Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Burgundy Reds Decoded

Red Burgundy, how much I love you so! Yes, Pinot Noir is my favorite red grape and though I do drink wine made in California, Oregon, Chile and New Zealand, the best samples of Pinot Noir in the world speak French and come from Burgundy. Though these wines are pricier than samples from the new world, they are so unique and worthwhile!  Yet, a lot of people get confused about the different categories, so let’s make things easier for all the Burgundy wine lovers out there.

Check the triangle below that features the total production of Burgundy wines in any given year. On the base, we have Bourgogne Rouge, (which is the entry level category, this can be made from Pinot Noir grown in all of Burgundy). About 50% of all Burgundy wine produced fall in this first layer.  


Then, we have a step up in quality and origin, the Villages category, wine made from grapes from 1 of the 42 villages in Burgundy, some examples are: Gevrey Chambertin, Nuits Saint Georges, Volnay, Pommard, etc (see list at the end of this post). This category makes 36% of all wine produced in Burgundy. 

Then comes what I consider the creme of the crop, Premier Cru and Grand Cru. This will include all the top vineyards that were first classified in 1861. The 1er Cru vineyards are specially selected parcels within the Villages. This category makes 12% of all wine made in Burgundy.  On the labels you will recognize them because the name of vineyards will come after the name of the villages: for example: Pommard “Les Epenots”, Morey St Denis “Clos des Ormes”, Nuits St Georges “Les Cailles”. There are a total of  629 1er Crus. And finally, the best wines: the Grand Crus (single vineyards) which are 33. And how can we identify them? We identify them by their name preceded by Le/La: Le Chambertin, Le Musigny, La Tache, Le Corton, etc, also because we will only see the name of the vineyard on the label without the village , plus the words Grand Cru. Grand Crus produce only 2% of all wine produced in Burgundy. 

As we can see, the smaller the place the place where grapes grow/ appellation, the better the wine will be and the more expensive (this is due to high demand and a boutique/ tiny production).  Prices vary, Bourgogne costs $20-34,Villages costs from $35-80, Premier Cru costs $65 and up and Grand Cru $200 and above.


On your left, see the labels showing the different categories: 

a)The basic:Bourgogne Rouge, then b)Villages: Gevrey- Chambertin, c)then 1er Cru: Morey-Saint- Denis "Les Sorbets" then d)the best and most expensive wines in this group: The Grand Cru: Echezeaux. 

 Labels courtesy of Domaines Albert Bichot, map courtesy of Vins de Bourgogne.


Now, the best reds come from the north Côtes de Nuits (see map), and some from the south in the Côtes de Beaune. Both the Côtes de Nuits and the Côtes de Beaune form which is known as the Côte d’Or, the abbreviation of Côtes D’ Orient, because all vines face east to catch every single ray of sun. 

Further south, we find good but less expensive Pinot Noir in the Côte de Chalonnaise at appellations such as Rully, Mercurey and Givry. Some of these wines will cost about $35-50. 

Remember that in Burgundy, two grapes dominate: all whites are made from 100% Chardonnay, (I will explore the whites in another post) and reds from 100% Pinot Noir, no blends are allowed.

Burgundy producers put special emphasis in the terroir where grapes grow. And this started with the monks that once lived and worked these vineyards. History tell us that the monks, besides praying all day, identified the different plots and divided them, in 3 categories: 1) vineyards that were used to make wine for the Pope (top Grand Cru), 2) vineyards to make wines for the Cardinals (Premier Cru) and 3) vineyards used to make wines for the monks, (Villages and Bourgogne rouge). In 1789, after the French revolution the estate confiscated all the land from the church and auctioned it off to farmers. Later on with the rise of Napoleon, he changed the inheritance law, allowing all children to inherit equally (before this, only the eldest son inherited in a family), these two facts caused the fragmentation of the land and vineyards. This is why, it's easier to find small tiny plots owned by several owners in Burgundy. A solution to this problem came with the figure of the negociant, who usually buys grapes from different owners and makes 1 wine from them. Nowadays, negociants have come a long way, and many of them own their own vineyards. 

One of the factors that make great Pinot Noir possible in Burgundy, is the cool climate, Burgundy is located in the north of France, only Champagne is farther north. This has proven ideal for growing both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in which has been defined as a continental climate. Soils too are very important, they are rich in limestone from the Jurassic period, clay and marl. Because Pinot Noir is just a delicate variety, wines are usually aged in second hand oak (used), to impart a touch of tannin without masking their ethereal essence.


Important Villages in Burgundy: (reds)

Côte de Nuits: 

Marsannay,Fixin,Gevrey Chambertin,Morey St Denis,Chambolle Musigny,Vougeot,Flagey Echezeaux,Vosne Romanee,Nuits St Georges

Cote de Beaune:

Ladoix Serrigny,Aloxe Corton,Chorey Lès Beaune,Savigny Lès Beaune,Beaune,Pommard

Volnay,Monthélie,Auxey Duresses,Chassagne Montrachet,Santenay

Cote de Chalonnaise (farther south and cheaper)

Rully,Mercurey and Givry.

Some of these will have 1er Cru vineyards in them, in which case the name of the vineyard will appear after the village.


Grand Crus: the Grand Crus are the top vineyards and home to some of the best and most expensive Burgundy reds. Always the word Grand Cru will be added to the end.

Chambertin Clos de Beze, Chapelle Chambertin, Charmes Chambertin, Latricieres Chambertin, Le Chambertin, Mazis Chambertin, Mazoyères Chambertin, Ruchottes Chambertin, Bonnes Mares, Clos de La Roche, Clos de Lambrays, Clos de Tart, Clos St Denis, Le Musigny, Clos de Vougeot, Echézeaux, Grands Echézeaux, La Romanée,La Tâche, La Grand Rue, Richebourg, Romanée Conti, Romanée St Vivant. 


Here are 3 of my favorite Grand Cru reds that I had the pleasure to taste:

Jacques Prieur Grand Cru Echezeaux 2014, $475

Louis Jadot Clos Vougeot Domaine 2016, $215

Domaine Faiveley Corton Clos des Cortons Faiveley 2016, $215

My wine recommendations that happen to be very affordable! Thanks to Domaines Albert Bichot and Vineyard Brands for sending these!

Albert Bichot Bourgogne VV 2018, $22.99

Smooth Pinot Noir, made from grapes grown in the Cote de Beaune. It offers redcurrant and red cherry flavors, balanced by a smoky and spicy finish.

Albert Bichot Savigny Les Beaune 2017, $48.99

Vibrant and floral, this medium red features ripe strawberry and raspberry notes and a complex, focused finish. 

Vincent Girardin Bourgogne Rouge 2018, 25.99

Elegant and juicy light red shows black cherry and raspberry jam notes. Soft dusty tannins round up the finish.   

Domaine Matrot Bourgogne Rouge 2018, $33.99

Expressive Pinot Noir from grapes grown in Puligny Montrachet and Meursault, displays notes of baked cherry, earth and spice that run through the polished finish. Cheers! Silvina


















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