Burgundy wines are some of the most prized in the world with a history that dates back many centuries – the region’s rich heritage has even been echoed by Shakespeare who wrote ‘the vines of France and milk of Burgundy’.
Burgundy, which settles along the Cote d’Or – a 50 km stretch of limestone hills to the north of France scattered with medieval villages, mustard fields and, of course, vineyards – has five sub-regions: Chablis, the Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Chalonnaise and Mâconnais.
Bourgogne wine is unusual in that, unlike other regions in France, it is not blended but made almost exclusively from two grapes that originate from the area: Pinot Noir for the red wines, and Chardonnay for the whites. And, while other regions in France focus their attention on the ‘vigneron’ or winemaker, Burgundy concentrates exclusively on the soil or ‘terroir’. These soils, which carry high levels of limestone, are the secret behind the elegant, aromatic and complex character of Burgundy wines – which include some of the most expensive bottles in the world!
Consequently, wine from Burgundy carries a different classification system that is based on geography as opposed to wine producer. A specific vineyard or region will bear a given classification independent of the winemaker – unlike the region’s illustrious rival Bordeaux. This is reflected in Burgundy wine labels, where appellations are more prominent than producers.
The main levels in Burgundy wine classifications are:
The elite Grand Cru wines are produced by only a small number of vineyards on the best plots of Chablis the Cote d’Or. These wines are generally produced for cellaring and typically need to be aged for between five and seven years, although some of the finest Burgundy wine can be kept for more than 15 years. The wine labels will only list the name of the vineyard with its Grand Cru status, but not the village name. Next in line are the Premier Cru wines, which are produced from high quality vineyards that at not quite equal to the Grand Cru. Once again, they are aged – usually for between three to five years – and bottles are labelled with the vineyard name, Premier Cru status and the name of the village of origin.
Village wines are produced from supposedly lesser vineyards in one from 42 villages, or from one individual but unclassified vineyard – with each village having its own specific characteristics. These Burgundy wines are usually consumed two to four years after inception, while the label generally bears the name of the village.
Finally, Regional wines are those that can be produced across the entire, you guessed it, region. This is the only classification that allows for sparkling or rosé wines, as well as Burgundy wines not dominated by Pinot Noir or Chardonnay grapes.
The Grand Cru wines tend to make up only 2% of overall production, with Premier Cru 12%, Village wines 36% and the remainder of Burgundy wine coming from the regional classification.
The prestige of Burgundy wines makes the region a must-travel destination for serious wine enthusiasts and, at Wine Paths, our local experts can arrange exclusive private tours of vineyards to discover the different varieties. At the height of our experiences is a six-day VIP tour of Burgundy, which allows visitors to meet the winemaker and taste the region’s finest wines, visit to a 15th century cellar, enjoy a gourmet meal with a Michelin starred chef and even take part in making Cremant de Bourgogne (Burgundy’s answer to champagne) and truffle hunting.
If time is of the essence, join an expert guide around the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits vineyards where you will sample Grand Crus and Crémants de Bourgogne in between eating traditional meals and meeting the winemakers.
Visit our destination guide for Burgundy to learn more before planning an exclusive experience to the home of fine wine.
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