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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.

Commune Names
Cote de Nuits

  • Gevrey-Chambertin
  • Morey-St. Denis
  • Chambolle-Musigny
  • Vougeot
  • Vosne-Romanee
  • Nuits-St. Georges
    Cote de Beaune
  • Aloxe-Corton
  • Pernand-Vergelesses
  • Sauvigny-les-Beaune
  • Beaune
  • Pommard
  • Volnay
  • Meursault
  • Puligny-Montrachet
  • Chassagne-Montrachet


    Following are the main official appellations applied to the Cote d'Or in ascending order:

  • Bourgogne
  • Grand Ordinaire
  • Pass-Tout-Grains
  • Hautes-Cotes-de-Nuits[Beaune]
  • Cote de Nuits[Beaune]-Village
  • Commune (or Village) Wine
  • Premier Cru
  • Grand Cru

    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 drinking...

    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 names...)


    It would not be true to the confusing spirit of Bourgogne if things were simple. So they are not.
    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? yak@yakshaya.com

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    Jacob "Yak" Shaya.