Serving Red and White Burgundy Wines

Burgundy is a complex region that encompasses four distinct wine districts. Although the four Burgundy districts grow essentially the same red and white grape varieties, the wines of each district are unique in how they taste, and how they are best served. From north to south, the main Burgundy wine districts are Chablis, Côte d’Or, Côte Chalonnaise, and Mâconnais.

Serving red Burgundy wines

Unlike red Bordeaux, red Burgundy from the Côte d’Or district can be consumed when it’s relatively young, after five or six years. The reason is that the Pinot Noir grape contains far less tannin than Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot — Bordeaux’s grape varieties — and this makes red Burgundy approachable in its youth.

On the other hand, red Côte d’Or Burgundies from good producers in good vintages are easily capable of aging for 20 years or more, when stored in a cool place. (Red Burgundy is especially vulnerable to heat.) Red Burgundies from the Côte Chalonnaise district should generally be consumed within 10 to 12 years, however.

Serve your red Burgundies slightly cool — about 60° to 62°F (17°C) in a fine, wide-bowled glass. Do not decant red Burgundies; pour them straight from the bottle. Too much aeration causes you to lose some of your wine’s wonderful aromas — one of its greatest qualities. Recent good red Burgundy vintages include the 1997, 1996 (especially), 1995, and 1990.

Enjoying white Burgundy wines

White Côte d’Or Burgundies are among the most long-lived white wines in the world. In good vintages, the best white Burgundies, such as Corton-Charlemagne or a grand cru Montrachet, can age for 20 years or more. Unlike red Burgundies, the better whites need time, often 10 years or more, to really develop and open up. You should decant your serious white Burgundies; they truly benefit from the extra aeration.

Here are some recommendations for best drinkability periods for other white Burgundies:

  • Grand Cru Chablis is at its best after about eight to ten years of aging, and can live for at least another five years or more after that.

  • Premier Cru Chablis needs at least five or six years of aging to develop, and will still be fine for drinking for another seven or eight years.

  • Côte Chalonnaise white Burgundies, such as Rully Blanc, can be consumed in their youth, but should last for up to ten years.

  • All Mâconnais wines are best in their youth; the better Pouilly-Fuissés, however, can age for eight to ten years — although they don’t necessarily improve with age.

Serve fine white Burgundies slightly cooler than red — about 55° to 58°F (13 to 15°C) in a wide-bowled glass. You can’t appreciate their wonderful, complex flavors when they are too cold. Recent good white Burgundy vintages include the 1999, 1997, 1996 (especially), 1995, 1992, 1989, and 1986. The wines of 1992, 1989 and 1986 are completely developed and ready to drink.

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