from, but Burgundy is particularly famous for its marcs, of which the best are matured for years in oak casks.
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