A dizzying patchwork of terroirs.
The spiritual home of Pinot Noir & Chardonnay consists of 100 different appellations, myriad individual vineyards and over 3,000 producers. There are several sub-regions: To the north, Chablis (which has its own classification system); the Côte d'Or, encompassing the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune; and further south, the Chalonnais and Mâconnais in the Saone-et-Loire.
In contrast to the "Old Money" feel and prestige of Bordeaux, Burgundy central remains largely grounded in rusticity. Unlike Bordeaux, vineyards can be split between many owners, with some tending no more than one or two rows of vines. While such grower/producers may seem like ‘peasant farmers’, appearances belie the affluence of many: When demand for Burgundy began to sky rocket in the 1970s, so did the prices of many of its finest wines.
Burgundy's appellation pyramid.
Moreso than any other French wine region, Burgundy's viticulturists do not consider vineyards as homogenous places and experts and Burg-hounds alike get tangled up in the complicated web of classifications. The influence of terroir reaches its zenith with “climats” within specific sites. These are precisely delineated plots that benefit from special geological and climatic conditions, producing consistently outstanding wines.
At the top of the pyramid are the 33 sites classified Grand Cru
- a designation reserved for only about 2 percent of all vineyards in Burgundy. Romanée Conti, La Tâche, Grands-Echézeaux, Montrachet: these are the big guns that command staggering prices and are prized by collectors and fanatics as the Holy Grail of the wine world. They are typically the most powerful, complex and long lived expressions, showcasing the unique characteristics of the most exceptional plots. Their labels reference single sites such as Corton, Montrachet, Romanée Saint-Vivant or Clos de Tart.
One step down are the Premier Cru
vineyards - specific plots within the Village appellations. Still considered to be of outstanding quality and comprising roughly 12 percent of plantings, these are labelled with the suffix “1er Cru”, as in "Vosne Romanée 1er Cru" and are the best terroirs or climats within a village vineyard. Lieux-dits are also plots recognised for their own topographic or historical specificities.
Next come the Village wines
, taking their names from the 44 communes where the grapes are grown. Their source is indicated on the labels, such as “Savigny-Les-Beaune”, Santenay,” “Givry,” “Pommard” or “Mercurey". Representing approximately 37 percent of Burgundy's vineyards, their occasional proximity to more prestigious sites means you can discover bang for your buck in this classification. They promise flavoursome wines for mid term cellaring.
Finally, Regional wines
equate to entry level Burgundy: Labelled simply as “Bourgogne”
, they're created from a combination of vineyards and / or from a variety of villages and represent half of Burgundy's production. Typically fresh, light, and lively, these are easy-drinking wines for early consumption.
Buy Burgundy online.
Négociants have traditionally been the cornerstone of Burgundy, buying up fruit from small growers and assembling wines to be sold under their own labels. More recently, the demand for Domaine-bottled Burgundy from one grower-winemaker has also emerged. These are wines made by a vine-grower who also happens to be a competent-to-great winemaker. However, it should be noted that negociants may also own their own vineyard sites. Whatever you choose, when it comes to buying Burgundy, the truism that price is an unreliable guide