I am a big collector of both red and white Burgundy. I find the wines to be very feminine and elegant in style and simply delicious to drink. Since there are only two grapes in Burgundy, Pinot Noir for red and Chardonnay for white, it would seem that the region would be simple to understand. Unfortunately that is not the case. The various plots of vineyards and their location (the terroir) make an enormous difference, both in the quality of the wine and its price. A matter of a few feet in a vineyard can make a huge difference in both. Along with grape selection, they also determine which of the four possible classifications the wine falls into.
The top appellation in Burgundy is Grand Cru. These vineyards were established and documented by monks centuries ago, and formally recognized in 1861. The combinations of soil, exposure, rain, wind and sun provide exceptional terroir. Only 33 vineyards in Burgundy have this designation. 32 of these vineyards are located in the Cote d’Or, the remaining Grand Cru vineyard is found in Chablis. Of these prestigious vineyards, 24 grow Pinot Noir grapes, and 9 grow Chardonnay grapes.
Grand Cru wines produced by these grapes account for less than 2% of the wine production from Burgundy each year, making these wines rare, highly sought after, and expensive. Only the name of the vineyard appears on a bottle of Grand Cru wine. Grand Cru wines command the highest market price. Rarely will you find a Grand Cru Burgundy for less than 3 figures, and in exceptional vintages 4 figures is quite common.
The Premier Cru appellation identifies single vineyards that have terroirs with the potential for exceptional wines. These vineyards were also established and documented by the monks who, for centuries, made wine from the grapes grown in them. They were officially designed as such in 1935 when the present day AOC system was created.
Widely misunderstood as a measure of quality, the AOC laws are really a guarantee of authenticity. In other words, they ensure that the wine in the bottle actually comes from the place stated on the label, and adheres to a set of winemaking regulations. Often, the best Premier Crus can equal the quality of Grand Crus at a much lesser cost. Premier Crus account for about 11% of Burgundy’s annual production.
Village wines are produced by grapes grown around the name of the village identified on the label. Village wines are blended from grapes grown in multiple vineyards. While these vineyards do not have the terroir of either the Grand or Premier Cru appellations, and are not as likely to produce grapes that make exceptional wine, the wines are recognized as of consistently superior quality, and are very affordable, usually in the $25 to $40 price range. There are 44 village (or communal) appellations in Burgundy. These village wines account for 34% of Burgundy’s annual production.
Regional wines (Bourgogne) are made from blends of grapes grown in vineyards within the Burgundy region. A regional wine can be named after the region that it comes from, such as Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise or Bourgogne Hautes–Côtes de Nuits. Often these wines are simply labeled Bourgogne Blanc or Bourgogne Rouge and offer amazing value, usually in the $20 to $30 price range. There are 22 Regional appellations that produce 52% of Burgundy’s total annual production.
Howard’s selections for the evening:
1988 Domaine Marquis d’Angerville Volnay “Champans” Grand Cru. The Rare Wine Co. comments on Volnay thusly, “Nothing demonstrates red Burgundy’s magic like great Volnay, with its enveloping aromatic complexity, silky texture and tremendous aging potential”. Champans is a Premier Cru climat of the Volnay appellation in the Cote de Beaune which yields impressive wines. This bottle had a pronounced and pleasant barnyard bouquet on the nose and palate. However, the lush fruit typical of Volnay wines never showed up. I kept wine in the glass throughout the dinner hoping the fruit would appear, but alas in never did. The 2011 vintage is available at around $120. Wine Searcher.
1999 Domaine Faiveley Chambertin Clos De Beze Grand Cru. The wines of Domaine Faiveley are widely recognized for being among the finest produced in Burgundy. Tonight’s bottle lived up to that recognition. It drank very well, beginning with an enticing bouquet; vibrant fruit, balance, complexity, finesse and an elegant finish. A good example of Grand Cru Burgundy at its best. $250. NY Wine Warehouse.
1991 Domaine Faiveley Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru. Another classy wine from this producer. Soft tannins and loads of “terroir” enticed the palate with each sip. Finish was long and elegant. I felt that this was the wine that drank the best on this night, as well has having the longest future ahead of it. A great wine that will be very hard to find. The 2010 vintage however at $230 is available at The Pluckemin Inn Wine Shop.
1989 Domaine Maume Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru. A new producer for me. The wine was quite nice with rich, ripe fruit and good focus on the palate. It lacked however the depth and finesse of the previous wine. This vintage does not appear to be available, but the 2010 vintage at $168 is available. Wine Searcher.
Great wines are always enhanced by great food, and I am happy to report that tonight’s meal was outstanding. We thoroughly enjoyed:
|Tortelloni w/ potato, mortadella, parsley, black truffle, parmesan|
|Niman Ranch Pork, Fingerling Potatoes, broccoli rabe, artichoke, parmesan, vinegar peppers|
|Veal Scallopine, Anson mills polenta, wax beans, osso bucco, tomato soffrito, escarole|