Topic of the Week 1/22/18 - Introductory & Certified

Thank you  for the sole response last week on red wine color. Take a peek if you missed it!

This week: Burgundy vs. Bordeaux

Bordeaux and Burgundy are two of the world's most famous wine regions - How do they compare in terms of climate, grapes, winemaking, vineyards and classification?

  • I'll take the easy category -- grapes.


    • Reds (primarily): Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec
    • White (primarily): Sauv blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle


    • Reds (primarily): Pinot Noir, Gamay
    • White (primarily): Chardonnay
  • I'll snag the climate portion, or at least start the conversation - 

    Bordeaux is a moderate maritime climate Summers are warm, winters are mild. Vintage variation can be quite drastic, and rainfall is spread out throughout the year - one factor that means well-drained gravel soils can be so prized. Rainfall close to harvest is a hazard, as is fungal disease pressure. 

    Burgundy has a cool continental climate, with warm summers and cold winters. The harsh winters mean that frost is a major hazard during budbreak, and can have a drastic impact on a vintage. Hail is common in Burgundy as well, and can also be devastating to the crop, but can be quite isolated in it's damage, sometimes even row by row. As you get further south, the climate does get slightly warmer, resulting in riper fruit... as far south as Beaujolais, there is a slight Mediterranean influence on the climate even.

  • I'll start the conversation on wine styles:


    • 85% of production is red, about 12% white, and the remaining Rose. 
    • Reds in this region are mostly blends. Left Bank: Cab Sauvignon dominated; Right Bank: Merlot and Cab Franc dominated.


    • Typically single varietal 
  • On Classification - at the high level


    • 1855 Classification ranked 61 properties (60 in Medoc and 1 in Graves) into Five growths. The five First Growth command the most prestige and $$$$.
    • On the right bank, St Emilion went through many rounds of classification where vineyards are classified as Premier Grand Cru Classe A & B, Grand Cru Classe. 


    •  Classification for AOCs ranking: Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Village/Commune, and Regional 
  • At the grape part, burgundy also has Sauvignon Blanc, Aligote  and Pinot Blanc.

  • While this may not have exactly been a part of Vincent's list, I can’t help but look how differently these two regions’ wines are positioned in the marketplace. While this is something I could ramble on and on about, I’ll use broad strokes to keep it short and sweet.

    Bordeaux shines the spotlight on the chateaux, many of which are now owned by wealthy industrialists and big companies. Benjamin Lewin, MW, wrote What Price Bordeaux and notes that many of the producers (particularly the classified producers) treat wine as a commodity, offering futures and doing whatever possible to drive points and price. We shouldn’t be surprised this is the case in Bordeaux, historic market value was the basis for the 1855 Classification. Bordeaux was the inspiration for the brand-based wines we see in the New World.

    Burgundy is terroir based. Multi-generational family farms are the rule, and it is common to see large families each working their row or rows (thank you Napoleon). Rather than being driven by the brand represented by a chateau, Burgundy is about place. It is more about the vintner working hard in the fields and in the cellar, committed to making great wine because that is what generations of his/her family did before. Jean-Robert Pitte (author of  Bordeaux/Burgundy: a Vintage Rivalry ) notes that Burgundy is more sensual, Bordeaux more serious.