Burgundy: Four wine classifications, two regions

In order to dispel some of the mystery and naivety about Burgundian wines, a short overview and discussion should help clarify and dispel misinformation from the Côte d’Or, including two of Burgundy’s regions: Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits.

While this post will discuss the four wine classifications or appellations in the Côte d’Or (Grand Cu, Premier Cru, AOC Communales (Village) and the AOC Regionales (Regional)–see below, a brief background of the region is needed. You also might view maps of both regions via the Beaune-Tourism.com web site:

Côte de Beaune and its appellations
and Côte de Nuits and its appellations

Since the Romans arrived in France 2,000 years ago, the Burgundy region has produced wine. Today, over 3,000 producers produce mostly bottles of chardonnay and pinot noir, selling wine to locals and around the world.

Evidence of winemaking in the Burgundian landscape dates back to 312 A.D. when a group of people living in Autun sent a letter to Emperor Constantine, asking to lower taxes on low-producing vineyards. When the Romans left France in 401 A.D., the monasteries and abbeys took over the vineyards and developed techniques on how to grow, cultivate, harvest and store grapes. They actually developed the winemaking process that still continues today. Later, a religious order called Cistercians began to document their knowledge and to associate ‘terroir’ with the process. They came to understand that different parcels of land produced varying quality of wine. In fact, they even laid the foundation of the five different wine categories or vintages which characterize Burgundian wine classifications.

Throughout the centuries, monks and the religious institutions became more and more powerful, growing their land holdings in the process. As a result, they became wealthy land owners and Burgundy wines were much sought after. In fact, the best of the region was covered in vines and it was not until the French Revolution when these holdings were broken up and redistributed to area residents. Then, in the 1870s and ’80s, the phylloxera crisis, a grape blight that nearly destroyed the vineyards, forever altering the way Burgundy wine is categorized. By 1886, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were replanted onto disease resistant, American root stock into much reduced and recategorized Burgundy regions, or appellations; new vineyards and grape stock were only allowed in designated areas based on the terroir. While these two grape varietals became the most prestigious, eight lesser known varieties are grown in smaller quantities and designated parcels (aligoté, gamay, pinot beurot, melon, sauvignon blanc, and césar).

The terroir-diverse soils, rock strata and elevation all contribute to the placement of grape varietals and character of Burgundian wines. Each climat has a distinct flavor, subtleties, aromas and appearance that is unique to its region or appellation.

‘Climats,’ or delineation of classified wine vintages and parcels of land, began during the late 1820s and were altered numerous times over the decades. By 1935, the climat classified, identified and designated the territory where grapes varieties be planted. The terroir-diverse soils, rock strata and elevation all contribute to the placement of grape varietals and character of Burgundian wines. Each climat has a distinct flavor, subtleties, aromas and appearance that is unique to its region or appellation. Burgundy Wines web site is an excellent overview of the importance of Burgundian climats and its 2,000 year history.

Lynne Hammond, of Bringing Burgundy to You, also does a great job explaining the history and background of Burgundy. For our purposes here, she defines terroir as:

“An impossible word to translate into English, ‘terroir’ encompasses all the ingredients found in each vineyard: the soil type, top soil and sub soil, rock strata beneath, its angle facing the sun, its elevation on the slope and its micro climate. It is due to the forces of nature over the millennia – the early sea bed, ancient volcanic activity, effects of the ice age and erosion – that have contributed to a multitude of soil types that create their own identity. You can often see the ‘terroir’ change within metres, thus adding to the complexity of Burgundy wines. It is the diversity of Burgundy’s ‘terroirs’ or soil types that create the exceptional different aromas and tastes that you will find in the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines.”

–Lynne Hammond

So Burgundy wines owe much of their development to thousands of years of geological and weather forces but also to human tinkering with varieties and the winemaking processes. It became evident that some regions and geology were better at creating higher quality pinot noir and chardonnay’s than others. The Côte de Beaune vineyards, which cover 20 kilometers in mostly chalky, marly limestone soil, produces mostly white wine (chardonnay). The appellation, Ladoix north of Beaune to just south of Santenay, produces white wine which out-paces red wine in ferruginous soils (pinot noir) by a three to one margin. On the other hand, in the Côte de Nuits, in well drained, Mid-Jurassic limestone soil with a chalky base, world-reknowm red wine (pinot noir) is mostly produced in a 20-kilometer area just south of Dijon to Corgoloin.

On the Grand Cru label, the name of the vineyard is dominant while the words “Grand Cru” is next prominent, beneath the name of the vineyard. In this case, the name of the winemaker, Fabien Coche, is the least noticeable.

Burgundy wines are divided into four main classifications or appellations: Grand Cu, Premier Cru, AOC Communales (Village) and the AOC Regionales (Regional), each requiring a different label.

THE APPELLATIONS:
Grand Cru: The best of the best

The Grand Cru vineyards and appellation make up about 2 percent of the total wine production in Burgundy with the majority found in the Côte de Nuits. Most often they are planted about mid-slopes (250-300m) of the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits regions. The combination of soil, drainage, sun exposure, and vintner skill create the top Burgundy labels.

Burgundy has 33 Grand Crus: 32 Grand Crus in the Côte d’Or (Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits) and one in Chablis (in seven different vineyards). On the Grand Cru label, the name of the vineyard is dominant and the words “Grand Cru” is next prominent, beneath the name of the vineyard. The name of the winemaker is the least noticeable. All of the wine from a Grand Cru bottle is from that vineyard–no exceptions. Many of these wines are the most expensive bottles in the world and about 2/3 of them are red pinot noir.

Premier Cru (1er Cru) account for about 10 percent of all Burgundy wines. In this case, this producer owns the whole vineyard and offers a special release “Monopole” bottle (right) of a Premier Cru, promoting its unique qualities.

Premier Cru (1er Cru): The top of the next

Just below Grand Cru and making up about 10 percent of the wine production is Burgundy Premier Cru or 1er Cru. Premier Cru vineyards may be just below, just above or to the side of a Grand Cru vineyard on the slopes and were classified as such in either 1935 or 1936. Each Premier Cru wine is highly regarded and all the grapes are traditionally from a single village vineyard indicated on the label. The winemaker will determine what part of the village appellation the wine will come from. Ola Bergman on the web site Bergman’s Bourgogne says it better than I when discussing Premier Cru:

“For each step up yields are getting lower and the plots of land smaller. The premier crus are labelled in a similar way to the village wines; the name of the village with the addition of the words premier cru or the name of the lieu-dit (vineyard). There are a total of 562 premier crus in Burgundy. Technically the premier crus are part of the village appellations, not appellations in their own right. Inside every village appellation there are a large number of plots. Some of these have consistently produced wines of higher quality and have therefore been singled out as premier crus.”

–Ola Bergman

In order to make it easier to read a Burgundy Premier Cru label, I’ve included another blogger’s post on “How To Read A French Wine Label – Burgundy,” by Radames Millan at EatingVine.com: The Tasteful Palate.

Now all that being said, I did some additional reading through some of the nationally recognized wine magazines and came across a Wine Enthusiast, July 13, 2010, article by Roger Voss entitled “Unearthing Burgundy’s Magic.” Voss wonders aloud whether there might be any movement to improve the classification on these wines and sets out to determine that for himself. I too have wondered this and read with fascination as he described seven vineyards he believed should be moved up. I am now on a hunt for those wine labels to find out for myself.

With Burgundy prices often reaching over $100 per bottle, a Village wine is often a wonderful, aromatic alternative. This chardonnay bottle, produced by Domaine Marcillet, actually comes from Savigny les Beaune, a village in the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune appellation.

AOC Communales (Village): The affordable Burgundy

The communal or village wine is arguably the “best bang for your buck” Burgundy. These wines represent about 35 percent of Burgundy production and will list the name of the village or community prominently on the label. In fact, often a single vineyard will be listed as well. Many of the name-brand producers make these wines, and with some simple research, these bottles often become regulars on the lunch or dinner table.

Karen Ulrich who blogged for Imbibe New York wrote “Village Appellations; Climats in Burgundy” in January 7, 2011. She had attended a seminar on the Village appellations and Climats in Burgundy. Her post explains that the village wines are an option for those on a limited budget for French wines. In fact, one purpose of Talesofthecork.com, is to present Burgundy wines and their producers to North American tables. My goal is to reach those who are willing to educate and expand their wine knowledge and tastes. French wines are a wonderful addition to any new world cellar’s reds and whites.

AOC Regionales (Régional): Bourgogne is Burgundy’s base wine
A Régional Bourgogne wine will be produced from anywhere across the Burgundy growing area. The word Bourgogne will be prominent on the label and then the grape variety. These wines are not village or vineyard specific but use grapes combined and blended from all over Burgundy. Régional wines make up 53 percent of all Burgundy wines and are commonly found in markets and wine shops across the world. This classification will include chardonnay and pinot noir but may also be one of Burgundy’s lesser-known wines, including gamay, aligoté, and melon.

As with the wines in the previous categories, soil, growing conditions, and vintner all play an important role in the quality of the Régional wine. In fact, in each category, the buyer cannot just assume a village or vineyard name will assure a top-rate Burgundy wine. The vintner’s role is immensely important. So, try these wines and begin to develop your preferred tastes and palate and then gravitate to a winemaker who creates wines you favor.

After a brief background of Burgundy and two of its regions within the Côte d’Or, including the four classifications of Burgundian wine, I am ready to share tales of those I have met. Next up is the first of many winemaker’s stories: Domaine Dujardin and Ulrich Dujardin of Monthelie. Look for Outsider impacts Burgundy winemaking tradition, Part I, on July 18 or 19.

Salut!

Burgundy: A place to bed down

With a holiday date set, flights purchased and a car secure, housing is the next most important item to confirm. This decision often will make, or break, any successful vacation. Travel agents who you trust often ensure a great place, but their help often is limited to agencies and hotels they contract with. Just for interest sake, you might spend some Internet-trolling time looking for a house rental, flat (apartment) or possibly hotel, in Burgundy.

The web links below to take the user to Burgundy, but each URL has many rental options. Simply adjust the search requirements to fit your preferences. Most rentals are reserved by the week and those listed represent a cross-section of public and private weekly rental options and prices.

While renting a hotel room in Beaune allows closer access to nightlife, visitors to Burgundy might consider an 18th century refurbished farm-house for a week like this one at the edge of Meursault.

Vacation home and apartment rentals:

Holiday Rentals in France

VRBO Vacation Rentals: Burgundy

FlipKey Vacation Rentals: Burgundy

Great Rentals Vacation Rentals: Burgundy

Grape Rentals: Burgundy

HomeAway Vacation Rentals: Burgundy

Owners Direct Holiday Accommodation: Beaune

Fresh vegetables and breads are common at farmer’s markets. Local poultry, meat and fish make BBQ a tantalizing cuisine option.

There are other web addresses as well if these do not fit your needs. Simply type different words into the blank search menu in order to maximize your requirements.

However, no matter your choice of lodging, securing a place to rest after wine tasting or visiting wine merchants is very important. Just like in the States, preferred places tend to book early so do some research and make a choice ASAP. Most owners or agencies also will require a down payment when booking their houses or apartments.

In addition to the obvious advantages of more bedrooms and bathrooms, a living room and kitchen in a rental home, other amenities such as a BBQ areas, a pool, washer and dryer and other conveniences are often standard in every home. Many of us would rather make our own coffee creme and sip it in the backyard or patio area than pay $5 Cup-a-Joe prices in the villages every morning. Now don’t get me wrong, I love sitting at the local cafe and doing just that, but I choose to rather than have to. … Croissants are also cheaper and just as good from the local patisserie. In fact, the increased privacy and use of local farmer’s markets for a home cooked meal is a huge benefit. Try your hand and learn to make regional dishes using local produce!

The only con I can see is that maid service is only included once a week during a house rental. Can you live with hanging up the towels after each use like you do at home?

If organizing a week at a village apartment or house is out of the question, renting a hotel room in a small village may be a good fit, including a room at Domaine Thierry Violot Guillemard’s Nights of Saint John’s guest house in Pommard.

Burgundy hotels:

However, if you are adamant about renting a room, Burgundy has a wide array of rooms to fit any budget. So decide whether walking to the night life hot spots of Beaune or Dijon will create that memorable stay or a quiet village hotel just off the main square of St. Romain, Nuits St. Georges or Santenay fit your style. The following links will provide options for both or some combination.

France Hotel Guide: Burgundy

Burgundyeye Accommodations

Hotels.com

Trip Advisor Hotels and Bed and Breakfasts: Meursault, France

Burgundy Today Accommodations

Burgundy Tourism

Whether you or the travel agent books a hotel, flat or a vacation home, be sure to print and bring along your pre-paid voucher. You will need to present it when you check in. You will also most likely be required to show your passport; it must match your name on the voucher. Simply presenting your credit card may not be enough and could cause a delay in checking into your accommodations.

Located just off Meursault’s main square, the Hotel du Chèvreuil is about a 15-minute drive from Beaune.

If travelers still do not have confidence in these web addresses, a number of nationally recognized web sites offer suggestions on tour planning. These sites include Fodors.com, Frommers.com, and Rick Steves’ Europe also offer tour planning as well.

FINAL NOTE: Health insurance

Lastly, a word of caution about your heath coverage overseas. While many insurance policies will cover you, many will only reimburse your out-of-pocket expenses after you return to the States. However, with policies ever-changing, it would be a good idea to check with your carrier and check with the Travel.State.Gov for International Travel for any updates or cautions about travel or insurance. Ask whether coverage is the same or how any claims would be handled while you are out of country? In any case, I believe it prudent to get additional coverage from agencies who specialize in this area. Please review the policies carefully but companies like the following have specific policies for traveling abroad.

HTH Worldwide Travel Medical

HCC Medical Insurance Services

Cigna Global Health Options

Aetna International Health Insurance

Travelex Insurance Services

If you buy a policy, make certain you specifically outline the days you are out of country. You might add an extra day as well in case of delays to ensure you are still covered. Also, make sure you print a copy of your Confirmation of Coverage and plan or policy details, noting your confirmation number, web address and toll-free phone numbers both from the country you are in and from the United States.

After providing options on where to stay in Burgundy and a reminder to check on your insurance, I will next focus a discussion of the four levels of Burgundy wines: Grand Cu, Premier Cru, AOC Communales (Village) and the AOC Regionales. See you on or before July 13.

Salut!

Burgundy: First things first

Despite London getting a large share of the holiday and travel press this year, I decided to kick off Tales of the Cork with a visit to Burgundy, France, in June. But before a visit to taste Burgundian wine or savor a local, traditional meal, some planning is in order. I begin this segment with some tips for anyone looking to create a trip to the French Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wine growing region.

The following is the first post in a series meant to help everyone prepare for a trip to Burgundy, France. The first steps include flights, rental car and international phone service.

A trip to Burgundy must include the village of Meursault: the center of the wine white world. Tools of the trade? A bottle of white and two 100-year-old instruments.

Getting started: Flights

Assuming France is the country of choice, and wine and food are the reason to travel, I found my trip to Burgundy made easier by flying into Paris-Orly Airport rather than into Charles de Gaulle (CDG). While CDG is often the airport of choice, it is located 16 miles northeast of the city. A better choice for Burgundy-bound travelers is Orly, as it is 11 miles south of Paris.

Orly however, can only be reached via other European airports, so your flight path will include places like London’s Heathrow, Germany’s Frankfurt or Munich and the Netherlands’ Amsterdam airports; however, most of the time, layovers are only 90 minutes. This is easily made up on the other end, traveling to and from the airports via rail links, rental car or cabs (A cab ride to Paris from Orly is about 30 Euros). Also when booking your flights, it may be a good idea to choose your seat immediately, but you will have to pay a premium for this option. I did and was able to choose a “twin” seat in coach with more room (also opt for an exit row or bulkhead seat). I figured comfort was worth the extra money on long flights.

With Orly already south of Paris, traffic snarls and delays are less traveling south. The bonus is that car rental and pick up is within a minute walk of Orly’s front doors.

Getting started: Rental car

Like most metropolises in the world, traffic and navigation are always an issue for a newcomer. I was required to present an International Driver’s License/Permit at the rental counter. These only cost about $15 and need to be obtained at your local AAA office. (Make sure you bring along recent standard passport photos, as they will be needed for the permit) I added a GPS system to my rental car and was out of the airport, traveling south, within the hour of arrival. I found this extra $12 expense worth it because, even when adding an international plan, overseas cellphone roaming charges can be expensive. Plus it is comforting to know I would be “told” in advance by the GPS when and where to turn. This is a good option for a newbie visitor, and driver, in a foreign country.

NOTE: Smartphones can use data for free if used in Wi-Fi hotspots. But good luck getting that option when you are in the middle of nowhere. (See International cell phone plans*)

I rented a Renault Megane from Europcar. Perfect compact 4-door hatchback for my wife and I for an 8-day trip to Burgundy.

A few notes about rental cars though: Be sure to prebook the car before leaving the U.S. and confirm it is for unlimited milage. Also, check with your credit card company that they will cover collision and theft so there is no need to add an extra policy at the rental counter. Plus, if you add coverage, make sure the credit company is listed first on the policy.

In fact, it would be prudent of you to print a copy of your credit card Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver page and note their phone number. In fact often the travel service number should also be noted. The rental company should cover liability.

When booking the car rental from home, be sure to bring along your pre-paid voucher that the agency emailed you. You will need to present it when you check in. You will most likely also have to show your passport and it must match your name on the voucher. Simply presenting your credit card may not be enough and could cause a delay in receiving your car.

Finally, walk around the car with a rental agency person. Make sure any and all dings, scratches or marks are noted. I found multiple errors on the contract. The company quickly corrected the forms upon my inspection.

NEW POLICY: As of July 1, 2012, each car driven in France must carry two breathalyzer kits. The new law is meant to keep inebriated drivers off the road. There will be a four-month grace period before fines the equivalent of $14 will be assessed if drivers are found not to carry them. France also has very strict and harsh penalties for drinking and driving.

Rail Europe to Beaune or Dijon

For those of you who wish to take the TGV from Paris to Burgundy the trip is made effortless by Rail Europe. For as little as $114 return, you can have an airline-style seat (with more legroom) and access to a bar-buffet car, taking in the French countryside through its large windows. If you want more comfort you might check out the first class cabin. Depending on the time you choose to leave, comfort level and number of stops, the trip will take from 1 hour, 37 minutes to 2 hours, 52 minutes. You can rent a car near each station.

Getting started: International cell phone plans

Before a trip overseas, I added three additional items to my cell phone plan. While service providers vary, I use AT&T. The plans are as follows: WORLD TRAVELER (monthly service $5.99). This brings the cost of calling to $.99 per minute. When traveling outside the U.S., I alter my texting plan to 200 texts per month for $30.00 (Overage $0.35 per message). Under this plan, picture/video messages were sent for $0.50 and I also increased my data plan to 120MB per month for $30. Just remember to cancel this service when you return. Now, in the months and weeks to come, this cost vary and may not be needed if you only use your phone in Wi-Fi hot spots.

The village and 11th century Château de la Rochepot is just a short drive south of Beaune. It just goes to show that you never know what is just around the corner in Burgundy.

If you have further questions about your ATT account, please refer to ATT Global or call 1-800-335-4685. Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile customers should contact their providers. I do not promote any particular plan but also want to point out that renting a European mobile phone from companies like Mobal.com may be a good alternative. The company touts recommendations from a variety of sources.

While the decision to travel and setting side time for a vacation is the first step, scheduling the dates and flights are the most important. In my next post on or before July 13, hotel, house and/or apartment rental will require most of our attention. I look forward to sharing behind the scenes stories of those who bring food and wine to us soon.

Salut!