I really, really, really wanted to call this piece “Burgundy Wines 101”. BUT the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne is pushing for the region to be called Bourgogne vs Burgundy in international markets. Ok, I’ll oblige.
In fact, this is a perfect introduction to the confusing world of Bourgogne wine. There’s no way around it. I have been studying wine for the better part of five years, and I still don’t quite GET Bourgogne. And I remember while I was in WSET Diploma study mode, many of my classmates felt the same. A few months ago I attended an all-day Bourgogne educational seminar put on by Somm360, which is a continuing education platform for somms. My favorite quote of the day was from Christian Oggenfuss, founder of the Napa Valley Wine Academy. “Generalities are dangerous in Bourgogne because there are so many exceptions.“ See…it’s confusing!! Bourgogne is a geographical and a wine region in the east of France. In regards to wine, the sub-regions north to south are: Chablis, the Côte-d’Or (which includes the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune), Côte Chalonnaise, and the Mâconnais.
Here are some basics facts about Bourgogne to get your feet wet:
*The main red grape is Pinot Noir, secondary is Gamay
*The main white grape is Chardonnay, secondary is Aligoté
*61% of wine production is white, 28% is red, and 11% is sparkling
*The US is the #1 export market for Bourgogne
*In 2015, Bourgogne was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Let’s briefly explore the quality pyramid in Bourgogne (top to bottom):
Grand Cru (1% of production)
There are 33 Grand Crus. Examples include: Montrachet and Charmes-Chambertin. These wines are of the highest quality level within the region.
Village Level & Premier Cru (47% of production)
There are 44 Village and Premier Cru. Examples include: Chablis 1er Cru, Mercurey, Pouilly-Fuissé).
Regionale AOC Level (51% of production)
Confusing Burgundian Laws
Another confusing part of Bourgogne is the inheritance laws in the area, which are bonkers. Called the Napoleonic code, the law is that a vineyard is split equally among heirs from generation to generation; making for an extremely fragmented system that adds to the confusion.The Burgundian even have their own word/notion for terroir. The term is “climat”. Climat is unique to Bourgogne. A climat is a specific area within Bourgogne that enjoys particular geological and climatic conditions. No joke, there are several THOUSAND climats in Bourgogne. And a climat is not to be confused with a lieux-dit, which is a small area of land whose name recalls a specific aspect of topographical or historical nature.
Climat vs Lieux-dit: Confusion Continues
At the seminar, I asked one of the instructors to break down climat vs lieux-dit simply, as I didn’t quite get it. This person is a top Bourgogne expert. As they were explaining it, it slowly got complicated and we were back to where we started. I found that this person was unable to break it down in an easy to understand and simple manner. Now this is not to put someone down. This is to give an example of why Bourgogne (fuck it…Burgundy) is so damn complicated. Why is it so expensive and why do only fancy, rich people drink it? Because it’s confusing AF and ain’t nobody got time for that! I love wine, but I just don’t have the energy to comprehend Bourgogne. I’ll keep trying (a little bit at a time), but I don’t really have the patience nor the pocketbook to really “get” the region.