Classification Levels of Burgundy Wines: The AOCs (Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée)
The AOCs system in Burgundy is a very specific one. Unique in the world. There are basicly 4 different levels of quality. From the lowest to the highest one:
- Appellation Bourgogne means the wine is from the whole region of Burgundy but we don’t know exactly where. It can be a blend of several fields in the region, classified in “Appellation Bourgogne”. On the label we can only see the name of the region.
- Appellation Villages means the wine is from one or several plots classified in “Villages” in the region. On the label the name of a specific town is to be mentioned. (For instance: Gevrey Chambertin, Marsannay,…) Here we notice the classification gets more specific, so we go higher in terms of the quality.
- Appellation 1er Cru means the wine is from one or several plots classified in “1er Cru” in the region. For this type of wines, the name of the town + “1er cru”, are ALWAYS to be seen on the label.
- Appellation Grand Cru is the pride of Burgundy Wines. They are the rarest and generaly the best wines we produce in the region. The amount of the Grand Cru production is only 1.5 % of the TOTAL production of Burgundy.
In total, around 150 separate AOCs are used in Burgundy, including those of Chablis and Beaujolais.
The notion of Terroir
The soil is what makes the different characteristics of a wine, so the geology is the key opening the quality door. (Limestone is the most common stone to be found in the Burgundy soils). But the climate (what we can also call the vintage) is also very important for the quality of the grapes and the health of the vines.
Monks and monasteries of the Roman Catholic Church had a huge influence on the history of Burgundy wines.
The cistercians monks, founded in 1098, named after the town of Cîteaux created Burgundy largest wall-surrounded vineyard named the Clos de Vougeot in 1336. They were the first to notice that different vineyard plots gave very different wines. Thus, they laid the earliest basis giving access to this notion of Terroir.
Terroir is meant to explain the specific geography and climate of a certain place interacing with the plants genetics. Very important to know: a terroir does not exist without the human beings’ influence.
It is the result of the climate specifities of a particular year. If we always mention the year of the harvest on the bottle, is to show the impact of the weather on the grapes quality, and then on the wine. Each vintage is unique.
“La Côte“ (the slope)
The slope, on which we generally have the best plots, giving birth to the “Grands Crus” plays the role of a drainer when it rains in Burgundy. Indeed, there is never a surplus of water. All the rain is conducted to the Bourgogne plots (generaly located on flat and deep soils). The water is just here to provide quantity. Speaking of wines, quantity is always the opposite of quality.
To produce an axcellent wine, we have to produce a small quantity of it, that is why in the Grands Crus plots, we have a small amount of water, so a small amount of juice, and a high concentration. The rate between the skins and the juice is well balanced.
The higher we are on the classification ladder, the longer we can keep the wines (due to the concentration of them)
The work of the human beings is also important too, because it gives some differences to the same appellations we can find in several wineries (one plot is very often divided into a lot of different “domaines” : winemakers’ estate. Each winemaker owns several ROWS, in several PLOTS, in several TOWNS.
That is why, even if Burgundy is a little region, way smaller than the one of Bordeaux for instance, a lot of diversity is to be discovered here).
Geology, Climate, Slope and water draining and human bengs are what explain this famous and more-real-than-ever notion of TERROIR.