A Burgundy 'Primer'
by Yak Shaya
For those who are baffled by Burgundy's confusing appellations, names and labels I'll try
to put things in (some) order here.
Following a brief introduction, we will make a tour of the Cote d'Or from north to south.
We will 'visit' the most important communes in both the Cote de Nuits and the Cote de
Beaune and learn about the best wines produced in each village.
Cote de Nuits
Cote de Beaune
Following are the main official appellations applied to the Cote d'Or in ascending
Cote de Nuits[Beaune]-Village
Commune (or Village) Wine
Usually (but not always) a wine will be sold under the highest appellation it is entitled to.
For me at least, only the top three categories are of any interest, namely Village Wine,
Premier Cru (sometimes denoted as 1er Cru) and Grand Cru.
Normally a Village wine is called by the commune name with no reference to specific
vineyard. Additionally the label will read something like:"Appellation Nuits-St. George
Controlee", or "Appellation Volnay Controlee".
There are however some instances (though still uncommon) where a specific vineyard name
will be added to the commune name. This, I'm afraid, is designed to confuse the
inexperienced, as Vosne-Romanee 'Aux Reas' would "sound" a 1er Cru when in fact it
is a single-vineyard village wine. Vosne-Romanee 'Clos de Reas' on the other hand
is a 1er Cru (and a very good one at that!). How to tell? Simple, if you don't
know the vineyard to be a Premier Cru, look for the "Appellation ... Premier Cru
Controlee". If it ain't there - it ain't a Premier Cru.
Premiers Crus always say so on their label. The normal procedure is to give the
commune name, followed by the vineyard name, and then the "Appellation Premier Cru
Controlee". e.g Gevrey-Chambertin 'Les Cazetiers'. However, this is not always
the case (though mostly it is). You may find a wine labeled Morey-St. Denis Premier
Cru which usually means the wine is a blend from two or more 1er Cru vineyards in the
commune of Morey-St. Denis.
Grand Cru is the highest appellation in Bourgogne. That does not mean however that all
Grands Crus are of equal quality (the same goes for 1er Crus). Each Grand Cru has its own
appellation. Most Grand Cru wines won't even bother to say so on the label and they will
never mention the name of the commune they belong to. You are supposed to know what you are
Chambolle-Musigny is a Village wine from the commune of Chambolle-Musigny.
Chambolle-Musigny 'Les Amoureuses' is a superb 1er Cru from the same commune.
Musigny and Bonnes Mares are two Grands Crus from Chambolle-Musigny
(actually part of
Bonnes Mares belongs to the commune of Morey-St. Denis).
(When I refer to a wine as being very-good, excellent or superb, I always mean that from
the best producers in a good year. In Bourgogne, maybe more so than anywhere else, the
ranking of a vineyard refers to its potential. Winemakers in the Cote d'Or have
been known to make insipid, harsh or even plain plonk wines bearing the noblest of
It would not be true to the confusing spirit of Bourgogne if things were simple. So they
Once upon a time there were single village names in the Cote d'Or. Names like
Gevrey, Morey, Chambolle etc. Then (in part due to the appellation rules imposed at the
beginning of the century) each village 'adopted' the name of its most illustrious
vineyard, and attached it to its name in the hope that some of the glory of the famous
vineyard would rub off and 'promote' the otherwise lowlier village wines.
Thus Gevrey became Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle became Chambolle-Musigny and Morey became
Morey-St. Denis (though this last example backfired a little as today Clos St.-Denis is
far from the best Grand Cru there).
Why Beaune, Volnay, and Pommard retained their single
name? Simple, none of them has a Grand Cru within its boundaries. The confusion reaches
un-paralleled heights with the white Grand Cru vineyard of Montrachet. The famous
vineyard happens to lie within the boundaries of two communes: Puligny and Chassagne.
Naturally both availed themselves of its name, becoming Puligny-Montrachet and
Chassagne-Montrachet. Then there are four more vineyards, Grands Crus in their own right,
surrounding Montrachet. They were called once Batard, Chevalier, Bienvenues, and Criots.
Today they are Batard-Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet,
Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet and Criots-Batard-Montrachet.
Simple, isn't it? :)
To learn about specific communes, go to the top of the page and click the relevant link.
Reach Me? firstname.lastname@example.org
Jacob "Yak" Shaya.