Thursday, December 3, 2009

Number 100- the beginning of Burgundy

Since this is my 100th post, I figured it had better have some substance to it. Also, it just happens to be Thursday, when I typically write about a particular wine region of the world. These both led me to talk on one of the most complicated subjects in the wine world- Burgundy.

I'm just going to give you the basics today. Over the next several Thursdays, I will go deeper- we will never get to the bottom of the subject, as you could fill a library with the amount of information in the world about Burgundy. Nonetheless, here we go-

Most wine geeks, if you ask them what wine they would choose to drink it only for the rest of their lives, would most likely say Burgundy. The romantic notion of palacial domaines, and $1000 bottles of red wine evoke emotion in anyone that is somewhat of a wine fan. In order to understand why simply the notion of Burgundy will bring a mist to the eye of a collector, one must understand the intricacies of the area.

In its simplest form, Burgundy is about two grapes, and the soil. All of the great red wines from the area are made from Pinot Noir, and all of the great white wines are made from Chardonnay. As for the soil, there is very little manipulation in the wines. Most of the wine makers simply make the wine, and let the terroir speak for itself.
Geography-wise, Burgundy is located on the eastern side of France, and is comprised of five major regions- Chablis, Cote d'Or, Cote Chalonnaise, Maconnais, and Beaujolais. I will address each of these regions in future weeks individually.
Wines in each of these regions are broken into increasingly smaller categories:

Bourgogne- Wines made from grapes sourced from anywhere in Burgundy

Villages- Wines made from the vineyards in and around a specific village

Premier Cru- Wines from a specific, very well rated vineyard

Grand Cru- Wines from the top rated vineyards in Burgundy

The ownership of the Domaines in the area is a bit different than in other areas of France. In Bordeaux, a Chateau consists essentially of the facility, and the vineyards around it. In Burgundy, the Domaine consists of small plots of several different vineyards that they own- most not directly around the actual facility. This is further complicated by the Napoleanic Code, which states that the children of a vineyard owner all inherit an equal portion of the vineyard. You can see how, after multiple generations, the vineyards get broken up into smaller and smaller portions- each person owning a few rows of vines. One example of this is the Clos de Vougeot- which has about 125 acres, owned by over 80 people. Each of these owners will make a wine called "Clos de Vougeot", but the quality and price can vary wildly.

Confused yet? Don't worry, it gets worse. For example, if you look at the label of a wine, how are you supposed to know if it is a Village, Premier Cru, or Grand Cru wine? Most of the time, it will say 1er cru, or grand cru on the label. That's your biggest hint. If it doesn't, look at the name. If there is a hyphen, then it's likely a Village wine. For example, the village of Chambolle-Musigny used to be called Chambolle, until they noticed that people were buying wine from their famous Le Musigny vineyard. At that time, they adopted the name of the vineyard, and hyphenated it. If a wine has a "le" or a "la" on it, it is likely a Premier or Grand Cru.

Enough confusion for today. Go out, and just start looking at Burgundy labels. They are really cool, and you will eventually start getting the hang of deciphering them.


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