Burgundy: What You Need to Know Now
Burgundy, located about three hours southeast of Paris, covers a lot of ground. There are five subregions, starting with Chablis in the north (where Chardonnay reigns supreme); followed by the Côte d'Or (divided into the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune and home to almost all the greatest red and white Burgundies); the Mâconnais (where the whites Pouilly-Fuissé and Mâcon-Villages are made); the Côte Chalonnaise (between the Côte d'Or and the Mâconnais, home to both reds and whites); and Beaujolais (where the Gamay grape stars).
Wine is made in two ways in Burgundy: by individual producers who own their own vineyards (or a piece of a vineyard) and by négociants, merchants who may buy either wine or grapes and bottle it under their own label. Négociants may or may not own vineyards. Great wines can be produced either way, though typically the best wines come from small producers and négociants who actually own (and control) their own vineyards.
The Vineyards & the Villages
The great wines of Burgundy are made from two grapes, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They are classified by vineyard rather than domaine or château, as they are in Bordeaux. The greatest vineyards are designated grand cru; there are around 30 that produce both red and white wines, and all are located in the Côte d'Or. Second in prestige are the premier cru vineyards, and they, too, produce red and white wines. After these are "village" wines, which bear the name of the town where they were made (e.g., Meursault). Next are the generic regional wines (e.g., Chablis), and finally, the basic red or white "Bourgogne."
The Vintages & the Prices
There have been quite a few excellent vintages in Burgundy in the past several years: 1999, 2002 and 2005 were outstanding, while 2003 and 2004 were good (better in some parts of Burgundy than others; for example, 2004 in Chablis was an excellent year, but uneven in the Côte d'Or). This means there has been a great deal of interest in the wines, but it has also meant that prices have risen commensurately: While there may be no better time than now to buy Burgundy in terms of quality, the wines have never been so expensive. —Lettie Teague