Chief Wine Officer, Alti Wine Exchange
It’s a topic that is often not very well explained, let alone very well understood.
How a wine from Pommard is different from a Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny or a Vosne-Romanée?
Of course, in Burgundy, there’s always some variation in style depending on the producer, the exact terroir, which Grand Cru or Premier Cru you’re looking at within even the same village. Yet, there are some general stylistic differences that we can highlight and that are worth having in mind.
Learn about the Best Burgundy Pinot Noirs in Video
The fascinating world of…Côte de Beaune reds
In a previous article we talked about the different levels in Burgundy wine classification. So, we’ll leave aside the regional appellations like Bourgogne Rouge or Bourgogne Pinot Noir, the Hautes Côtes de Beaune or Hautes Côtes de Nuits, to focus on the more high-end and terroir-driven upper levels from Village upward, the Premier Crus and Grand Crus. We’re also focusing on wines from the heart of the finest Burgundy wines, in the Cote d’Or area.
South of the beautiful city of Beaune lies the Cote de Beaune sub-region of Burgundy, home of some of the finest whites in Burgundy like Puligny and Meursault. But here are also made some fascinating village red wines, often a little more affordable than the ones from upper North. Starting with probably the most famous of them Pommard.
Pommard makes the most powerful styles of Pinot Noir in Burgundy.
Soils are rather heavy and clay here, with a lot of iron, resulting in wines that are strong and characterful, perhaps a little more edgy and granulous than in other parts. A very distinctive style…
The other village appellations of this area are in a lighter style: Beaune and Savigny-Lès-Beaune. They are in a softer style, more relaxed, more fruit-driven, possibly a little simpler. This distinction makes them more also affordable and easier to approach especially at a younger age.
Yet, the Premiers Crus wines here are serious and good Pinot Noirs. Not to be overlooked even though there is no Grand Cru in either Beaune or Savigny-Lès-Beaune.
The village of Chassagne-Montrachet which is mostly famous now for its white wines also makes very reputable reds on its heavier soils. They feature a firm and tannic style.
The best examples of Chassagne Pinot Noirs come from the Premier Crus called Morgeot, Boudriotte and Clos Saint-Jean.
The dense and rich style… of Nuits-Saint-Georges & Gevrey-Chambertin
Moving North of the Cote de Beaune is the Côte de Nuits. The real heart of the best Pinot Noirs in Burgundy.
In the center of the Côte de Nuits lie Vosne-Romanée and Chambolle-Musigny, villages that are often considered as making the finest reds in Burgundy, the ones with the most finesse and elegance.
On both side of this core of finesse, to the North and to the South are two illustrious appellations that make a slightly more robust style, denser Pinot Noirs, less about the finesse, more about the body and the texture.
Those are first, to the South: Nuits-Saint-Georges.
There is no Grand Cru in Nuits-Saint-Georges, but no less than 41 different Premier Crus all fascinating to explore. Experts will distinguish the richer style in the South, around les Vaucrains, les Cailles and les St Georges Premier Cru vineyards, from the Northern side of the village adjacent to Vosne-Romanée around les Murgers, Les Damodes and Les Boudots that have more of the legendary Vosne finesse.
Perhaps one level up, in this world of richer Burgundy Pinots, is to the North of the Cote de Nuits: Gevrey-Chambertin.
Gevrey counts with no less than 9 Grand Crus, lead by the Grand Cru the appellation it is named after called Le Chambertin. Simply one of the most complete of all grand crus, and possibly one of the richest and densest.
Another notable Grand Cru here is the Chambertin Clos de Bèze, maybe not quite as intense as Le Chambertin but close. Mazis-Chambertin and Latricières-Chambertin are considered the next bests.
Plenty of fabulous Premier Cru vineyards here to choose from as well. Two are often cited as being of Grand Cru quality: Clos Saint-Jacques and Les Cazetiers.
The unmatched finesse… of Vosne-Romanée & Chambolle-Musigny
If you’re more after finesse of delivery in your Pinot Noir than power, these two villages is where you will find the finest elegance, the refinement, and the legendary floral characters of Pinot.
Vosne-Romanée possibly gets the most press between the two villages, but practically Chambolle and Vosne cannot be ranked. When compared, perhaps they can…
Within this refined style, Chambolle-Musigny is the most elegant. This is virtually the most elegant high-end pinot noirs in Burgundy as the soil has more active chalk and less clay, making for more tension and a little less density than in Vosne.
This is particularly true for the two Grand Crus of Chambolle: Bonnes Mares and Le Musigny. Incredible intensity, yet a rare velvety character.
The Musigny wine made by cult producer Domaine Leroy ranks as the second most expensive wine in the world. Some of the best Premier Cru vineyards of Chambolle include Les Charmes, Les Amoureuses, Sentiers, Les Fuées, and Les Baudes.
Arguably, the single most iconic village for Pinot Noir in Burgundy is Vosne-Romanée.
Vosne is probably the most complete balance between complexity, intensity, and finesse. Here is where lies the most extraordinary completeness and concentration you can get out of Pinot Noir, and some of the most thought-after and rare wines in the world consequently.
There are 6 Grand Cru vineyards: La Romanée, La Tâche, Richebourg, Romanée-St-Vivant, La Grande Rue, and of course Romanée-Conti.
All are very small, very exclusive, very rare, with very few producers making very few bottles of each.
In fact, three of these Grands Crus, La Grande Rue, La Tâche and Romanée-Conti are Monopoles meaning that the whole grand cru vineyard is owned by one single producer. Two of them Domaine de La Romanée Conti’s. The wine made from the Romanée-Conti vineyard by Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is generally referenced as the most expensive wine in the world.
Vosne also counts with plethora of outstanding Premier Crus, many of which lie a few yards away from these top illustrious Grand Crus. Those are names like Clos des Réas, Les Malconsorts, Les Chaumes, Cros Parantoux, Les Beaux Monts, and Les Suchots.
A word on the largest Grand Cru in Burgundy… Clos de Vougeot
Finally, we must talk about the largest walled vineyard in Burgundy, of Grand Cru level, the famous Clos de Vougeot.
Counting with 50 hectares of vineyards in total which is big for Burgundy (about 125 acres), the Clos is famously more heterogeneous than any other Grand Cru, with more than 80 different producers and 6 different soil types.
Quality can vary between producers of course, but also geography within the clos. The top of the clos area is where lie the vineyards reaching a Grand Cru level comparable with other Grand Crus in other villages. The rest is not always considered better than some of the fine Premier Crus elsewhere.
Yet, the wines by the top producers in the Clos cannot be overlooked and reach incredible quality, including those of Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair, Leroy, René Engel, or Domaine Prieuré Roch as a few examples.
The style of Clos de Vougeot is more on the dense style. Concentrated when young. Robust rather than purely elegant, although the best producers on the best sites will make the finest ones.
Next week we’ll talk a little more specifically about the Grand Crus vineyards as a whole and into their differences, we’ll really focus on an overview of the very top, the crème de la crème in Burgundy.
Learn about the best Chardonnay whites wines from Burgundy in video