Burgundy Hierarchy - Is Grand Cru always best?

In reading many critics reviews of Burgundy (esp red), almost always the Grand Crus “outscore” or seemingly “outperform” their 1er Cru and Village brethren.

Critics seem to be slaves to the hierarchy of vineyard classifications.

Now, of course - it could be that the wines are just plain better.

But wouldn’t you think that there are a great many 1er Crus that drink better than Grand Crus (at whatever stage you “measure” them)? Arent there Village wines that drink better than 1ers, or perhaps even Grand Crus?

If so, why dont critics seem to find these wines more often.

Is it b/c they dont taste blind and are swayed by the classification and preconceived notions that Grand Cru MUST be better than 1er?

Just curious to hear from other folks on this.

First, “better” is a relative term; in this case, what you think is better, is.
Second, critics are highly over-rated; I prefer producers.
Best, Jim

Isn’t Clos Vougeot a notorious underperformer in comparison to pretty much every other GC and a good number of PCs?

Clos Vougeot is a huge vineyard with so many different producers getting their fingers in it so it wouldn’t surprise me that in some cases it could certainly underperform some of the smaller, well managed 1er cru vineyards.

Within most producers profiles, the GC are better than the 1er. Sure there are going to be big producers like Drouhin / Bouchard / Potel / Jadot where the better 1er are better than the lesser GC.

Once you start crossing producer boundaries, I’ll take many, most or perhaps even all good producers 1ers over lesser producers GCs. Of course better and lesser producers are also relative to personal taste.

But who here would take Magnien Echezeaux or Latour Corton over Fourrier CSJ, Roumier Amoureusses or Arnoux Suchots?

Within a single, good producer, the grand crus usually are a step up (in terms of depth of fruit, midpalate density, complexity, or some other measure) from the 1ers, and they’re usually a step up from the village wines, even if you try them blind. They were classified that way for a reason.

There are of course a lot of exceptions. With Jayer, for example, many people prefered his Cros Parantoux to his Echezeaux. Or Meo’s Cros over the Clos Vougeot. Or Arnoux Suchots over the Clos Vougeot and Echezeaux.

I’m a huge fan of Petits Monts, and at Drouhin I like it better than a few of the grand crus. Or at Bouchard, I’m not as much of a fan of the Clos Vougeot there, and like several of the 1ers more (e.g., Pommard Rugiens, Volnay Caillerets).

Note that in all of these examples, you have really outstanding 1ers (often listed as ones that should be upgraded) vs. large, less consistent grand crus, so we’re talking comparisons that are right on the line. And I don’t think we should take the lines that seriously. The great 1ers (e.g., Rugiens, Petits Monts, Gaudichots, Volnay Caillerets, to name just a few) in good hands are often really incredible wines that I’m always very happy to drink regardless of classification. I don’t need to compare them with Musigny or La Tache to appreciate them.

Jim does give sage advice, about critics being overrated and “better” being something that’s up to you, but given that the Burg vineyards/classifications were refined over hundreds and hundreds of years, I think they got a lot right. For example, that Bonnes Mares is a deeper wine that Chambolle Fuees, even though they’re adjacent vineyards. Go to Mugnier and taste them blind side by side. The Fuees will be wonderful, I love the stuff, but the Bonnes Mares will be even more impressive. I do love the Fuees though.


The hierarchy has been determined over a long period of time to essentially represent the potential of the site, approximately. The soils. drainage, exposure, et cetera, are considered most ideal at those sites. There is nothing absolute about this though. For one thing, the exact way it stands now it not always how it’s been. Certain spots have been up or down graded over time. Also some of that activity has more to do with local politics and power and influence than wine quality.

I would also say that the commercial aspects of this should not be overlooked. The business model is built on the tradition
and the “marketing” that naturally flows from it, that the highest potential sites ALSO produce the finest wines. What does that mean? It means than it has been demonstrated in the past that wines from those sites have MOST OFTEN developed the most complexity and held up the longest. This forms the basis of the marketing and forms part of how prices are set.
Past performance in reality does not guarantee future performance. The problem is that the cru tradition exists frozen in time but the reality on the ground is not. Over the past fifty years Burgundy has evolved significantly, from lots of chemical and pesticides to much less, from low tech to high tech facilities, from certain style trends to others and back again and so on. There are very powerful factors affecting what’s in the bottle besides site.

Producers present wines to visiting critics in hierarchical order, from lowest to highest. Often when presented with a GC and a PC that show little meaningful difference, the GC will be given the benefit of an additional point or two. This works
for everybody, it conforms to traditional expectations and fits with commercial considerations as well.
With GCs aging over decades, with scoring by critics a pretty modern phenomenon, whether it turns out as predicted remains to be seen. The 05s are going to be evolving for the next 30-50 years. We don’t have scores from the 40s, 50s or 60s to refer back to.

there are definitely Premier Cru vineyards in Chablis i enjoy more than Grand Cru wines from the same producers but this is not a vintage-in, vintage-out phenomenon.

Yes, always.

There are some underperforming grand crus and overperforming premier crus, but the exceptions prove the rule. The overwhelming majority of Burgundies that scream grand cru quality are grand crus.


Wholeheartedly agree on both counts, am playing more devil’s advocate than anything.

The answer on the whole is no, partly because usually when I feel like drinking burgundy I don’t want to drink GCs, which demand effort, attention and good cooking. If the question is whether they tend to be more complete wines it depends on the GC and to what it is compared. Not everything in Corton , Chapelle,Charmes and Echezeaux is easy to perceive as GC but they certainly can be, as can CSJ, Combe aux Moines, LSJ and Combottes, Combe D’Orveaux and Cras, Cailles and LSG, to make a random selection. Clos Vougeot is probably the last source of great reasonably priced GC, often woefully underrated and it doesn’t only depend on the elevation of the plot. In general, though, the price differential is becoming unworthwhile.

I think that Robert has hit the issue square on the head- amongst a single grower’s portfolio, in the vast majority of cases the premier crus will be better than the village wines and the grand crus better than the premier crus. But part of “better” is that the premier crus will age longer than the village wines, and the grand crus usually longer again than the premier crus. If you are looking for a bottle to drink five or six years out from the vintage, often the village wine will be the “better” wine for that moment, even if it will not deliver the same complexity and breed as the same grower’s grand cru when it reaches its own apogee fifteen or twenty more years down the road. So within the context of a particular grower, the hierarchy is useful to gauge both likely quality ultimately when the wine has reached its zenith and also as a projected time frame for when the wine will be ready to drink generously.

But the most useful way to understand Burgundy is to tackle it grower by grower- find the estates whose style you like and follow them up and down their quality hierarchy (if the budget will allow it). I buy lots of village wine for my own cellar (as well as basic Bourgogne from a few favorite estates like Mugneret-Gibourg, Michel Lafarge, Coche-Dury and Domaine Leflaive), as I find this level very tasty within its timeframe and context. Even though I would generally score the same producers’ premiers or grand crus higher, this does not mean that all levels do not deserve plenty of representation in the cellar. But in Burgundy, I tend to think that scores are more relevant across a single grower’s lineup, as opposed to within groupings of like vineyards- find the grower whose village level Gevrey or Nuits St. Georges is well made and stylistically in line with your own particular palate preferences, and then the various scores of his or her different bottlings becomes a bit more useful.

For example, if you find you like Domaine Rousseau’s wines by drinking their lovely Gevrey AC, then the scores would be a useful tool to discover that at the grand cru level they tend to do best with their Chambertin, Clos de Beze and Ruchottes-Chambertin over their Charmes-Chambertin or Clos de la Roche. The scores would also alert you that in most vintages their premier cru Clos St. Jacques is one of the stars of the cellar and generally “better” than their Clos de la Roche. So in the Burgundian context they can be a bit more than “meaningless”. But scores will not alert you in the first place if you do not already know if you like the style of the producer, which most commentators do not take the time to discuss in the paragraph leading up to the tasting notes. For example, if you do not like heavily-extracted, heavily new oaked Burgundies, the high scores in some journals for Dugat-Py’s wines is going to leave you in for a rude awakening when you open a bottle of his Charmes-Chambertin, particularly if you have cut your teeth with another grower’s Charmes such as Jacky Truchot, which is a hell of a lot more “charming” in style.

But to paint any of the vineyards (at any level in the AOC hierarchy) with broad brush strokes that does not take into account both stylistic differences and skill levels of various vignerons is as wrong-headed and fraught with potential pitfalls as simply chasing Burgundies by the scores. To say that “Clos Vougeot is a large and generally underperforming grand cru” would lead one to miss some of the utterly profound examples of Clos Vougeot made out there, as for example the wine from Mugneret-Gibourg. Likewise, to say that a top premier cru like Meursault “Perrieres” is “better” than many grand cru whites can also be misleading, as there are some pretty horrific examples of Perrieres out there made by less than stellar producers. But most of these issues tend to fall by the wayside if you focus on finding the producers who you like- after which the quality hierarchy can be a most enjoyable ladder to climb both up and down, depending on the needs of the moment.

And by the way, not all critics writing about Burgundy are sluts for the AOC hierarchy- Claude Kolm is a great guy and can be trusted with his scores :wink:



I so know what you mean here. If it’s some random tuesday and I’m cooking some pasta with wild mushrooms for just the 2 of us, BOOM!, out comes a village wine or 1er cru. But somehow I feel that the GCs deserve company and some more thought to the cooking. Which is odd, because I don’t feel this way about any other wine. Hermitage or the few bottles of top Bordeaux I have – no problem opening them on Tuesday if I feel like it. Not so the burg grands crus.

My analogy here is music (food would work too). I love the Ramones, one of my favorite bands, but admittedly pretty simple. Really enjoyable if you like that sort of thing (and I do), but I wouldn’t say that they’re the height of what music can be. Classifying music into 3 or 4 tiers seems even more ridiculous than wine, but if Bach is your grand cru, the Ramones probably aren’t.

But listening to Bach, or John Coltrane for that matter, takes real effort. For me at least. It’s deep and complex enough that I either have to really listen to it or ignore it, not something I can do half-heartedly. Most James Brown or Ramones songs, for example, are in enough of a groove than I can really enjoy it without much effort. (for the food analogy substitute going to Le Bernardin vs. a great pizza from Di Fara).

That why I love good Bourgogne as much as I do the grand crus. I think Bachelet is a genius not because he makes a genius Charmes (which he does) but because he makes a great Bourgogne.

So I’m ambivalent on this question. Yeah, I do think the classification is pretty good, and the better grand crus, and better 1ers, are really something special. But at the same time, there are producers that make exceptional Bourgognes, and village level wines, and less heralded (i.e., Cote de Beaune) 1ers and those are the people whose work I really appreciate. Accordingly, I drink more 1er level Volnay and Savigny than anything.


I was gonna say, yeah, usually I don’t pick up the GCs for simple meals. But when it’s my wife and I and a simple meal, I’ve pulled out Bachelet’s Charmes on a couple occasions…

I’ll admit up front I have nothing revolutionary to say, as we have heard from guys like Gilman and Thornton (who I greatly respect) and who have way more experience with Burgundy than me, but I find that GC Burgs stand a better chance of failure based on mental expectation. It’s like Cali Cult wines or First Growths; you expect them to be awe inspiring, and when they are not, you almost feel cheated. We can list all the exceptions to the rule, but I love 1er Cru Burgundy on all fronts. They deliver great bang for the buck; delicious and fairly priced.

But that’s my budget and my palate, results may vary. Consult your physician before taking regularly.