A Collector’s Guide to Burgundy and its Crus


A Collector’s Guide to Burgundy and its Crus

Wine Team New York |

Loved for their heady perfume, beguiling beauty and pure fruit flavours, Burgundy’s wines offer power and delicacy in the same glass. The hallowed ground of the Côte d'Or is home to some of the most prized producers on the planet, including Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Ramonet, Armand Rousseau and Domaine Leroy, which continue to smash auction records as an expanding global audience of collectors seeks to snap up standout vintages from these top names.

Roman Roots

Located in east-central France, Burgundy has nurtured vines since the Roman times, with the first evidence of vineyards documented in 312AD. During Charlemagne’s reign in the 8th and 9th centuries, Burgundy carved out a reputation for the quality of its wines, while Cistercian monks later cemented its progress by planting vineyards across the Côte de Nuits in the 11th century.

With over 100 appellations, more than 28,000 hectares of vines and 3,000 producers making some 15 million cases of wine a year, Burgundy can be a complex region to get to grips with; but at its core are the four ‘Vs’: village, vineyard, vigneron and vintage.

Transmitting Terroir

Working principally with just one red variety – Pinot Noir – and one white – Chardonnay – the region’s winemakers are respected around the world for their ability to reveal marked differences in wines made from grapes grown mere metres apart. Hot summers and harsh winters are the norm in Burgundy, where clay-limestone soils from the Jurassic era abound. Taking in everything from bathonian and bajocian to kimmeridgian and portlandian, each soil type found within the region has its own characteristics which, along with slope and aspect to the sun, account for the differing characteristics of Burgundy’s various vineyards.

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the perfect conduits through which to reveal these subtle differences in soil and climate. The Pinots display darker fruit and spice flavours in Burgundy’s cooler areas, and more red fruits and floral characteristics in warmer areas. Elsewhere, Chardonnay adapts well to a range of climates, producing citrus and apple-scented expressions in the cool region of Chablis, and wines full of orchard fruits in the warmer Côte de Beaune.

Decoding the Crus

Established in 1935, there are four quality tiers within Burgundy’s classification system. At the base of the pyramid are the regional appellations, such as Hautes Côtes de Nuits and Mâcon, which account for more than half of all wines produced in the region. Next come the 44 village appellations, such as Volnay and Puligny-Montrachet, which represent around 37% of total production.

Then come the Premier Cru vineyards, such as Meursault Charmes Premier Cru and Gevrey Chambertin Clos St Jacques Premier Cru, which account for just 10% of the production in Burgundy. Sitting atop the quality pyramid are Burgundy’s 33 Grand Cru vineyard sites, which account for less than 2% of all wine produced in the region each year.

A Tale of Two Côtes

The Côte d’Or is split into two sections: the Côte de Nuits in the north, which is almost exclusively planted with Pinot Noir, and the Côte de Beaune down south, where Chardonnay reigns supreme. The Côte de Nuits is the source of Burgundy’s greatest reds from villages such as Nuits-St-Georges, Chambolle-Musigny and Vosne-Romanée.

Producing silky, ethereal reds, Vosne-Romanée boasts Burgundy’s most lauded vineyards: Romanée-Conti, La Romanée, La Tâche, Richebourg and Romanée-Saint-Vivant, and is home to some iconic producers including DRC, Leroy, Méo-Camuzet and Liger-Belair. The wines of Gevrey-Chambertin, meanwhile, are celebrated for their perfume and power. Further south, the Côte de Beaune is the source of Burgundy’s greatest whites and home to villages such as Aloxe-Corton, Chassagne-Montrachet and Meursault.

Sacred Sites  

Land ownership in Burgundy is fragmented. It’s common for a family to own less than a hectare of land, while some preside over just a few rows of vines, meaning what little wine is produced from the top domaines is highly coveted by collectors. Hailing from the heart of the Côte d’Or – a 50km, east-facing ‘golden slope’ – where the balance of clay and limestone is optimal, Burgundy’s top vineyards are the source of the region’s most powerful, complex and ageworthy wines, which are among the most sought-after in the world.

Collector interest remains focused on Grands Crus from producers with enviable reputations, such as Domaine Leroy, DRC, Ramonet and Armand Rousseau. While approachable in their youth, these wines often need at least a decade in bottle to come into their own, but the best expressions from the top vintages will age gracefully for many decades more.

- Lucy Shaw | a wine and spirits editor and writer, based in London.

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