Eighty miles above Dijon stands the very important Burgundian vineyard of Chablis, probably one of the most identifiable AOCs of France and as such, one of the most fundamental “terroirs” of our country. Close to Chablis, around the cities of Auxerre or Tonnerre, other vineyards have been awarded with several A.O.Cs of lesser importance.
Moving south from the outskirts of Dijon until the little town of Santenay, this is the Côte-D’Or. It is called the Golden Coast because of the color of its vines when fall arrives. One famous village after another and one famous Grand Cru after another on a thin strip of land about 25 miles long.
After a break of a few miles to cross the town of Chagny, the vineyard continues its path toward the south, always staying at a short distance from the Saône river. This is the Côte Chalonnaise, named after the town of Châlon-sur-Saône. Rully, Mercurey, Givry, and Montagny are the four important villages.
Another short interruption, we are now in the vineyard of the Mâconnais. Thirty miles of vines heading south and staying always close to the Saône river. It is at the height of Pouilly-Fuissé that the Burgundy vineyard ends, but the vines continue their route toward the south through the Beaujolais region.
The AOC system denies the predominance of the grape variety over the terroir. This is why you seldom will find it written on a label. But, what you have to remember is that two grape varieties dominate the Burgundy vineyard: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Only three AOCs are made with other grape varieties:
The name of the grape variety is the name of the wine. This is a regional AOC*, meaning that it can be produced anywhere in Burgundy. Bourgogne Aligoté is exclusively a white wine.
Gamay noir grape variety has always been grown in Burgundy. Pinot Noir superiority has been evidenced by an ancient (15th century) decree of the Duke of Burgundy, forcing the peasants to get rid of their gamay vines and replacing them with Pinot Noir. As some gamay vines have survived, this regional AOC allows the growers to mix it with Pinot Noir. In this red wine, Pinot Noir must represent at least one-third of the blend.
Bourgogne-Grand-Ordinaire or B.G.O.
This AOC, also regional, allows the grower to mix all the grape varieties cultivated in Burgundy. The AOC is slowly dying as its original goal was obviously to produce volume rather than quality. The wines can be red, rosé, or white.
All the other Burgundy AOCs are made with Pinot Noir for the red wines and with Chardonnay for the white wines*.
Consequently, the AOC Bourgogne, which is also a regional appellation, is made only with Chardonnay if the wine is white and only with Pinot Noir if the wine is rosé or red. Being regional, it can be found anywhere in Burgundy.
Gimmicks to be used when necessary:
Grand Vin de Bourgogne
In Burgundy, 90% of the bottle labels read Grand Vin de Bourgogne. While it certainly does not mean that the wine is great, as the French word “grand” suggests, at least it says that the wine comes from Burgundy. The famous estates usually do not use the logo “Grand Vin de Bourgogne”.
In case the “Grand vin de Bourgogne” logo does not appear, you have an extra ball to continue playing, the zip code.
French zip codes are constituted of five numbers. The three “départements,” or administrative entities, that bear the Burgundy vineyard are:
*The Côte-D’Or, which its zip code starts with 21.
*The Yonne, where Chablis is produced, has a number starting with 89.
*The Saône-et-Loire is where the vineyards of Mâconnais and Côte-Chalonnaise are and its zip code begins with the number 71.
As you are not going to often meet a Bourgogne Passe-tout-grains or a B.G.O., life all the sudden becomes extremely simple. If you are drinking a wine which label says Bourgogne Aligoté, you know that the wine comes from Burgundy and that the grape variety is aligoté. If not, if the color is red, you have a 99.99% chance to be drinking a 100% Pinot Noir red Burgundy, and if it is white, you are drinking a 100% Chardonnay white Burgundy.
We have just seen that there were 4 regional appellations with wines that can be produced ANYWHERE in Burgundy.
The Mâcon area AOCs remain rather tricky for the consumer, as it is considered partly as a regional appellation. There is more. Red Mâcons can use the gamay grape and blend it with Pinot Noir. In my opinion, to make it as simple as possible, buy only white wines where Chardonnay is mandatory and stick to the AOC Mâcon-Villages. You might know that Pouilly-Fuissé is the great wine of that area and some white Mâcon-Villages approach its qualities, so your probabilities of satisfaction will be high.
Several red wines are made in the area of Chablis, such as the AOC Irancy, for instance. My advice would be, even if it sounds a little too violent, do not get into red Burgundy wines with a zip code starting with 89 for the moment. As you become a pro, we will see, but, there is too much work involved already. You would be better off buying the red wines of the Côte-Chalonnaise as they are not more expensive and averagely as good or better, such as Givry and Mercurey.
The “Appellations communales” refer to determined places on the Burgundy map, meaning villages or small towns. The Communales meaning is attached to a “Commune,” which in France are administrative entities. Remember your secret weapons and especially the zip code. Once you read what follows, you will not miss it once:
Givry, Appellation Givry contrôlée
Mis en bouteilles par Marcel Pierre à 71xxx
Givry, Appellation Givry contrôlée
It is the word Givry that is controlled and this has to be the name of a real place. A “controlled” real place is called a “Village” and, yes, Givry is a very nice small town of the Côte Chalonnaise (zip starts with 71).
Gevrey-Chambertin “Les Evocelles”
Appellation Gevrey-Chambertin contrôlée
Mis en bouteilles par Raymond Albert à 21xxx
The label says Appellation Gevrey-Chambertin contrôlée, so this has to be another Village wine as Gevrey-Chambertin is the controlled name, isn’t it? Yes, you are right. Now, what does Evocelles mean? Here, the producer wants to tell us that this wine has been made with grapes coming exclusively from a plot that has a name, Les Evocelles. Why? There are at least 800 plots clearly identified in Burgundy and they are called “Climats.”
Climat, almost the same word in English, refers to the weather. But here, the idea behind the word goes beyond the weather. It refers to the soil structure, the weather influences, and the historical presence of man, animals, trees, and, more generally, to anything that can define those few acres of Burgundy soil.
Men, animals, trees - what are you referring to you may ask.
La Romanée-Conti's name, one of the most famous of Burgundy, refers to the Prince of Conti who acquired this prestigious vineyard in the 18th century. His name, a man’s name, has been attached to the name of the plot since.
Les Amoureuses, which means “the loving women” cannot be talking about the soil or the weather, but obviously about something that happened to human beings once upon a time or about the influence the wine could have on women.
Le Clos des Ducs in Volnay refers to the owners of the plot in the 14th century, the Dukes of Burgundy.
Les Genevrières, in Meursault, are the name of trees (junipers in English).
Les Cailles of Nuits-Saint-Georges is the French word for quails.
Goutte d’Or, or gold drop, has certainly something to do with the color or the consistency of the wine, imagined like liquid gold, but not with the slope where this famous Meursault wine stands.
Les Brouillards of Volnay refers to the fog. The Clos du Roi in Beaune or Aloxe-Corton refers to the king’s property. Les Cras that comes from “craie,” or chalk, refers to the soil, and the name is found in Meursault, Beaune, Chambolle-Musigny, and many other places.
Mercurey “La Chassière”
Appellation Mercurey Premier Cru contrôlée
Mis en bouteilles par Felix Mercier à 71xxx.
Mercurey has to be also a village. This village belongs to the Côte Chalonnaise, as the zip code starts with 71. The name of a “climat,” or plot, is attached to the name of Mercurey. The plot is classified in the first-growth category with La Chassière being one of them. The most important news is that what is controlled here is not only Mercurey, but Mercurey Premier Cru, which is the name of the AOC
As long as the name of a village is mentioned next to the name of a plot, we know that this is a communal appellation. Burgundy Premiers Crus are communal appellations.
There are also Premiers Crus in Givry and, of course, there is an AOC for them. Givry Les Grands Pretans, Appellation Givry Premier Cru contrôlée.
In Givry, Mercurey, or Gevrey-Chambertin, all the plots that are classified in the first-growth category constitute the one and only one A.O.C “per village.” All the first-growths of Givry are one AOC, Givry Premier Cru. The same is for Mercurey Premier Cru or Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru. In Pommard, there are 28 plots or “climats” classified in the first-growth category, but all of them share one single AOC, which is Pommard Premier Cru.
Appellation Pommard Premier Cru contrôlée
The name of the “climat” classified in the first-growth category is “Rugiens.” The name of the AOC is Pommard Premier Cru.
When a grower mixes grapes coming from several “climats,” all classified in the Premier Cru category, he or she can still name the wine:
Pommard Premier Cru
Appellation Pommard Premier Cru contrôlée
The name of the plot is gone. The “quality” of the grapes still allows the grower to call the wine with the AOC Pommard Premier Cru. If one grape comes from an AOC “Village” and is mixed with grapes of the first-growth category, the AOC Premier Cru is lost.
Appellation Grand Cru
Some vineyards have acquired such prestige through centuries that the name of the plot alone has become the name of the appellation. There are 32 Grands Crus in Burgundy.
In Chablis, seven “climats” bear one single appellation, the AOC Chablis Grand Cru. They are Blanchots, Valmur, Preuses, Grenouilles, Clos, Bougros, and Vaudésir.
The label reads :
Appellation Chablis Grand Cru contrôlée
For once, Chablis has made it easy for everybody. In many villages, such as Vosne-Romanée, the seven plots would have been seven individual Grands Crus.
Fortunately, things remain complicated as “La Moutonne” is a Grand Cru too with a tolerance for a “brand name.” It is worthwhile to mention that this “brand name” was given to the plot about 1,000 years ago, slightly before the marketing era. La Moutonne en Vaudésir is located mainly over the “climat” of Vaudésir, but a small part is over the “climat” of Preuses, meaning that La Moutonne is not a “climat.”
The legendary vineyards of the Côte-de-Nuits
The village of Gevrey obviously made the right choice by asking Louis the Thirteenth permission to add the name of the great Chambertin to the name of Gevrey. It was the first village to be granted with such a “gift.”
The nine Grands Crus in the “finage” of Gevrey-Chambertin use the magic name of “Chambertin,” making things easily identifiable. Finage means area in Burgundian or all the vines related to a “Village.”
The nine Grand Crus are Ruchottes-Chambertin, Mazis-Chambertin, Chambertin-Clos de Bèze, Chambertin, Latricières-Chambertin, Griottes-Chambertin, Chapelle-Chambertin, Charmes-Chambertin, and Mazoyères-Chambertin.
The AOC reads:
Appellation Grand Cru contrôlée
Chapelle-Chambertin Grand Cru
The first way to name this AOC is legitimate and perfectly understandable. The second version is more commercial, like a double effect, for those who know and especially for those who do not know. The third version while totally permitted is snobbish as you are obliged to know that Chapelle-Chambertin is a Grand Cru. This is the way the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti labels are and obviously you “have to know” that the estate makes and sells only Grands Crus.
Griottes and Ruchottes are two Lilliputians with respectively a size of 6.75 and 8.30 acres. Good luck and call me if you get 50 cases!
It is surprising that the people from Gevrey imposed the name of Chambertin to the plot of the Clos de Bèze as the latter was the real thing, the original “clos” of the Cistercian monks and not the contrary. Chambertin comes from “le champ de Bertin” or the field of some guy named Bertin located next to the Clos de Bèze, but planted about three centuries later.
Heading south, we arrive to the village of Morey-Saint-Denis where we find from north to south: Clos de la Roche, Clos Saint-Denis, Clos des Lambrays, and Clos de Tart, plus a small part of the Bonnes Mares Grand Cru.
To understand why the idea behind the words “finage” and “climat” is so different, Bonnes Mares is a very good example. There is only one “climat” called Bonnes Mares. The part that depends on the jurisdiction of Morey-Saint-Denis is the part that is on the “finage” of Morey-Saint-Denis, but most of the Grand Cru is on the “finage” of Chambolle-Musigny.
You will notice that the four Grands Crus have their name starting with the word Clos. Clos means closed with walls or a noticeable physical separation with the environment. Clos is typically Burgundian. Usually it encloses the best part of the vineyard for the glory of God and sometimes for the glory of men, such as in the Corton Clos du Roi Grand Cru.
The historical Grand Cru of the village, the Clos Saint-Denis, patron saint of the kings of France, has been chosen by the inhabitants of Morey to illuminate the name of their village. As it is the most difficult wine to approach and understand, I am surprised the people of the village were so mystical in 1936.
We are now in Chambolle-Musigny, less than 250 inhabitants and home to two of the most prestigious Grands Crus of Burgundy, Bonnes Mares and Musigny.
The Bonnes Mares name may come from Good Mother (mares/mère) rather than good soil (marnes). The Bonnes Mares on the side of Chambolle-Musigny are considered superior to those on the side of Morey-Saint-Denis. Right or wrong, what is true is that the soil is different with more red clay on the side of Morey and more limestone on the side of Chambolle.
Musigny, at the south of the village above the Clos de Vougeot, could be described as the “monks life dream.” This wine is both majestic and austere, lean and muscular, and, therefore, difficult to approach and understand.
There is a very strong correspondence with the personality of a famous white Grand Cru of Puligny-Montrachet, the Chevalier-Montrachet.
Now, we arrive at the Clos de Vougeot. Getting out of Chambolle-Musigny and turning right just above the marvelous first-growth of the Amoureuses, you have one of the most wonderful panoramas of the coast. At your right hand, the Musigny goes around the hill toward Echezeaux. And, in front of you, Clos Vougeot. And beyond, a collection of gems.
The Clos de Vougeot was created by the Cistercian monks of Citeaux around the year 1000. It is totally enclosed with walls.
The original Grand Cru had it all:
The flesh, the grease, the belly in its lower part,
The strength, the structure, the blood in its middle part.
The brains, the nerve, the tension on its upper part.
Today, that once complete body is shared between more than 80 owners. Each of them now has a share of a puzzle that none of them can complete. Monks were not “democrats” as they had a “one-for-all leader.” We are democrats and we are supposed to share our wealth with the others.
Above the Clos de Vougeot stand two other Grands Crus: Echezeaux and Grands-Echezeaux. The “finage” of those Grands Crus, plus a thin strip of Vosne-Romanée bordering the south wall of the Clos de Vougeot, is that of Flagey. Obviously, this very small village situated on the other side of the national road has taken the highly unexpected name of Flagey-Echezeaux (laughter).
Grands Echezeaux has a size of about 23 acres. It is situated just above the southwest Clos de Vougeot walls. The wine is rare as the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti alone has 40 percent of the vines and eleven other owners have to share what is left.
Echezeaux, which size approaches 95 acres, is much more available, but much less consistent. It is said that about one-third of the surface is capable of delivering on a regular basis the complexity and the intensity corresponding to its status. Of that third, 50 percent goes to the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
Several first growths of Vosne-Romanée could easily rival many Echezeaux bottles every year. When the Echezeaux is great, you are going to find the most magnificent wild red rose at the bottom of your glass; not an essence, a quintessence.
La Tâche, La Romanée-Conti, La Romanée, La Romanée-Saint-Vivant, La Grande-Rue, Le Richebourg
We are in Vosne-Romanée and we are in the legend of Burgundy. Not much to say as so much has been said. So many books have been written that I do not see what I could add.
If you read somewhere that La Grande-Rue is a rustic Grand Cru, don’t believe it. It is exactly as if you were saying that Château Margaux is a simple wine because of what it has delivered during the fifties and the sixties until the arrival of the Mentzelopoulos family. Man work is a significant part of what is in the bottle, and to be the owner of a Grand Cru is not enough to produce a Grand Cru. The wines that have been made at La Grande-Rue were probably good wines, maybe not great wines. This being said, having not tasted La Grande-Rue yet, it is impossible to describe it. But, the wines that I have tasted from the estate are showing that quality is improving very quickly and this should be evidenced promptly.
La Romanée-Conti, La Romanée, and La Grande-Rue together, hardly reach 12 acres. The world population might arrive to twelve billion souls by 2050, one acre of vines for one billion human beings sounds a little frightening, doesn’t it?
The project of the monks of the Abbey of Saint-Vivant had nothing to do with what the vineyard has become. Then, the three Romanées, La Tâche, and Le Richebourg were more or less one single vineyard.
Corton and Corton-Charlemagne. We are in the Côte-de-Beaune.
The beautiful Corton hill is surrounded by the three villages of Pernand-Vergelesses, Aloxe-Corton, and Ladoix-Serrigny. Everywhere on its slopes, the vines can be planted with Chardonnay or with Pinot Noir, but:
The plots planted with Pinot Noir can bear the name of their “climat.” For example, Corton-Bressandes or Corton-Les Pougets.
If Pinot Noir is planted on the “climat” En Charlemagne, the wine will keep its Grand Cru status, but it will be forbidden to add the name of the emperor to the name Corton. The Domaine Bonneau du Martray and the Domaine Follin-Arbelet each have Pinot Noir planted on the En Charlemagne “climat” and their label reads Corton, Appellation Grand Cru contrôlée.
In the same way, the name of the “climat” is lost when Chardonnay is planted anywhere else than in the “En Charlemagne” plot. If you produce white wine on the “climat” of Bressandes, your wine will be named Corton.
Of course, as it would have been too simple, the “climat” of Corton-Vergennes of the Hospices de Beaune yearly auction, while planted in Chardonnay, can keep the name of the “climat Vergennes,” which is normally forbidden. The wines of this hill have the reputation to age almost endlessly whether in white or red.
Corton was such a famous AOC, especially in France, that growers used to make a little too much of it, meaning too high yields. The Domaine de la Romanée-Conti has just taken a lease of 99 years on the 20 acres of Corton Grand Cru of the Prince de Mérode family. Good news for the reputation, bad news for the wallet. I think the momentum is good to acquire some Corton and Corton-Charlemagne as the quality is now there and the prices are very smooth.
The Mont-Rachat Hill
Still heading south, we cross the city of Beaune, the vineyards of Pommard, and those of Volnay to arrive at Meursault. We are now in the kingdom of the great white wines of Burgundy.
Surprisingly, given the fame of this village, there are no Grands Crus in Meursault. As always in Burgundy, you will hear many people say that the “climat” of Perrières, a first growth, should be one of them. Does it matter?
We are now seeing the Mount Rachat, which name has evolved through the centuries to become the Mount Rachet.
Puligny and Chassagne have been wise enough to share this golden hill and avoid eternal mutual resentment. Obviously, both of them have added the prestige of those slopes to the name of their village and, as in Gevrey, all the Grands Crus want to share the glory of the greatest of all, the Montrachet Grand Cru.
Their names are Le Montrachet, Batard-Montrachet, Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet, and Criots-Batard-Montrachet.
The Montrachet and the Batard are divided into two equivalent shares between the two villages. Chevalier and Bienvenues are on the “finage or territory” of Puligny-Montrachet, and the tiny Criots-Batard-Montrachet on the “finage” of Chassagne-Montrachet.
The five Grands Crus together represent a surface of a little more than 82.5 acres. Around or in between those Grands Crus are a few tiny plots, which quality can sometimes challenge the wines at the summit of the scale. They are Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru “Les Demoiselles,” Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru “En Remilly,” and another first growth of Chassagne, the plot called “Les Blanchots-Dessus.”
*Please note :
This text is made to give simple, accessible information. Burgundy is, of course, much more complicated than what
you have been reading above. I want the "Burgundy freaks", and I know many, to be sure that I know that the
pinot blanc grape is planted on the Burgundy soil, as I buy the wines from Henri Gouges for 17 years. I want them to be sure that I know, the Bourgogne Aligoté variety has its communal appellation in the village of Bouzeron, in the Côte Chalonnaise, first village after the town of Chagny. I also know that sauvignon is planted in the Yonne district, the area of Chablis, around the village of Saint-Bris, the césar grape variety can also be found in the terroir of Irancy, even if the pinot noir clearly dominates. I do not want people to be afraid to get into Burgundy and, even if I mention a hurdle here and there for fun, after 1700 years, there are more than the five or six I have used to illustrate the Burgundy complexity.
Raphaël Gimenez Fauvety