Name Game

In France, strict wine laws are enforced with regard to all aspects of winemaking. These laws ultimately protect you, the consumer, as they help control the methods and quality of winemaking. These laws have created what is called the AOC (Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée, or Controlled Place of Origin) system. The AOC recognizes just over 100 distinct appellations (growing areas) within Burgundy. Obviously, these are very small and very distinct. They are grouped into four general categories:

  • Regional: This is the lowest quality classification in Burgundy. A good regional wine can offer great value, though. These wines are made from grapes that are grown anywhere within the entire region of Burgundy. Usually, the largest word on the label of a regional wine is “Bourgogne.” A Bourgogne Chardonnay is made entirely from the Chardonnay grape, while a Bourgogne Pinot Noir is made entirely from the Pinot Noir grape.
  • Village: AOC laws recognize about 45 villages in Burgundy as having a long history of producing fine wines. If the grapes that go into a wine are grown completely in one of these villages, then that wine’s label will carry the village name as the largest word on its label. Obviously, these villages represent much more defined growing areas than the entire region of Burgundy. Therefore, a village-level wine is often of higher quality than a regional-level wine. Furthermore, if all the grapes were grown in a certain vineyard, then the name of that single vineyard can also be mentioned on the wine label. Several single-vineyard village wines can be excellent year after year.
  • Premier Cru: These are among the finest wines in the world. Basically, these wines are single-vineyard village wines where that single vineyard is recognized as producing consistently higher-quality grapes. The wine label will bear the name of the village, the single vineyard and also the designation of “Premier Cru” (sometimes abbreviated as “1er Cru”).
  • Grand Cru: This designation is reserved for only the finest 1% or 2% of Burgundy’s wines. These are recognized the world over as being the finest Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. These vineyards are planted differently, the vines are pruned differently, and the yields are strictly limited. Everything is done to ensure the maximum expression of the grape and the terroir in this highest quality level of Burgundies. The words “Grand Cru” are usually stated on the wine label.

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