I am a bit of a newbie to burgundy and I am doing my best to taste and taste to find my way around. I can’t help but notice significant pricing differences among different appellations within the same year, producer, and even if both appellations are Grand Crus or both Premier Crus. Is there a general consensus as to the best Grand Crus and Premier Crus? Or is this really just a matter of personal preference? Do you have any favorite appellations that you think a newbie might get a little more bang for the buck?
Yes, there IS some consensus as to which Grand Crus are better than others, and likewise 1er crus, to some extent, and just about anything else in Burgundy!
For instance, look at Vosne Romanee. The Grand Crus there will rank at the top of (nearly) everyone’s list, with the exception of Echezeaux, which is often somewhat lesser in quality level as well as being large and owned by a lot of different producers. Similarly Grands Echezeaux is maybe the next step up, but behind the rest a bit. I think the tops would be Romanee Conti, La Tache, Richebourg, and the Romanee St Vivant. In many cases it is the terroir, as they say, but the fact that wines are reviewed now and rated means that extra effort in a great grand cru will mean more money in the marketplace too, so even negociants will be careful to make (or obtain) the best examples they can bottle…
To be continued…
There have been some threads in the past asking just this question and maybe someone can find them and post a link. Among Grand Crus I think there is generally a “first rank” which includes the four best from Vosne that I listed above as well as Le Musigny and Chambertin certainly.
There is certainly variation among 1er crus too, though they don’t gain that distinction for no reason! But there are good ones, and there are great ones. Vintage and producer can mean a great deal. Some producers may own plots that have been replanted relatively recently, so the vines are not yet capable of all the complexity that will come as they gain age. Likewise, some producers may overcrop. either accidentally by not reducing the grape load, or deliberately, to produce more bottles to sell. But there are laws in Burgundy that govern the production levels! I forget the exact numbers, but in general one can make “such and such many” hectoliters from a hectare of surface area in a village level vineyard. But if it is premier cru, one has to make less, and if it is a grand cru, the limits are even stricter.
In general, for value, I think one can look at “good” grand crus and 1er crus from negociants like Dominique Laurent, Jadot, Faiveley, Drouhin, etc. “in good vintages”, for the best bang for the buck. They don’t have the famous names like DRC, Leroy, Rousseau, Roumier, Vogue, Dujac, etc., that command sky high prices worldwide, but in a good vintage, the “lesser names” will put out very good wines oftentimes. “A high tide rises all ships”, as the saying goes, or the saying is something like that…
There is certainly consensus about the “trophiest” stuff. The way to tell is the pricing. I’m not sure that determines “ranking” other than that. (In general, I think “ranking” is pointless in Burgundy…and many other things.)
I think Nuits St. Georges is where one can get more “bang for the buck”, both in terms of values and education of differences. Though no official grand crus…there are some 1ers which come close enough without the the enormous premium charged for prestige and trophy value.
But…since I don’t really know anything about your quest/interests here…it is really impossible to answer your question…though many will try. (It does sound like you are seeking “zee best” by some criteria…i hope it’s not by the “trophy” value, though. But, if it is…it won’t be hard to figure out where to focus your efforts. Tune into many many threads here…(particularly those started by people from Australia .
I still consider myself a burg newbie so I don’t have the cellars and tasting experience as other berserkers do. To answer one of your questions, I find great value in volnays. Prices are always going up but one can still find bottles from good years like 99 02 05 below a hundred bucks. Angerville’s volnay 1er cru blend is a good value pick most years. Producers like bouchard isn’t as highly regarded as say angerville but bouchard is easy to find and priced lower. Volnay vineyards like clos des chenes, caillerets, and taillepieds are well regarded. Monopoles (owned by one grower) like Pousse d’ors clos de soixante ouvrees is in caillerets. Pousse’s “clos de bousse d’or” is in taillepieds (iirrc).
Lots more examples exist.
Gouges’ wines from nuits st georges are good too.
While not the “only” values in Burgundy, I agree totally with Mr Wun’s choices!
Might seem like a faceless plug, but so many people have told me how much more they learned about Burgundy by watching the following interview with Allen Meadows: http://www.grapelegends.com/portfolio/allen-meadows/
James, welcome to the most harmful habit you can have! Burgundy.
As a Burg lover, I have found the following books to have been really helpful in answering the same questions for me:
Also, while this is not just about Burgundy, it is probably one of the finest books on understanding all that goes into wine that there is:
Another thing to keep in mind is the “best” of the grand crus and even 1er crus will likely need a LOT of cellar time to develop into what makes them famous. 20 years is a start. The same is true for Bordeaux (or has been true? I don’t know if styles have changed any, making the wines more “forward” for earlier drinking. I haven’t tasted any “recent” vintages).
Volnays, for one, are generally softer and more approachable overall. In many cases, especially with other appellations, it can depend a lot on the style of the vintage, and especially the style of the producer.
Yeah…I think there was a guy named “Rudy” who said he learned a lot from Allen Meadows.
Rudy certainly “learned” how to play him BIGTIME…to the detriment of many many trophy collectors who got stuck with Rudy’s “productions”. (Of course, in fairness to them, they didn’t know that Mr. Meadows was actually being paid to tout Rudy’s wines…unlike with most other paid “spokesmen”.)
Thanks for all the input so far. I certainly appreciate all the advice.
Oh those Australians…
Last week, we tasted 12 bottles of 1999 Vosne Romanee 1er crus (along with half a dozen white burgundies, and champagnes, etc) which I haven’t posted to reduce the orgies coming out of this continent but it was very educational and the consensus was that Malconsorts looked very good in that line up.
Sanjay I’d love to see your notes. Please ignore the idiots here who discourage helpful contributions.
For Red Cote de Nuits, a basic ranking would be:
1: Vosne Romanee - as close to being a firm “best” as it is possible to get in a world of opinion such as wine.
2/3: Chambolle Musigny
2/3: Gevrey Chambertin
4: Morey St. Denis
5/6: Nuits St. George
It is worth remembering that the above are all absolutely world class villages, all capable of making some of the greatest wines of the world. You could understandably fall in love with any of these.
Vosne Romanee has what most consider the greatest two vineyards in the world (or certainly in Burgundy), La Tache and Romanee Conti, along with several other of the greatest Grand Cru’s (Romanee, Richebourg, RSV) and Premier Cru’s (Suchots, Malconsorts, Petit Monts, Reignots, Cros Parantoux). No village comes near to having such a large number of vineyards capable of producing wine at such a high level.
Chambolle Musigny and Gevrey Chambertin are probably 2 and 3, depending simply upon your personal preference. I am a particular fan of Gevrey, lots of people are rightfully seduced by the feminine wines of Chambolle. They each have one of the greatest Grand Cru vineyards (Musigny for Chambolle and Chambertin for Gevrey) as well as a top premier cru (Amoureuses for Chambolle and Clos St. Jacques for Gevrey) and other very fine premier cru’s (Certainly Fuees and Cras in Chambolle, Cazatieres and Combottes in Gevrey). Bonnes Mares is hard to categorize, it does not really have the same characteristics as Chambolle, though most of the vineyard technically lies within its boarders. It is a very fine vineyard, capable of great things in the right hands, generally a step below Musigny by those who produce both.
Morey St. Denis has some outstanding Grand Cru’s, easily capable of making world class wine. Clos de la Roche and Clos St. Denis are two personal favorites of mine, and of many. They don’t quite have the history of Musigny, Chambertin, La Tache or Romanee Conti, but they are fantastic vineyards. There are not the number of great premier cru’s here as in Vosne/Gevrey/Chambolle.
Nuits St. George is hard, there are no Grand Cru’s, though there are a number of really fine premier cru’s capable of making world class Burgundy.
Vougeot has one Grand Cru, Clos Vougeot, the quality of which is variable. It can be excellent from some producers, and less than so from others, as it is a huge vineyard with lots of different owners.
(Where you put Flagey I’m not sure…there is little aside from the two grand cru’s though, you won’t be buying premier or village wine from these appellations anyway…)
Ranking Pommard, Volnay and Corton (reds from the Cote de Beaune) in this context is difficult, there are some excellent wines from these villages, capable of aging very well. Style can be fairly different one to another, you’ll just need to taste and see what you enjoy.
In all things of course preference that is king. If you were to go to a store and buy a village Burgundy, probably the above would be fairly useful. A village or premier cru Vosne will most likely be better than a village or premier cru Vougeot. But of course, the different appellations have difference flavor profiles as well which you’ll find yourself drawn to. My experience is that everyone has a particular favorite or two “other” than vosne. Some love Pommard, some Gevrey, etc, and then everyone loves to drink Vosne, it’s always special. It is less fun to pay for however. These are all wonderful villages though, each one with a different story to tell, but all capable of making wine you feel really lucky to have the opportunity to enjoy.
Ben- terrific post…
James- i’m still a newbie myself but for value try wines from Savigny-lès-Beaune. Producers who I’ve had good luck with- Pavelot, Mongeard-Mugneret, Dublère(solid everyday wines for $30),Pierre Guillemot
Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru Ile des Vergelesses - another 1er that you can find under $40…
In my limited experience these 2 areas have provided the most value…
My favorite across the board producer who has a wide portfolio available here in the states- Faiveley…
Producer is every bit as important as cru or appellation, imo. Some can make wonderful what another can make only ho-hum. For example, there are several 1er cru wines on the northern end of NSG that I prefer to VR 1ers, so it’s difficult to paint appellations with broad strokes. Keep tasting and enjoy the ride. Your rankings will be the most helpful.
The important thing is to experience the whole range. True excitement does not correlate very closely to price and reputation.
Producer is important. But the vineyards do matter. Burgundy is not really about winemaking. A winemaker can’t “make” a great wine. It’s more about place than person. Winemaking might screw up a great vineyard, but it won’t change a lesser one. The best producers are transparent, they want the vineyards to show, not their own hands. Their farming is often more important than winemaking decisions. The best winemakers simply show the characteristics of their vineyards, letting you see them at their purest. No lipstick and rouge, just a shower. Style might be somewhat different from one to another, but it absolutely should not overshadow the vineyard.
Tasting through a great producers wines, which will normally cover a good number of vineyards, and the hierarchy of the vineyards is usually clear. Exceptions exist, but big ones are rare. It’s why when Thomas Jefferson visited Burgundy 200+ years ago, he said Montrachet was the best white (with Meursault Goutte d’Or being a good less expensive substitute), and mentioned Romanee and Chambertin as being some of the best reds (He brought cuttings back to Virginia that died in a frost sadly). While he ranked Volnay just after Romanee and Chambertin because it did not age quite as long, it became one of his favorite every day wines. Smart man, and he wasn’t reading wine spectator.
Preference, as always, is king. But it’s worth learning the great vineyards, and seeing what makes them so remarkable. More often than not, you’ll find your tastes will not vary far from Thomas Jefferson’s, nor from the monks who spent 400 years charting where the snow melted first, etc. etc.
Ben- terrific post…
Thanks for all the feedback. I think this will give me a better jumping off point.
I am really enjoying Burgundy but it is a bit overwhelming to think of wine on a vineyard level versus a producer level. I know they both matter but burgundy seems so focused on the vineyard.
My original post came about when I found some La Grande Rue at what I think is a reasonable price (I wanted to try some Grande Cru). After I did some basic research I found the vineyard to be sandwiched between Romanee Conti and La Tache. Unfortunately I don’t have the means to try the Romanee Conti and La Tache. I thought …wow can the vineyard to the west and east really be worth that much more? Or is the premium really because DRC own significant stakes in those vineyards?
Suggesting that producer is not only secondary to vineyard, but distantly secondary to vineyard is oversimplifying things. When the Côte de Beaune doesn’t even make the list, except as an afterthought…
Taste, taste taste. There are clearly times when a Savigny-les-Beaune is preferable to a Chambertin. It’s all about context.