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How to choose best vintages

IT may almost be a clich? but Burgundy is incredibly complex to navigate. Its microclimate and inheritance laws mean that growers own just small parcels of land, and each parcel can produce spectacularly different results even when next to each other.

First time buyers are thus often put off by the complicated village and vineyard names on the label, so use this simple guide to approach these extremely rewarding wines.

Go for the generic AOC wines to start with. These are often just labeled "Burgundy?or "Bourgogne.?

Next level up are the village wines, starting with the fairly generic Cote du Beaune Village or Cote de Nuits Villages, then the individual villages located within both slopes.

The Premier Cru vineyards are next, followed by the Grand Cru. These are the wines produced in the smallest quantities (often just a thousand or so bottles) and, obviously, the most expensive. During a November auction in Hong Kong by American auction house Acker Merrall & Condit, 12 cases of Domaine de la Romanee Conti (1990 to 2001) were sold for US$274,000 while a case of 1990 La Tache fetched US$118,600.

When it comes to paying huge sums of cash, vintage is obviously paramount. Vintage variation is less apparent in the cheaper labels, but if in doubt, 2005 is a good bet all round (the equivalent of saying China has many people).

When examining the labels, which are packed with information, look out for the following. If it lists the village name only, it is cheapest.

With village and vineyard on the label it's Premier Cru and raise the price, while if only vineyard is listed, then this is a Grand Cru wine. Be wary when sommeliers bring you the bottle.


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