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Appellations of Burgundy
by Sophia Schweitzer
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 3.1

There are no shortcuts to understanding the famous wine region Burgundy, called Bourgogne in French. If you want to become a Burgundy expert, get ready to memorize a 1,000 names, take a course in French pronunciation and expect to get lost in a maze of appellations (officially delineated wine zones). In addition, prepare yourself to part with a good chunk of change -- Burgundy wines are not exactly cheap. It's like buying designer wine: you pay for the name. And the smaller the appellation within Burgundy, the rarer the wine and the higher the cost. Not to worry, however. We'll try to sketch a rough roadmap through the abundance of Burgundian districts, villages and vineyards.

GRAPES
Let's look at the grape varietals first. That's easy. Burgundy is famous for three grapes: pinot noir, gamay and chardonnay. Naturally they just happen to be the most capricious, sensitive, flirtatious fruits around, so there's no way of predicting how they're going to behave from one year to the next. Pinot noir accounts for all the red wines in five of Burgundy's six main wine regions, while in the Beaujolais (south) region, gamay is the designated varietal. All white wines are made mostly of chardonnay, but can also include -- and in rare cases be made entirely from -- pinot blanc or pinot beurot (local name for pinot gris).

More than any other wine in the world, Burgundian wine is the product of terroir and fruit and is truly "the voice of the land."

For thousands of years patient monks and eager landowners farmed and nurtured every scrap of the 185-mile stretch of land in East-Central France known as Burgundy. They discovered that the most subtle differences in terroir found translation in grape and wine. And so, eventually, it became necessary to assign separate names to all these tiny plots. Arcane inheritance and estate laws created a worse mess, further subdividing the already tine appellations. Thus Burgundy counts nearly 120 appellations -- some estates as small as a 2.1 acres! There are rumors that Burgundian farmers, after heavy rain, hike down the hills, shuffles in hand, to recapture some of their precious, fugitive soil!

CRU "STATUS"
Before we tackle the six main growing regions of Burgundy, let's first look at the "cru" hierarchy thing. Within the six growing regions and their villages are vineyards that thrive as appellations in their own right. In other words, instead of the region being the appellation name, the individual vineyard is. These vineyard appellations are titled either Grand Cru (best) vineyards, which produce the essence of Burgundian wines; or (second best), which are judged better than the village wines but not as good as the Grand Crus.

PRODUCER
In no other region is the specific producer of the wine more important. Find a good wine merchant that you can trust and talk openly to (not a terminal geek) to help you find the best wines at a good price.

THE WEATHER
Burgundy is NOT California. Vintages dates are extremely, let me repeat, EXTREMELY important here, due to wild fluctuations in the climate from year to year. Another good reason to work with a good retailer.

MAIN GROWING REGIONS
Burgundy counts six major wine regions, with each being subdivided in an extremely sophisticated hierarchy of appellations. Running from north to south, the six regions are:

  • Chablis
  • Côte de Nuits
  • Côte de Beaune
  • Côte Chalonnaise
  • Mâconnais
  • Beaujolais

    To complicate things, each region is subdivided into smaller regions, which are, in turn, subdivided again and again. Imagine circles within circles, appellations within appellations.

  • 1 General Appellation -- Bourgogne blanc or rouges (wine made anywhere in Burgundy)

    2 Regional Appellation -- Chablis, Côtes de Nuits, Côtes de Beaune, Côtes Chalonnaise, Mâconnais, Beaujolais

    3 Regional Appellation + the word Villages -- denotes grapes come from one or more designated villages -- Beaujolais Villages, Macon Villages, Côtes de Nuits Villages, etc.

    4 Village Appellation -- which may contain the name of a famous specific vineyard -- Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, Pouilly-Fuissé, Pommard, Puligny- or Chassagne Montrachet, Chambolle-Musigny, etc.

    5 Premier Cru Appellation -- a vineyard with officially recognized status that must also include the Village Appellation -- Puligny Montrachet Referts, Meursault les Genevrieres, Beaune Clos des Mouches, etc.

    6 Grand Cru Appellation -- a vineyard with officially recognized status that only need use the name of the vineyard -- Montrachet, Romanee-Conti, Musigny, Corton, etc.

    Appellation information supplied by Tim Hanni, M.W.

    A closer look at the six main regions.

    CHABLIS: Chablis produces only white wines. Some of the finest chardonnays in the world come from well over 250 different growers there. There are seven Grand Cru appellation-vineyards: Les Clos, Vaudésir, Valmur, Bougros, Blanchot, Preuses and Grenouilles. All other wines fall under the regional Chablis appellation.

    COTE DE NUITS & COTE DE BEAUNE: South of Dijon lies the Côte d'Or, where eight villages in Côte de Nuits and 20 villages in Côte de Beaune produce the paragon of Burgundian wines. With a mere 30 miles of golden hills, the Côte d'Or is home to 56 Grand Cru appellations and hundreds of Premier Cru vineyards and growers.

    GRAND CRUS AND THE WINES THEY PRODUCE

    Côte de Nuits

    Gevrey-Chambertin

  • Mazis-Chambertin (red)
  • Ruchottes-Chambertin (red)
  • Chambertin Clos-de-Beze (red)
  • Chapelle-Chambertin (red)
  • Griotte-Chambertin (red)
  • Charmes-Chambertin (red)
  • Le Chambertin (red)
  • Latricieres-Chambertin (red)

    Morey-St-Denis

  • Clos de la Roche (red)
  • Clos St-Denis (red)
  • Clos des Lambrays (red)
  • Clos de Tart (red)
  • Bonnes Mares (red & white)

    Chambolle-Musigny

  • Bonnes Mares (red & white)
  • Le Musigny (red & white)

    Vougeot

  • Clos de Vougeot (red)

    Flagney-Echezeaux

  • Grands Echezeaux (red)
  • Echezeaux (red)

    Vosne-Romanee

  • Richebourg (red)
  • Romanee-St-Vivant (red)
  • Romanee-Conti (red)
  • La Romanee (red)
  • Le Grande Rue (red)
  • La Tache (red)

    Côte de Beaune

    Aloxe-Corton

  • Le Corton (mostly red)

    Ladoix-Serrigny

  • Corton-Charlemange (white)

    Puligny-Montrachet

  • Chevalier-Montrachet (white)
  • Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet (white)

    Puligny-Montrachet & Chassagne-Montrachet

  • Le Montrachet
  • Batard-Montrachet

    Chassagne-Montrachet

  • Criots-Batard-Montrachet

    COTE CHALONNAISE & MACONNAIS: Below the Côte d'Or lies the Côte Chalonnaise and its five villages, where mostly reds are produced. Montagny, one of the appellations, grows only chardonnay. Just under Chalon lies the Mâconnais. With its chalky soil, Mâconnais chardonnay vines have merited seven appellations. From both regions come far less glamorous -- yet far more affordable and remarkably good -- wines. (By the way, there's a village in the Chalonnaise named chardonnay, which gave its name to the grape!)

    Most interesting Côte Chalonnaise villages and appellations include:

  • Mercurey
  • Givry
  • Rully
  • Pouilly-Fuissé

    BEAUJOLAIS: Are you ready for Beaujolais and its gamay vines? Light and uncomplicated, Beaujolais wine comes from 13 appellations, 10 of which are specific villages. Beaujolais is the area rendering the most hype and deception. So much so that the 10 villages refuse to put the name Beaujolais on their labels because they don't want their products to be confused with those mass produced by other vintners. These rebellious 10 villages call themselves Crus. The other three appellations are Beaujolais from the southern half, Beaujolais Supérieur with slightly higher alcohol content, and Beaujolais-Villages. The four most popular Crus are:

  • Brouilly
  • Morgon
  • Moulin-a-Vent
  • Fleurie

    Now, what's this stuff called Beaujolais Nouveau? Well, it's wine that's picked, vinified, bottled and shipped by the third Thursday in November of the same year. Thus, the grin on the farmer's face is the instant cash flow -- money as fast and as good as it gets. Beaujolais Nouveau is probably the best marketing gimmick the wine industry has ever brought on. It's basically a generic wine, way too young for its own good, packaged with a cool, colorful label.

    The Label: Okay. How do you know what you're buying? Reading a Burgundian wine label is an art in itself. It doesn't help one bit that Burgundy, as a whole, stubbornly clings to labels printed with medieval-looking fonts on yellowed parchment-type paper.

    For starters, remember that in France, the name of the wine is derived from the name of the geographic location, which means that 100 percent of the grapes used in making the wine are grown within that area. Thus, a wine labeled Bourgogne simply means the grapes were grown somewhere in Burgundy, whereas a wine labeled La Tâche means the wine is made strictly from pinot noir grown in the appellation Grand Cru vineyard La Tâche in the village of Vosne Romanée in the sub-region of Côte de Nuits, which is part of the Côte d'Or in the Burgundy region. Got it? Don't worry. Just remember: circles within circles.

    Note: Because there are so many wine growers in Burgundy, the role of the producer and merchant, the négociant, is crucial. The négociant buys grapes and often owns several vineyards across the region, including some of the best appellations. The wine label, in addition to the appellation, also mentions the name of the négociant and tells you whether the wine was bottled at the estate.

    The summary: Burgundian appellations are the ultimate love affair between grape and land and a somewhat sado-masochistic affair between the wino and the wine. The world's prime real estate served in parcels so small you wouldn't ever find them on a map. Worth an experiment or two, especially on an expense account or if someone else is paying!

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