But to truly understand the importance of terroir you need to appreciate the essential role it plays in imbuing the wines of Burgundy with their unique and special qualities.

Burgundy is the northern most area in Europe to produce great red wine, and a region associated with some of the finest and most expensive wines in the world. It is also the domain of the small vineyard holder. The average holding is around 6 hectares (15 acres) , and the fragmentation of estates is greatest in the region’s heart, the Côte d’Or. Burgundy also has the most complex appellation system in France, with nearly 100 different appellations spread across a 300 kilometres long region that stretches from the northernmost vineyards of Chablis to the Mediterranean influenced vineyards of the southernmost point of Beaujolais.

In Burgundy the soil and climate have an enormous influence on the style and quality of the wine. In the Côte d’Or, for example, the soil is so diverse that even neighbouring vineyards have different soil characteristics.

The Côte d’Or lies along an irregular hillside which starts just south of Dijon and stretches 50 kms in a southwesterly direction to Satenay. The best vineyards are situated on the east facing slopes to catch the morning sun. They are sheltered from the westerly rain bearing winds by a wooded escarpment that runs above the vineyards. Here the most prized soils are a mix of marlstone and scree over a calcium-rich limestone. Together with vineyard practices that favour small crops, old vines, peak ripeness picking and rigorous sorting practices, the best ‘Grand Cru’ vineyards produce complex, elegant wines with a velvety texture and an incredible depth of flavour.

Tomorrow: A look at some of the best wines of the Côte d’Or.

Photo: Link Paris