Burgundy is a world renowned wine region in Eastern France, famous for producing some of the most sought after wines in the world. Burgundy reds and whites have some unique qualities that influence their exclusivity, which we will get to in a minute. First, let’s start with getting a basic understanding of the grapes that are grown in the region.
Red Burgundy is wine created from 100% Pinot Noir grapes grown in the Burgundy region of France. White Burgundy is also made in the Burgundy region, but by 100% Chardonnay grapes. That means Red Burgundy and White Burgundy are just other names for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Pretty simple, eh?
Now that we know the grapes are not unique to the region, one may begin to wonder what exactly makes Burgundy wines more coveted than the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays of other regions. A simple answer: the land.
Burgundy has become known for having the best land in the world for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. One of the best examples of what makes this land so special is experienced in Burgundy’s terroir. Terroir is the concept that a grape’s land imparts unique flavor notes that are specific to only that vineyard. No other wine region in the world is more influenced by its terroir than Burgundy.
The quality of land is such an integral part of the creation of red and white Burgundy wines, that the vineyards of Burgundy are classified into four categories that express how exceptional their specific land is for grape growing.
Regional Wines can be made from grapes grown anywhere in Burgundy and tend to be fresh, light, and lively, making them terrific sippers or aperitif wines. You will find them labeled “Bourgogne Rouge” (red) or “Bourgogne Blanc (white). Don’t forget to check out the back label on these wines! They are now allowed to note the grape variety, which can be really helpful.
The next step-up are the “Village” wines, named after the towns near to where the grapes are sourced. These wines are still fresh and fruity, with little-to-no oak, but are a tad more complex. Look for names like “Pouilly Fuisse,” “Santenay,” “Givry,” or “Mercurey.”
Premier Cru Burgundy
“Premier Cru” wines are from special vineyard areas within a village. These bits of vineyard are called “climats” (clee-mats) and produce wines that are a bit more intense than the regular old Village wines! This might be because of the type of soil, the way the vineyard faces the morning sun, longer aging in oak, or a myriad of other reasons. Premier Crus are still affordable and make marvelous food wines. The label will say “Premier Cru” or “1er Cru.”
Grand Cru Burgundy
And finally, the big daddies of Bourgogne – the “Grand Cru” with famous names like Romanée Conti, La Tâche, Montrachet, etc., and a label that will proudly proclaim the “Grand Cru” status! Although they account for just over 1% of Burgundy’s annual production, these are the wines for which people are willing to pay top dollar. Bold, powerful, complex and made for cellaring, they are the epitome of both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There are a total of 33 Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy – some are just inches away from a Premier Cru vineyard.