The region of Burgundy is relatively simple to get into, but amazingly difficult to master. On the surface, if it is white wine, it will generally be Chardonnay. If red, it will be generally Pinot Noir. As with any rule of thumb, there are a few exceptions. Saint Bris, just outside Chablis, makes Sauvignon Blanc and Bouzeron in the southern reaches of the area makes only Aligote.
Wine, the Roman Empire, and the Catholic Church
Winemaking in the region predates the Romans who arrived in the area in 52 CE. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church took over production and the first Grand Cru Vineyard appeared in the year of 630. As the years progressed and the Church amassed more vineyard land, they figured out where to plant the best sites and named them as such.
Why a rare wine can cost more than $5,000 a bottle
In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte, who was probably not the first born of the family, decreed that all male citizens were equal. Before this decree, the first born got the estate, the second went to the military and the third born went to the Church. This leads to the fracturing of vineyard holdings from one owner in the 1800s to more than 80 today in the case of the Grand Cru vineyard Clos du Vougeot. The fragmentation is the reason why monopole vineyards, one owner for the whole thing, is rare and valuable. Domaine de la Romanee Conti’s La Tache Grand Cru, coming from only 15 acres will set you back north of $5000 for only one bottle!
How does the Quality Pyramid work?
Here is where it gets really complicated. Burgundy has a quality pyramid, where the land is classified, like real estate. The base level is Bourgogne AOC. The grapes can come from all over the region, equivalent to saying I live in the Charlotte Metro area. Moving up the pyramid, we go to the village level, like Beaune. Now we are talking about a more specific area with defined boundaries, like SouthEnd. Moving up again to Premiere Cru, which there are over 1300 named vineyards, we are talking about a more specific place, like the Ashton or the Arlington in SouthEnd. At the pinnacle, we have the Grand Cru vineyards. These are the Penthouses of those buildings. The villages in the area will append to their name to the most famous Grand Cru vineyard in the area.
Recommended Producers and Importers
Due to climate variances and the fracturing of the vineyards, quality will greatly vary year over year and widely from different producers pulling from the same vineyard. The largest Grand Crus with many producers tend to be also the least expensive. Look for producer such as Joseph Drouhin, Albert Bichot, Alex Gambal and Domaine Faiveley. As for importers, P Comms out of Asheville, Rosenthal Wine Merchants and Kermit Lynch all have outstanding books and relationships on the ground with the winemakers.
Adam Arlen: “I am passionate about wine because it is history in a bottle.” He is the sommelier for The Peninsula Club in Cornelius, NC. Originally from Allentown, PA, he believes you should always branch out and find new things. His goal is to never stop learning and continuing to grow both personally and professionally. A fun fact about him: “I was a nuclear engineer on a submarine in a previous life.”