With Burgundy, Is Grand Cru Really Grand?

Not a troll. And I know that there are some vineyards that are beyond comparison. But I’ve seen here, on at least a couple of occasions, a serious Burg guy say that he wishes that he had allocated more of his resources to 1er’s and village wines. With the price escalations taking place, this might be more relevant than ever. Qualitatively, are Grand Cru Burgs generally worth the cost, relative to their lesser brethren?

there are bell-shaped curves with both premier and grand cru red burgs and the curves overlap, depending on producer, vintage, and vineyard. Some years overlap more than others. Hard to be much more specific.

For example, though, and getting specific, Arnoux (now Arnoux-Lachaux) Suchots is as good as many grand crus. Unfortunately for that example, it is now priced as such.

I am one who has long stated I wished I had bought more 1er cru. Many of my grand crus are now stupid expensive. If I had bought the 1er crus more, I would have more wine (or money) and be more open to opening random bottles. And, as they age, qualitative differences are somewhat reduced between the two levels.

Are grand crus now worth the price differential? I will leave that question for others.

I agree with Alan. I love Burgundy, but have a budget. While the Grand Crus are Grand Cru for a reason, there are a lot of 1er Cru wines I also really, really enjoy and I can explore more sites and producers at 1er Cru prices than I can at Grand Cru. I buy a few of the GC bottlings, but that number is dwindling as pricing keeps going up.

On average, grand cru > premier cru. As Alan said, other variables certainly come into play.

If you can afford (and drink worry-free) top producers RSV’s then go for it!

If you are in a different place on the economic spectrum, it is good to know that there are excellent wines at all levels.

Grand Cru - Grand Qualité - Grand Prix.
Todays prices makes Me buy a fraction of what I used to.


With climate change, aren’t 1e sites going to reach GC levels of ripeness and the GC sites become Kosta Browne East?

As an over generalization, it just depends how much of that extra pizzazz you are willing to pay for… That extra unit of awesome costs a lot past a certain point, and if you want to buy it, then buy it. The way I look at it, I buy every unit of EXPECTED yuminess I deem worthy (normally regretfully after I’m done with the bottle, but that’s the problem with buying a work of art that ends up flushed down the toilet a couple hours later)…

Lots of premiers are close to GC quality, if not more so.

Pricing across vineyards is a decent guide, and producer is also key…

Not being fabulously wealthy (EU civil servant), my choices are made for me and, to a certain extent, I’m glad they are. Over the decades I’ve had of visiting and drinking Burgundy, I have found producers that permit me to drink roughly in line with overall Burgundy production, and with great pleasure. That’s to say, I drink AOC Bourgogne a bit less than half the time, village a third of the time, 1er cru about 15% and grand cru on special occasions (which, admittedly, are seeming to crop up with greater regularity).

For me, this makes the grands crus into the exceptional experience that defines their classification.

There are wonderful wines available at every level, and part of the fun is finding them. They always come from wonderful growers. But to quote a famous American exporter, when told by a client that he only drinks 1ers and grands crus: “I’m so sorry!”

First you have to have in mind that the classification GRAND CRU is for the terroir, the vineyard where the grapes are grown - and not for the result in the bottle.

That means in Burgundy where most vineyards are owned by a lot of proprietors - and in addition a lot is sold to negociants - that the resulting quality depends on a lot of details:

  1. owner/grower/winemaker
  2. specific plot in the vineyard - with different clones, age of vines, yields
  3. wine-making
  4. vintage/weather
  5. etc.

Generally - IMHO - all the official GRAND CRUs in Burgundy are capable (!) of producing wine of Grand Cru quality - with some exceptions - but not all GC-wines fulfill this goal.

Exceptions: some lesser situated plots in huge vineyards like Clos Vougeot, Echezeaux, Charmes- and Mazoyeres-Chambertin, Corton …

BUT not all producers even of the best Crus are producing wine of the highest quality!

On the other hand there are several Permier Cru vineyards that are also capable to yield Grand Cru quality (the usual suspects and a few more) … but also here not all producers do, and not always do …
Usually these 1er Crus are already quite pricey - so they are no bargains and priced according to their quality level …

“Real” Premier Crus and Village wines also have their advantages:

  • cheaper (most of the times)
  • usually maturing faster and accessable earlier (not always) than the GC-counterparts (nearby)
  • easier available (at least most)

What “should” be the quality of a Grand Cru?

  • a distinctive character and personality
  • more complexity and (at least eventually) finesse
  • more inner depth and a certain length in the finish (not necessarily more power or structure)
  • greater longivity / ageability
  • better consistency, especially in lesser years (better terroir, better drainage), but that depends …

Enough for now.

Yes, some 1er cru sites are now more often than not gaining perfect ripeness (which was less often the case in the last ventury).
BUT that doesn´t mean they are (automatically) of Grand Cru quality - grape ripeness and character/complexity/depth/finesse/ageability are different things …

A perfectly ripe Chambolle-Musigny Charmes will never be a Musigny GC (although it can sometimes be better than a weak Musigny - there are examples …)

I have never had a problem in selling wines with $400+ price tags, and going out and buying cheaper wines with the proceeds. So many of my Grand Cru have gotten way too expensive, and I doubt very much I will drink them. Since they have increased at a far better rate than premier crus, I am delighted I bought early.

Also, we have to keep in mind price. Not all grand crus are priced alike, nor are all premier crus or villages wines. For example, I recently bought some Dublere 2014 MSD Blanchard and Volnay Taillepieds for in the $40s. That is the price of many producers’ village wines or even Bourgogne. Which is the better buy? Well, Blair’s wines are very pure and elegant. For me, they are a great buy. For someone looking for power, probably not as good a buy.

Even from the same producer. I bought Chandon des Briailles 2007 Corton Bressandes for $50. In a better vintage like 2005 or 2010, that would be the price of their PV Illes des Vergelesses. Which is the better buy - ask me in several years.

There are too many variables. Producer, vintage, price, style. Even what you are drinking the wines with - in many cases a Grand Cru is better with meat but a lesser appellation will be a lighter more elegant wine that pairs better with fish. Or, when are you going to drink it - do you want to age a Grand Cru long enough for it to really show its stuff (on the one hand, Grand Crus tend to have more and rounder fruit (depending on the Grand Cru) that makes it enjoyable young, but on the other hand most Grand Crus also have more tannin, etc., that requires more aging).

With Burgundy (and really with most wine), there are no shortcuts.

i’m totally opposite. i’d rather have a few truly magnificent wines per year. with only a few examples where the 1ers are priced like GCs in any event, give me the grand cru wines. and whatever the price differential is, i’ll drink more cheaper wine to compensate. i’ve adopted this over time with all wine actually; i generally avoid the big middle. buy what i can afford in the truly great category and then focus on $30-and-under.

I like this approach.

some of my most favored producers do not even have any grand cru parcels.

Shazam! That’s what it’s about - look to producer first, appellation / vineyard second, then classification.

Nice snap shot of how to drink Burgundy on a budget. I really enjoy well selected Burgs at lower levels myself. They are more ready to drink on or near release, and the lower prices help keep expectations in check. Besides, they are often just plain delicious.

I recall an argument made a few years ago, that Grand Cru Chablis wasn’t ‘better’ but rather it was a clearly different style of wine to Premier Cru Chablis, and that Premier Cru was more true to the wider Chablis style.

I’ve too little experience of the two to back that argument up, but others here will be in a position to do so.

As I am sure you know, there also are “value” villages where you can get better values in villages wine and premier crus, including Beaune, Santenay, Savigny les Beaune, and Pernand Vergelesses. I have had a couple of very nice Chorey les Beaune wines lately that likely would compare favorably on price with a lot of Bourgogne.