Can someone give me a basic summing up of this region. Like montrachet's and Chablis, whats the difference. Whats a Puligny-Montrachet, or Pouilly Fuse? I know they are all Chardonnay but what classifies them as different.

Thanks,

Greg
Original Post
To give a California equivalent, let's start with the greater Sonoma County Appellation. This is a rather large geographic area with defined borders and proximity to the coast and marine influence as its overall defining character, caused primarily by the Petaluma wind gap and the Russian River. This would be the French equivalent of the general Bourgogne or Burgundy appellation.

Within Sonoma County when someone or a group of people petition the government for an appellation because the petitioners (usually farmers, winery owners or politicians or even trade consortia) claim a uniqueness to the grapes and resulting wines from that area because of geological, geographical, altitudinal, soil type or other reason. Hence, sub-appellations are drawn within the larger original appellation. So, if one draws a diagram of the appellations of Sonoma County, one could write an organizational chart-type diagram with "SONOMA COUNTY" at the top, and the sub-appellations, all of which claim a uniqueness for the reasons listed above and all of which can legally be referred to as Sonoma County, but have the more specific, sub-appellation names of Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, Los Carneros, Green Valley, Knights Valley, Alexander Valley, Sonoma Mountain, etc. There are Designations of specific vineyards in California, but it is not used in the same way as in Burgundy. It is to define where the grapes came from ONLY, but offers no implied quality level and is not a part of legal apellational designations.

Burgundy is similar structurally, but not for the same reasons.

An organizational chart-like diagram of Burgundy is more of a hierarchy based on quality of fruit and resulting wines from a given vineyard. Starting with the largest Bourgogne Region, one could split into the Cote de Beaune (mostly white wine) and the Cote de Nuits (mostly red wine). Since you asked about white Burgundy, let's stick to the Cote de Beaune for now.

Within the Cote de Beaune are Villages - literally. There is Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet (and the Pinot Noir based reds from Volnay and Pommard). Within each village, the vineyards are classified as Grand Cru, Premier Cru and Village wine, based on quality (supposedly). As you can imagine, with the differences in prices per bottle being significant, much has been done to gain and protect a classification.

The way you'll notice what kind of wine you are drinking - Grand Cru, Premier Cru or Village, is on the label. Here is an example of all three.

VILLAGE WINE
Vincent Girardin
Puligny-Montrachet
2004

This label lists:
The producer (Vincent Girardin)
The Village - or appellation (Puligny-Montrachet)

The vintage the grapes were harvested (2004)

PREMIER CRU

Vincent Girardin
Puligny-Montrachet "Les Pucelles"
2004

This label lists:
The producer (Vincent Girardin)
The Village - or appellation (Puligny-Montrachet)
The Vineyard (Les Pucelles)
The vintage the grapes were harvested (2004)

The listing of the vineyard name tells you that you are drinking a Premier Cru wine. These labels will often actually state "Premier Cru," or "1er Cru."

GRAND CRU
Vincent Girardin
Le Montrachet
Grand Cru
2004

This label lists:
The producer (Vincent Girardin)
The Vineyard (Le Montrachet)
The vintage the grapes were harvested (2004)

The listing of the vineyard name with NO VILLAGE NAME tells you that you are drinking a Grand Cru wine. These labels will also actually state "Grand Cru."

Grand Cru is the highest in the quality hierarchy and the wines are very expensive and demand exceeds supply.

Premier Cru is the next highest in the hierarchy and the wines can be Grand Cru quality and expensive, but these are the original "Single Vineyard" wines and the philosophy behind vineyard designation in California and elsewhere. The only difference between using such designations is that a vineyard designation in Burgundy implies better quality and usually delivers. Vineyard designation in California implies only differences, or uniqueness, as perceived and claimed by a vineyard owner or winemaker. There is no guarantee of quality. at this time.

I'm sorry I rambled a bit, but hope I have given a general and hopefully useful "101" explanation that may help with future purchases.

To my more educated and more Burgundy knowledgeable forumites, forgive my generalizations.
I don't usually check this forum, but the "White Burgundy" subject line attracted me last night but lost internet service before I could respond. I simply wanted to say...

cdr11, that is a particularly good reply that you provided. It's an excellent overview of the cru levels and a really nice explanation of how to read the labels. Seriously, good for you!!
To sum it up as "they're all chardonnay" is as misleading as saying "it's all grape juice". What classifies them as different is where they're grown--Le Montrachet is a vineyard, Corton is a village that produces corton-charlemagne, Chablis is an area.

Here are some links to more solid info:
http://www.wineskinny.com/past_issues/french_guide/whiteburgundy.htm
http://www.vinegents.com/

And some tasting notes of various white burgundies:
http://www.compleatwinegeek.com/grapes/wburg.html
quote:
Originally posted by Chazz Reinhold:
To sum it up as "they're all chardonnay" is as misleading as saying "it's all grape juice".


So what are you saying : it's NOT grape juice??? Who woulda thunk that?

By the way, this is the opening line of the last site that you linked above:

"'White Burgundy' is 100% chardonnay, and, chardonnay being a malleable, somewhat neutral grape, the term covers a variety of styles..." Ironic, huh? Smile
quote:
Originally posted by Chazz Reinhold:
To sum it up as "they're all chardonnay" is as misleading as saying "it's all grape juice". What classifies them as different is where they're grown--Le Montrachet is a vineyard, Corton is a village that produces corton-charlemagne, Chablis is an area.

Here are some links to more solid info:
http://www.wineskinny.com/past_issues/french_guide/whiteburgundy.htm
http://www.vinegents.com/

And some tasting notes of various white burgundies:
http://www.compleatwinegeek.com/grapes/wburg.html


Slight correction - Corton is a vineyard, Aloxe-Corton is the village, Corton being the grand cru vineyard whose name got appended to the village name, not unlike Puligny and Chassagne both appended Montrachet. Corton is the red grand cru vineyard in Aloxe, Corton-Charlemagne is the white grand cru vineyard in Aloxe. Corton is also the only red grand cru vineyard in the Cote de Beaune.
It sums it up nicely.
One remark though: grand cru and premier cru are geographically defined and not necessarily by quality. One is allowed to produce a totally insufficient Corton-Charlemagne, it will always be a grand cru as long as it comes from those parcels of land.
Another big difference between the two regions, Chablis and Cote d'Or, is flavor. Even a novice can taste a Chablis and a Cote d'Or white Burg and easily taste a difference. Chablis (e.g. les Clos) can be very crisp in style, lighter on its feet, but it can still have weight to it. The flavor profile tends to be tighter, in those I have tasted. They have a leaner feel to them. Don't think that lean is bad, sometimes you need a razor sharp white wine, it is especially good with food. Côte d'Or wines (e.g. Corton, Montrachet, Meursault Genevrières) can be bigger wines with a lot more weight to them, more expressive and open. The difference comes from what was mentioned above, Chardonnay itself hasn't a strong personality itself, but is like an actor, and the role is determined by the winemaker. In Chablis, there is little new oak, and lots of stainless steel. The wine is fermented and aged in a neutral environment, and so the leaness of the Chardonnay grape comes out. However, the grape is very structured, so you get this lean wine with a lot of stuffing. Further south in Cote d'Or, more new oak is used, the grape allows the Oak to make the wine expressive and big, and the structured nature of the grape helps support that weight. It is ironic that the grape has so much structure on its own, but it has a great plasticity that allows it to be expressed in many different forms. Sort of like the Madonna of grapes (not the Catholic lady, but the Material girl turned Vogue turned Évita, turned Hard Candy electronica style), you love it or hate it, but you can't fight the fact there she has a lot a talent, and has expressed it in many different ways over the decades, just like a Chardonnay. Wink

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