Chardonnay is the most popular white wine grape in the world as well as one of the very best quality white grapes in the world. It is grown in every wine producing country and makes fine wine in most of them. Chardonnay can be a “winemaker’s grape” in that it can provides a blank canvas for the wine maker to show his style. The natural fruit flavors in Chardonnay range from lemon and lime to peach, apricot, and apple and on to tropical flavors such as pineapple and banana. Chardonnay can show the vanilla and toast of oak barrels, the creaminess of malo-lactic fermentation, and the butter of barrel fermentation as well as the soil, exposure, and climate of its vineyard.
Chardonnay is the fine white grape of the Côte d’Or. While Chardonnay produces great white wine all over the world, only rarely does it elsewhere reach the heights it achieves in the Côte d’Or. At its best, white Burgundy has enough concentrated fruit to support the chalky, limestone earthiness lent by the vineyards and the toasty, buttery, vanillan oak flavors from the barrels in which it is fermented and aged. From the grand crus and the top premier crus, Côte d’Or Chardonnay can be as good as dry white wine gets.
Pinot Blanc is a white wine producing mutation of Pinot Noir. Pinot Blanc is sometimes blended with Chardonnay. In Savigny les Beaune, an undetermined amount of Pinot Blanc is planted in with Chardonnay and often is mistaken as Chardonnay.
Aligoté is the grape responsible for the thin, tart country wine of the greater Burgundy area. It is not allowed in the top vineyards. Aligoté wines are seldom available for sale in the US. Aligoté’s chief claim to fame is as a base wine for the Kir. The Kir was named for a local figure who mixed Creme de Cassis with his very tart Aligoté to make it more palatable.
Pinot Noir is among the most difficult grapes in the world to grow and make into fine wine. It is slow to ripen and, when over ripe, quickly loses its acidity. Pinot Noir often lacks both color and tannin. It mutates easily and there are hundreds of clones in a broad range of different qualities. In Burgundy, Pinot Noir is at its best and worst, which ranges from powerful, ethereal wines with tremendous depth of flavor and delicate perfume all at once to hard, closed wines lacking fruit, color, delicacy, and charm. Top Pinot Noir wines can be at once delicate and powerful; lesser examples have been called thin and even anorexic.
The aromas of Pinot Noir from Burgundy range from violets, spices, and cherries and red berries to cola, coffee grounds, truffles, mushrooms, rich earth, tar, and the notorious barnyard; the best wines somehow balance components from both lists. In a very few vineyards, Pinot Noir is planted with its white and pink mutations, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. In some instances (such as Corton) a small amount of these grapes get into the vat with Pinot Noir.
There is a small amount of Gamay grown on the Cote d’Or (mostly in the Cote de Nuits) but it only goes into blends called Bourgogne-Passe-Tout-Grains or “Burgundy from two Grapes”.