Do you love wine, but find the French wine to be confusing and intimidating? The French system of classifying wine is one of the most complicated and seems counterintuitive compared to the American system of classifying wines by varietal.
French wine is classified first by the region in which the wine is grown. Burgundy, or Bourgogne, is one of the most well known wine regions in France. Located in eastern France, Burgundy is a good starting point for learning about French wines because there are only four main wine grapes grown in Burgundy.
The primary grapes grown in the Burgundy region are Pinot Noir and Gamay for red wines and Chardonnay and Alight for white wines. The most common Burgundy wines are totally Pino Noir or totally Chardonnay. There are, however, some rosé and sparkling wines produced in Burgundy, but there are fewer wineries producing these wines and they are often listed under the regional classification for the area.
The second classification for French wines has to do with the quality. The French classifications from best to least quality are Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Village and regional classifications.
- The Grand Cru wines are made from the very best grapes from the very best vineyard in one area.
- The Premier Cru wines are made from grapes from the best vineyards, but not necessarily the very best.
- The Villages wines are made from grapes from a mix of vineyards within a village.
- The regional classifications for Burgundy wine are AOC Bourgogne, Subregional (which means that the wine comes from an area of Burgundy that is larger than just one village, such as Haut-Côtes Nuits and Macon-Villages), and wines that are of a specific style or other grape varieties, such as the rosé and sparkling wines.
Labeling as Burgundy
Many Pinot Noir wines are referred to as “Burgundy” wines, but only wines grown in the Burgundy region can actually be labeled as Burgundy wines. Generally, in the United States, these wines would be Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, or they might be referred to as a Burgundy-style blend.
The Burgundy region is also home to two popular subregions: Beaujolais and Chablis. Since these are large and complicated sub-regions, we will cover them separately.
Burgundy is home to some of the most expensive wines in the world. Some notable Burgundies are Domaine Leroy (which is about $1,000 for a bottle of the 2005 vintage), Henri Jayer, Emmanuel Rouget and Domain Leflaive, in the event that you win the lottery or are a contestant on Jeopardy.