Buzz: Hey, Marnie. My brother claims there's a wine called white burgundy. How could something be white and burgundy?
Marnie: We may think of burgundy as a color, Buzz, but it's really the name of a place. Burgundy is a region of northern France famous for its red wines. We have come to use the name for a deep, winelike red color.
Buzz: Even though the wine is white?
Marnie: Wines made in the Burgundy region are called burgundies, since the Europeans name their wines after places, and this applies to both the red and white wines made there.
Buzz: Now I'm really confused. I buy "Hearty Burgundy" by the jug and it's from California.
Marnie: Well, cheap bulk wines used to be able to borrow the names of more famous wines for marketing reasons, like Burgundy and Chablis. The rules have changed now, but some are still grandfathered in. Still, if a wine isn't French, it's not an authentic Burgundy.
Buzz: OK, so how do they make Burgundy turn white?
Marnie: Burgundy is home to two of the world's most famous wine grapes - pinot noir and chardonnay - both of which make world-class wines and are now planted around the world. Red burgundies are made with pinot noir, by definition and by law, while white burgundies are made with chardonnay.
But they don't always say "Burgundy" in big letters on the label. The modest wines often say "Bourgogne," which is the region's name in French. The better wines are more often named for subregions like Chablis, or famous towns like Meursault.
Buzz: Wouldn't it be simpler to just call the whites "Whurgundy" and be done with it?
Marnie: Simpler, yes. But that would make it hard to tell the difference between different styles. White burgundies may always be French chardonnay, but they can be light-bodied or full-bodied, unoaked or barrel fermented.
There are hundreds of white Burgundy appellations, some as small as a single vineyard, each with its own unique qualities.
Buzz: Alcohol is so confusing. I still don't understand how a martini can be dry when it's wet.