The story appears on

Page B10

October 20, 2011

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » iDEAL

Unraveling the Burgundy mystique

THE second week of our wine education filming takes us on the road traveling south from Burgundy to Penedes, Spain. Reflecting on our past three days in Burgundy, France, I am reminded of the old saying, "Nothing is easy in Burgundy." Trying to explain the intricacies of Burgundy to my co-star Shanghai TV personality Sunny Pan and to the rest of the film crew has been a difficult endeavor of passion.

In other words, making Burgundy simple is exceedingly difficult.

Burgundy's climate is variable and the appellation system utterly confusing. The most important red wine grape, the Pinot Noir, is among the most difficult and sensitive varieties to cultivate and store; however, when things go right, the wines of Burgundy can be some of the most complex, intriguing and fragrant wines of the world.


Burgundy produces the greatest expressions of two of the world's most important varieties, Chardonnay for white wines and Pinot Noir for red wines and many wine connoisseurs consider Burgundy the most terrior-driven wine makers in the world.

When we compare the farmer-artist wine makers of Burgundy to the businessmen-gentlemen wine makers of Bordeaux, we commonly observe that when you shake the hand of the owner of a Bordeaux chateau it is clean and well-manicured while the hands of Burgundy owners are rough and have dirt under the nails.


While some of the greatest domaines in Burgundy have rightfully received world recognition for their wines, the growers, wine makers and negociants, a wine merchant who collects the produce of smaller growers and wine makers and sells it under its name, of Burgundy have never been as business savvy and proactive as those of Bordeaux.

The wines of Burgundy are often very good and sometimes profoundly great, but they are also notoriously inconsistent due to significant climate and wine-making variances.

Burgundy has more than 500 different appellations, more than any other French wine region, about 3,500 domaines and over 100 negociants making this region nearly impossible for the average wine buyer to understand.


One solution to help solve the intricacies of Burgundy is to understand the classifications. While the knowledge of the importance of the different terrior of Burgundy and the varying levels of wine quality dates back to the middle ages and perhaps even Roman times, the formal classification of Burgundy wines is more recent.

Other than decrees by the first Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Bold (1364-1404), the earliest attempts at classification were in the form of books that tried to make sense of the cornucopia of wines of the region. The two most influential publications were "La Vigne et le Vin en Cote d'Or" published in 1831 by Denis Morelot and "Histoire et Statistique de la Vigne de Grande Vins de la Cote-d'Or" published in 1855 by Jules Lavalle.

Both books presented five levels of classification. In 1861, the Beaune Committee of Agriculture simplified the five levels into three classes that led to the present day classification that started in the national AOC classification of 1936.

Simply put there are four levels, starting at the top with Grand Cru, then Premier Cru, Village and finally AOC. Grand and Premier Cru wines can only come from the highest rated vineyards that are usually on the tops of the hillsides.

Village AC wines can only have grapes from a designated village in Burgundy while Burgundy AC wines can include allowed varieties from anywhere in the AC. Knowing the basics of the classification system is a good start but it's not enough, you must also know the principal villages.

Vintages & producers

Over recent years Burgundy has been on a hot streak without suffering a really bad vintage since 1987. This makes vintage selection somewhat easier.

In fact, there is a school of thought, which includes several of the wine makers I met last week, that global warming is benefiting Burgundy leading to earlier harvest times when the weather in more stable with the resulting vintages more consistent.

Despite less vintage variations the fact remains that buying Burgundy wines today still remains too much of a hit and miss proposition with many underperforming wines and at all price ranges. Therefore, knowing your producer is also essential.

Some of the best big producers are Louis Jadot, Joseph Drouhin and Louis Latour. To excellent smaller producers with wines available in Shanghai are Domain de Montille and Domaine Rougeot.


Throughout Burgundy, and especially in the Cote de Beaune and Cote de Nuits regions of the Cote d'Or, knowing a wine means knowing a particular village. Each village is surrounded by vineyards that make wines of particular characteristics and personalities.

Even individual vineyards and parcels within these vineyards may make wines with different characters. Two villages we visited that particularly impressed me were Volnay and Meursault.

Neither boasts Grand Cru wines but they have some of the best Premier Cru wines in Burgundy. Volnay is the southern most village in the Cote d'Or that produces red wines and boasts some of the oldest vineyards in Burgundy. The best Volnay Premier Cru vineyards include Bousse d'Or, Les Callerets, Les Champans, Clos des Chenes and Clos des Ducs.

Also in Cote de Beaune, Meursault is one of the largest village appellations and is famous for its flavorful and sophisticated white wines. The best Premier Cru vineyards are Les Charmes, Les Genevrieres and Les Perrieres, the later making white wines comparable to the Grand Cru wines of its famous neighbor to the south, the village of Puligny-Montrachet.

Appreciating Burgundy

You can do everything right in choosing a bottle of Burgundy and still fail miserably if you don't know how to properly serve a Burgundy wine. Grand Cru and Premier Cru reds usually need at least 30 minutes breathing time while even the top whites benefit from 10-15 minutes in the glass allowing their complex aromas to develop.

Serving temperatures is a little more controversial as a number of wine makers I tasted with last week served their wines at higher temperatures than I would, however a good guide is:

AOC Burgundy: 14-15°C

Burgundy Villages: 15-16°C

Premier Cru: 15-16°C

Grand Cru: 15-16°C


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend