Flatiron’s Guide to Burgundy’s Rosé Wines: Bourgogne Rosé in a Nutshell
Rosés made in Burgundy are delicious and distinct wines, but also very rare compared to white and red Burgundy wines.
What makes it so good? Why is it so relatively rare? How do I find great examples of Bourgogne Rosé? These are just three of the questions we’ll try to answer in this post.
What is Burgundy Rosé (aka “Bourgogne Rosé”)?
Bourgogne rosés are wines made from (mostly) red grapes. Winemakers develop their beautiful pink colors by leaving the grapes’ juice -- which is clear -- in contact with the grape skins -- which are full of pigment -- for just long enough to pick up a little color and some flavor… but never enough time to make a wine that looks, feels or tastes like a full-on red wine. (For more on how rosés are made, see our Rosé FAQ).
Bourgogne (we’ll mostly use the French word for Burgundy in this post) makes amazing rosés that range from the deliciously easy-drinking up to the very serious, complex and even age-worthy. There is also amazing sparkling rosé, Crémant de Bourgogne Rosé. But we’ll be doing a focused post on Crémant de Bourgogne so we won’t discuss bubbly Rosé much here.
Most pink Burgundy is made with Pinot Noir grapes, though Gamay is also permitted and there are some Bourgogne Rosés made exclusively from Gamay (in fact, if you see a rose with Mâcon and and another geographical denomination on the label the wine must be 100% Gamay). In very rare cases you will find white grapes like Pinot Gris (known as Pinot Beurot in Burgundy), Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc in a rosé (at least in part to help manage the wines’ color). In the northern “Grand Auxerrois” region, the ancient César grape gets to play a supporting role, adding some depth and structure.
Rosé can be made almost anywhere in Burgundy that grows red grapes, although the rules about what you can call the wine are pretty strict. In fact, there is only one village appellation that is allowed to put its name on a bottle of rosé: Marsannay Rosé. It’s a very special wine and, in a sense, there is Marsannay Rosé and then there is the rest.
Is Bourgogne Rosé good? Why do I only hear about red and white Bourgogne?
Bourgogne rosés are great!
Bourgogne is much better-known, of course, for its white Chardonnay-based wines and it’s red Pinot Noir wines than its rosés. But just as Pinot Noir can make wildly expressive red wines when grown in Bourgogne’s varied terroirs, so too can it make amazing rosés.
To see how distinctive and delightful burgundian rosés can be you don’t have to look any farther than Marsannay Rosé.
Marsannay Rosé is not surprisingly, a rosé made in the area around the village of Marsannay. It’s almost exclusively from Pinot Noir, and different growers, with vines planted in different terroirs, make very different wines. Some growers make light, easy-going rosés in Marsannay. But the region has become famous for making some of the most profound rosés in the world. These are wines that take a little longer to make (more on this, below) and actually get better with a little more time in bottle.
Marsannay Rosés are also exquisite with food. Because they are low in tannin, they pair beautifully with fish dishes that call for bright red-fruited flavors, like, say, monkfish braised in tomatoes.
But many also have surprising umami notes and are very complementary to sushi and other dishes with soy or earthy flavors. Finally, they have the acidity and structure to stand up to fowl and even to lighter meats like pork and veal.
So, if Burgundian Rosé is so good, why haven’t I heard about it?
Historically, most Bourgogne wine was either red or white. There is some tradition of pink wines at the margins. Volnay, for instance, used to make a wine called “l'Oeil de Perdrix,” or “the partridge’s eye” -- a reference to the dark pink color of the wine. But these were the exception, not the rule.
Why wasn’t there more pink wine?
It isn’t entirely clear, but we can say a few things for certain. Unlike Provence, for instance, the continental climate in Bourgogne doesn’t cry out for rosé in the same way.
Also, the twin traditions of top-flight red and white wines also work perfectly with the local cuisines, leaving no call for an in-between rosé. Perhaps that’s why it never became a big part of the culture.
The economics would seem to have militated against it too. For a long time rosés were looked down on as a lesser kind of wine than red and white -- and they commanded universally lower prices than Burgundy’s illustrious reds and whites.
Why would a producer experiment with a rosé that will sell for less than a red he could make from the same grapes -- if it sells at all?
The history of Marsannay supports the economic theory.
Today, Marsannay Rosé is recognized as one of the great and unique wines of Bourgogne. But the wine only dates to 1919. At the time, Marsannay was less famous and sought after than neighboring villages. So when Joseph Clair returned from the war unsure how to sell all his family’s wine, he decided to try something new: making a light, pink wine from some of his Marsannay fruit.
The wine became a hit locally, and then nationally, and when Marsannay was granted appellation status it became an international star as well as the only village permitted to label its rosé with the village name. To this day, all the other rosé in Burgundy is labeled as a regional wine, either Bourgogne or Macon!
What about Bourgogne Rosés that aren’t from Marsannay?
As we said, Bourgogne Rosé can come from all over Bourgogne. There are some rosés from the very northern Grand Auxerrois, the area best-known for giving us Chablis.
These are decidedly cool-climate wines. Pinot Noir up there can struggle to ripen in some vintages and the wines always have plenty of acid. The ancient “Cesar” grape is permitted to add a little backbone.
The wines aren’t made to be cellared like Marsannay; they are delicious on release and while a year or two may improve some of them, for the most part you want to drink them young.
However, when made with a light touch, Bourgogne Rosés from the Grand Auxerrois are pure and lovely and have an airy openness with steely, mineral underpinnings. They are good for drinking in the sun but great for pairing with light foods like salads, light chicken dishes and seafood. We don’t see too many of these wines in America, but some top importers bring us a few.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, we find the occasional Macon Rosé from Burgundy’s southern extreme, the Maconnais. These wines tend to be a little more rounded and directly fruit-forward than either the focussed wines of the far north or the deeper wines of Marsannay. There are, of course, a variety of terroirs, from the intensely limestone to sandstone and rich clay, so there are also a variety of expressions of the wine.
But for the most part these are highly accessible, fun and juicy wines made for early drinking (not cellaring).
In between the northern and southern extremes there is a wonderful variety of fun and different wines. There are growers who make deep, coppery-colored rosé from Pinot Gris (the “gray” Pinot actually has enough pigment in its skin to give its wines a little tone).
There are also plenty of examples of the lighter, more-easy going style. One very fun such wine is Louis Jadot’s Coteaux Bourguignons Rosé. It’s a rare example of a 100% Gamay rosé from Bourgogne and it’s fresh, fun, juicy and super-affordable.
It shouldn’t come as a complete shock to any Burgundy lovers that Bourgogne Rosés are varied and delicious wines.
Pinot Noir is, after all, known for making fresh, tasty and relatively low tannin wines that reflect their terroir magically. Of course it would do the same thing when made into a pink wine by a judicious hand. Furthermore, some of the best rosés in regions like the Loire Valley, are Pinot-based, like the absolute classic Sancerre Rosé
How to buy Bourgogne Rosé
You don’t come across a ton of rosés from Burgundy in American wine shops or restaurants. So, when you’re lucky enough to see one, you shouldn’t be afraid to try it!
By now, we’ve talked a bit about Marsannay Rosé, so you know that if you see that name on a label you can expect a more substantial rosé. It will be great with food and that could develop with a few years in the bottle.
And if you see a Crémant de Bourgogne Rosé, you’ll be able to guess right away that it’s a sparkling wine from Bourgogne. We have a whole post devoted to Cremant de Bourgogne coming soon, but suffice to say in the meantime that these are some of the greatest values in sparkling rosé out there and you should try any bottle recommended by a trusted merchant or restaurant.
But what if you see a rosé that says simply “Bourgogne Rosé”? Or “Macon Rosé”? Or “Coteaux Bourguignon Rosé”?
What does that all that mean and should you try the bottle?
The label means, quite simply, that the rosé comes from the named region. You can learn a bit more about decoding Bourgogne labels in this dedicated post.
And knowing the region it comes from might tell you a fair bit about the wine. For instance, Macon Rosé will come from the Macconais in the southern end of Bourgogne. Even if you know nothing else, you’ll be able to guess that the grapes got enough sun to ripen well and that the wine ought to have yummy fruit.
And if you’ve read this post and retained it all, you’ll remember that the wine was made from Gamay, not Pinot Noir
But "Coteaux Bourgogne'' can appear on wines that come from many different areas, with varying soil types and micro-climates -- with very different terrior.
The grapes could have grown in any of a number of different soil types, subjected to a variety of microclimates. Even the grapes can be varied, from Gamay and Pinot Noir to that rarely-seen César.
So what should you do?
Well, if you are at a trusted wine store or restaurant the best thing to do, as always, is to ask! Somms, waiters, and retailers will gladly tell you why they like the wine and how to pair it for your occasion.
But if you don’t have someone to ask right away, one thing you know for sure is that the wine comes from Bourgogne (it is a true “Burgundy”) and is reflective of at least one aspect of its terroir and traditions. It will have been made to be drunk relatively young and lightly chilled. It should be fruity and accessible, though the exact profile will depend on the details of provenance.
So it’s best to look at these bottles as a journey of discovery! If you’re feeling adventurous and ready to try something new from one of the world’s greatest wine regions -- at a good price -- you should go for it!
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