In Bordeaux, the châteaus are ranked; in Burgundy, the vineyards are. This may sound straightforward, but when hundreds of winemakers are producing wines from the same vineyard, it can get pretty confusing.

Place Matters In Burgundy, as in the rest of France, wines go by the name of the place where they're made (e.g., Mâcon, Meursault), rather than by the grape they're made from—as it's almost invariably Pinot Noir or Chardonnay (except in Beaujolais, where it's Gamay). There are other grapes, such as Aligoté, but these reign supreme.

Class System There are several quality levels of wine in Burgundy. The simplest is Bourgogne, made from grapes grown anywhere in the region. Next are wines with a hint of origin (Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits, for example). Next are wines that carry just the village name (Vosne-Romanée). The next big step up are the premiers crus, made from premier cru vineyards. There are over 450 premier cru vineyards—both red and white. Premier cru wines are identified by the village name, such as Gevrey-Chambertin, followed by the vineyard name, such as Les Cazetiers. Greatest are the wines made from grand cru vineyards, identified by the vineyard name alone—La Tâche, for instance.

Weather or Not Burgundy gets a lot of bad weather. This means a lot of vintage variation. In uneven years, such as 2000 and 2001, look to the best producers.

10 Top Bottles

2000 Les Heritiers du Comte Lafon Mâcon Milly-Lamartine ($19) Although Dominique Lafon is most famous for his intense Meursaults, he also makes an amazingly rich, concentrated, barrel-aged Mâcon. It can be hard to find but is worth a search.

2000 Domaine Hubert Lamy St-Aubin Les Frionnes ($28) This concentrated, mineral-rich premier cru white is made by the rising young star of St-Aubin, Olivier Lamy, son of Hubert.

2000 Domaine Michel Lafarge Aligoté Raisins Dorés ($15) "Golden Raisins" is an appropriately luxurious moniker for this viscous, old-vine white from the red wine master and resident genius of Volnay, Michel Lafarge.

2000 Merlin Mâcon La Roche Vineuse ($14) Olivier Merlin is not only one of the nicest winemakers in Mâcon but one of the most talented. His nuanced, mineral-y white is no ordinary Mâcon.

2000 Domaine Roulot Bourgogne Blanc ($25) The wines of Jean-Marc Roulot are elegant and expressive—even this fresh Bourgogne.

2000 Geantet Pansiot Marsannay ($23) This round, generous red from an up-and-coming producer has a surprising amount of concentration.

2000 Chandon De Briailles Savigny-Lès-Beaune ($25) The domaine's winemaker is nicknamed Kojak because he looks like the tough TV cop, but his Savigny is a soft, supple, easy-to-drink red.

2000 Maison Champy Côte de Beaune-Villages ($21) Champy is considered one of Burgundy's best négociant houses, thanks to the combined efforts of owner Pierre Meurgey and winemaker Dimitri Bazas, who crafts polished, expressive wines like this red.

1999 Hubert Lignier Morey-St-Denis ($45) Maybe a $45 village wine doesn't seem like a bargain, but Lignier's village wines are like others' premiers crus. This wine is lush and concentrated—a beautiful expression of Pinot Noir from a great vintage.

2000 Domaine De L'Arlot Côtes de Nuits-Villages Clos du Châpeau ($25) The nose of this soft, pretty wine is textbook Burgundian—cherries, raspberries and spice. In the mouth, it's light and pure.