Two things about Burgundy:
- All of the vineyards in Burgundy have been named
- All have been classified according to the quality of fruit they are capable of producing.
From top to bottom the quality classifications are:
- Grand Cru – Specific single vineyards of the highest classification. Only 1% of production. You’ll know you’re looking at a “Grand Cru” if it is written on the label in addition to the specific vineyard where the fruit came from.
- Premier Cru – Specific single vineyards. Combined with Village wines making 48% of production. You’ll know you’re looking at a “Premier Cru” or “1er Cru” if it’s written on the label in addition to the specific vineyard where the fruit came from.
- Village – Fruit from a specific sub-region ie the village of Puligny-Montrachet that is better than Bourgogne standard, but, not good enough to be classified Premier Cru. Village wine will generally only have the name of the Village written on the label. Some times they will have a vineyard name on the label if there is something special about the particular vineyard the fruit is sourced from.
- Bourgogne – Fruit from anywhere in Burgundy. 51% of production. Bourgogne wine will have just Bourgogne written on the label and in a shift from tradition to aid export markets sometimes the variety, Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. They will never have a specific vineyard name on them.
The best bit of Burgundy is a thin strip running from North to South around 50km in length, to the South East of Paris
It’s split into three main regions, within each of these regions there are villages which have specific single vineyards planted in them to the varieties red varieties: Pinot Noir and Gamay, and the white varieties: Chardonnay and Aligoté, a lesser variety that produces some fun wines at more affordable prices.
The three main regions in the strip South of Dijon are:
- Côte D’Or – meaning the Golden Slope, derived from it’s original name, Côte d’Orient, East Slope, within which rest:
- Côte-de-Nuits – South of the city of Dijon and North of the town of Beaune famous for it’s Pinot Noir. The best known villages are: Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St-Denis, Chambolle-Musigny, Nuits-St-Georges and Vosne-Romanée. 5% of Burgundy production including Chablis.
- Côte-du-Beaune – The area around and South of Beaune famous for Chardonnay including the 5 Grand Cru vineyards and many very good Pinot producing vineyards. The best known villages are: Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet, Mersault, Volnay, Pommard and Saint Aubin. 10% of production including Chablis.
- Côte-Chalonaise – Mixing more affordable Chardonnay and Pinot that can be of excellent quality. The villages of Rully, Mercurey and Givry producing their best wines.
- Mâconnaise – The least regarded of the main regions, still capable of producing some very good wines.
In addition to these the two regions of Beaujolais, mostly producing Gamay, (at the South end of the Dijon Strip) and Chablis, mostly producing Chardonnay (between the southern part of Champagne and Dijon) are part of the Bourgogne wine region.
The trick is getting to know your producers and the villages they have plantings in, and, the specific vineyards they hold within these villages.
The single vineyards are known as “Climat” sometimes the single vineyards are surrounds by walls and the “Climat” is called a “Clos”, walled vineyard. Within a single vineyard there are often “Lieux-dits”, these are parts of the single vineyard that have a specific topography or historical nature.
Let’s drill down with an example going down to the single vineyard level.
Main Sub-Region: Côte D’Or
Minor Sub-Region: Côte-des-Nuits
Village: Gevrey-Chambertin (3 down on the right from the top) on the map above.
Single Vineyard: Chambertin, The best known Grand Cru vineyard. You can see where it is in the village of Gevrey-Chambertin in the map below, purple section.
Number of Owners: Last time I looked there were around 23 owners of part of the Chambertin vineyardjust as many négoce wines (wines made with fruit purchased from vineyard owners).
Number of Wines Made: and Labelled “Chambertin Grand Cru”. Around 40 with a dozen producers doing a good job. Wine is produced from vineyards owned or leased by producers or from purchased fruit. This is where you really need to get to know your vineyards and producers! Frances hereditary tittle laws have seen lands vineyards split between siblings to the point where some hold so few vines of a plot they can not even make a single barrel of wine from it. These usually end up being sold or leased.
What does all this mean?
To understand Burgundy you need to know a few key things.
Where the fruit comes from? If it’s classified “Village” or “Premier Cru” is it a good village or lesser one for that variety? If it’s classified “Bourgogne” where does the fruit come from? Philippe Chavy’s Bourgogne entry level Chardonnay is made using fruit sourced from Puligny-Montrachet, 90%, and Mersault 10%. Basically, it comes from two of the best villages for Chardonnay in Burgundy. Yet, it is still classified Bourgogne as would be a Chardonnay of this classification from a lesser village.
Which are the best vineyards? If it’s a Grand Cru vineyard it’s been identified as one of the best. After that, it’s great to look for Premier Cru vineyards that sit right next to a Grand Cru. The Premier Cru Chardonnay vineyard “Les Pucelles” in Puligny-Montrachet is right next to the two Grand Crus Bâtard-Montrachet and Bienvenue-Bâtard-Montrachet. Then the Village Vineyards right next to a Grand Cru or Premier Cru vineyard. There are also some well-known Premier Cru vineyards, such as Les Amoureuses in the village of Chambolle-Musigny and Clos Saint-Jacques in the village of Gevrey-Chambertin and Les Grandes Ruchottes in Chassagne-Montrachet that consistently perform at close to Grand Cru levels. So close, that Burgundians, unofficially give them that status, and, the price of the wines reflect it.
Which are the best producers? A matter of experience. The challenge is the vineyard rating is indicative of the “potential” of the vineyard only. A bad operator will take a Grand Cru vineyard and turn it into pretty ordinary Pinot or Chardonnay. A good operator can take a decent vineyard classified as Bourgogne or Village and make something that deserves to be further up the classification.
If all else fails … Ask us at WINE DECODED! It just takes a lot of time and a lot of drinking.
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