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Burgundy Overview (part two): Wine Laws and Classifications

Burgundian wines are defined by their terroir and the variations of it.

It is because of the diversity of terroirs that Burgundian wines have such a range in terms of flavors. A pinot noir from the Côte de Beaune can taste so vastly different than one from the Côte de Nuits.

If terroir is so damn important, then it only makes sense that geography of Burgundy is the key to understanding Burgundian wine laws.

Unlike Bordeaux, every wine that comes out of Burgundy is an AOC wine.

French AOC/AOP

French wine law classification. Image Source: Wine Folly

The AOC/AOP system was established in the 1950s in response to counterfeit and mislabeling. The governing body INAO (Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité) created the AOC/AOP system to give wine consumers a guarantee of quality according to guidelines set forth by the growers of the region. There are 3 tiers in the AOC/AOP system of France: Vin de Table, IGP, and AOC. The best quality French wines are found with an AOC designation. The AOC restrictions include things like: where grapes are grown, which grapes can be grown in said region, production methods, minimum levels of alcohol, maximum yields, harvesting and vinification techniques, etc. This is the basis of French quality wine, some regions, including Burgundy (of course!) have additional classifications.

Burgundy Wine Classifications

Burgundy Wine Classification. Image Source: Wine Folly

In general, there are four wine classifications of Burgundy:

  • Regional

  • Villages

  • Premier Cru

  • Grand Cru


Burgundy Wine Classifications: Regional

Regional wines refer to the five regions of Burgundy (North to South):

  • Chablis

  • Côte de Beaune

  • Côte de Nuits

  • Côte Chalonnaise

  • Mâconnais

Grapes can come from any part of these regions, as each region has its own characteristics; the more specific growing site, the more pronounced terroir of that site, i.e. generic flavor profiles to vineyard specific flavor characteristics.

Burgundy Wine Classifications: Villages

Burgundy Villages. Source: Vine Pair

Village Wines refer to the individual villages located within the regions of Burgundy (e.g. Côte de Nuits), which, thanks to the wonders of terroir, can also exhibit individual characteristics. There are some regional wines that are referred to as Villages, including Côte de Nuits Villages or Côte de Beaune Villages, meaning that the grapes came from vineyards that surround any village in the region (Nuits, Beaune). Additionally, a vineyard name can be listed on a wine if the grapes are 100% from that vineyard. Individual villages include: Gevrey-Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée, Pommard, Volnay, Puligny-Montrachet, Chablis, Puilly-Fuissé.

This, according to the monks, is what they would drink, monk wine.

Burgundy Wine Classifications: Premier Cru

Premier Cru Wines are specific to the village and the vineyard from which the grapes came. Due to the diversity of soil types in Burgundy, each vineyard may also have their own individual characteristics. There are additional restrictions These are the second best wines in Burgundy, as classified by hundreds of years of research by the meticulous monks. In general, these wines have the designation "Premier Cru" or "1er Cru" on the label; the village and label tend to appear on the label together. There is no AOC designation for these wines, just the village AOC. There can, however be village premier crus, meaning that all the grapes that were used to make that wine came only from premier cru vineyards surrounding that village.

These wines, according to the monks, are "Cardinal wines"

Burgundy Wine Classifications: Grand Cru

Romanée Conti Grand Cru. Image Source: Robb Report

Grand Crus stand on a tier all their own. Without any designation referring to village or region, these wines are made solely from grapes of a grand cru vineyard, once again classified by the monks. These vineyards were classified as the best place to grow wines, wines for the pope. These grand cru vineyards have been classified as the best vineyards in all of Burgundy, for their terroir and distinctive properties. Since they come from vineyards with highly desirable characteristics and are limited to a single vineyard, the prices can easily make these one of the most expensive wines in the world, all a simple case of supply and demand. Grand Crus, unlike Premier Crus gets its own AOC designation, e.g. Chambertin, Musigny, Romaneé , etc.

Monks deemed these grapes wines for the Pope (Pope juice).

The higher up the ladder you climb, the more distinctive the wine and typically the more expensive (all supply and demand).

Writing this and future posts about Burgundy took a lot of effort and resources, including, not only Internet sources, but also GuildSomm, Wine Folly, The Wine Bible, Kevin Zraly's Windows on the World : Complete Wine Course, Nancy Milby's French Wine Class(es) at LCA Wine, and Mitchell (FWS) - who let me bug him constantly.

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