Bordeaux and Burgundy difference

  • Saturday, Day 31/10/2020
  • Top red Burgundy one can enjoy young, top Bordeaux one has to wait a decade. Burgundy should be enjoyed cool, at 14-16ºC, Bordeaux at 18ºC. Burgundy is sensual, Bordeaux more cerebral. Burgundy classified the land, Bordeaux the property. Burgundy holdings are small, Bordeaux generally large. Burgundy is monocépage, made from one grape variety and usually one vineyard. Bordeaux is a wine of assemblage, a blend of different grape varieties and vineyards. Burgundy has only a few good cheap red wines. Bordeaux has hundreds of good petits châteaux. Background to Burgundy with reference to Bordeaux

    Variation due to the Style of the owner: Family companies and corporate giants

    When buying Burgundy we suggest you get to know a few growers' wines, then follow the growers you like. This is because the influence of the grower is huge in Burgundy. It frequently produces a characterful wine with a distinct personality and may often reflect the producer's philiosophy even more strongly than his terroir. In Bordeaux, making the wine is a team effort, and less the reflection of one person's philosophy, so the wines are perhaps more homogenous in style. They have less distinct personalities but also vary much less in quality.


    Burgundy domaines are, or operate like, small family firms. As ownership is handed from one generation to another he or she who succeeds may be brilliant, awful or anything in between. In the "Buyers' Guide" which follows you will see mentions of how the domaine style has changed as children take over from their parents. A good sized domaine may reach a size of 10ha, with about 15 wines made.

    The owner will have carte blanche to make whatever style of wine he wants. Growers will have perhaps a couple of workers, or other family members, to help them but are fully hands on, and will prune their own vines, drive the tractors and plough the vineyards. They make the decision when to harvest, how to make the wine, when to bottle and then sell it, sampling from barrel and deciding prices and allocations. They influence the whole process. Their name or parent's name is on the label, their fingerprint marks the style and quality.

    Domaine Faiveley - Burgundy


    In Bordeaux, a Médoc château can be 70ha, many are owned by large corporations, and usually makes only one or two wines. In Bordeaux there are owners, consultants, winemakers and viticulturists all who have an input into these much larger, more corporate enterprises, so one usually sees less the vision of one person. There is perhaps a higher average quality in Bordeaux with less variation than in Burgundy. In Bordeaux there is more homogeneity of style. An employee will not want to make mistakes and so will take fewer risks than an owner.
    Quality variation: Watercolours and Oils

    Domaine Faiveley -Burgundy

    There is much more quality variation in Burgundy than in Bordeaux


    When visiting a cellar in Burgundy, you will frequently see open-topped wooden red wine fermentation vats made to measure for the size of the grower's holding, often with the name of the cru scribbled on it in chalk. He may have 0.6 ha of Vosne-Romanée villages, 0.30 ha of Vosne-Romanée Premiers Cru Malconsorts, 0.20ha of Romanée St Vivant etc. The vats are made to receive this quantity of grapes.

    For most growers, there is usually just one picking date for each vineyard (the whole harvest probably lasts 6-8 days), which will usually fill one vat. All of course is pinot noir and he is virtually never going to be able to declassify say his Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Malconsorts to straight Vosne-Romanée if the crop got a little rot or he picked too early or the fermentation did not go to plan. Thus he has one shot at choosing the picking date and just one shot at the only fermentation vat of that wine. It's like painting with watercolors, you get one go at it. It can scale the heights when a risk-taking owner pushes decisions to the limits and it all comes off, and vice versa.


    Compare this to the option of a Bordeaux winemaker who has 70ha, two or three grape varieties, and a harvest that may last three weeks, and just two wines to make: the grand and second vin. He has a serried rank of vats, often filling say three or more from the same picking date, maybe many more from the same vineyard. The harvest lasts about three weeks. There is bound to be a decent percentage of the vineyards picked at the optimum time. There are different grape varieties, the softer merlot, firmer cabernet sauvignon, cedary caberent franc etc.

    After the fermentation, and perhaps after sometime in barrel, the winemaker, and occasionally the owner and consultant, have a number of decisions to make for the assemblage, the final blend. Poor vats can be sold off. In a lesser/greater year more or less wine can be declassified to the second wine. It might have been a poor year for merlot and a better one for cabernet, and different percentages of these can be tried in a blend to soften the wine or contribute more structure. Thus there are many options to manage the quality of the grand vin, and maintain a certain house style. It is like painting with oils.

    Why is there so little red Burgundy under £10, or even £15, yet so many excellent red Bordeaux petits châteaux? Pinot noir versus cabernet sauvignon and merlot:
    Firstly pinot noir is a grape variety where quality suddenly reduces when you go above a yield of about 50-55hl/ha (in Burgundy). Indeed, it falls at such a rate that the inherent quality and character of the grape is lost quickly. Great pinot is made at around 30-35hl/ha.This is quite different from most other varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot or syrah, where you can make great wine up to 50hl/ha, excellent wine between 50-65 hl, good wine at 65-90 h/l, and acceptable wine of 90-110 hl/ha. Thus it is possible to make a cabernet-based wine in Bordeaux from 90 hl/ha and sell it for £5-7 a bottle, aided by economies of scale of a big 60ha château compared to a smaller 15ha Burgundy domaine.

    Secondly there is very little appropriate land for pinot noir in Burgundy. In the Côte D'Or, the best vineyards, grands crus, premiers crus and villages are planted on the narrow east and south-east facing slopes of an escarpment (la côte, or 'slope', which has given its name to the department La Côte D'Or) which is just 55km or so in length, and usually between 0.5-1.5km wide. This terroir forms a virtuous circle where there is the potential to produce high quality wine with low yields and all is in harmony. The south-east orientation protects them from the westerly winds and maximises exposure to the sun. On these slopes vines intercept more sunlight than flat lands and are protected from frost. The soil of the slope is poor in fertility, so yields are naturally low, and the well drained soil is warmer and so grapes ripen more quickly. 

    Contrast this with Bordeaux, where there are a number of different terroirs capable of producing a range of quality of good to superb quality wines because there are a number of different grape varieties with different requirements. Cabernet sauvignon is a late ripener which is most at home in the warm, well drained gravel banks of the Médoc. It is only found elsewhere in the "graves St Emilion" where pockets of gravel appear such as at Figeac. Cabernet franc is less picky and will ripen in the soils of intermediate warmth in the limestone escarpment of St Emilion. Merlot is the earliest ripener of the three varieties and when mature has up to a degree more alcohol than cabernet sauvignon. It is the only one that will ripen in the very cold clay soil of Pomerol. Merlot is also able to adapt well to the lesser quality soils in Bourg, Blaye, Castillon and Entre-deux-Mers and still ripen acceptably to produce attractive Petits Châteaux. This adaption of variety to soil type explains why in the Médoc cabernet sauvignon dominates, St Emilions are blends of cabernet franc and merlot, why Pomerol is mostly merlot and why the lesser petits Châteaux from Bourg etc are predominantly merlot.

    Thirdly, supply and demand come in to play. Not only does Bordeaux produce about four times the amount of Burgundy, but each Burgundian producer has tiny holdings of each appellation. Many top growers produce very little Bourgogne and good co-operatives are rare.


    Classification and Naming of wines in Burgundy and Bordeaux

    Simple Bordeaux, confusing Burgundy

    The two things of greatest importance in producing quality wine are the producer (ability, motivation and resources) and quality of their vineyards. The ideal would be to classify both, but this is very difficult. Bordeaux chose to classify by the producer and Burgundy by the vineyards. Both have advantages and disadvantages, but that of Bordeaux is simpler and, of course, that of Burgundy is more difficult!

    Classification and Naming of Bordeaux

    In Bordeaux it is the producer or château that is classified, not the land. The 1855 classification was done on price.

    The weakness of the system is when properties become badly run or change hands, and that over time wine from different vineyards bought from other properties post classification can be included in a château's bottling. Château Margaux was producing poor wines under the Cruse ownership not worthy of its status. That changed overnight in 1978 when the new owner, Mentzelopoulos, bought it, installed Emile Peynaud as consultant, introduced a second wine, invested a lot of money and then ran it with high standards. But in the end the market makes a judgement on the price, so changes since 1855 are reflected in the market price.

    The great advantage is that Bordeaux wines can usually be uniquely identified by their name, usually preceeded by the name of a château, which appears in the largest letters on the label. For example, you don't need to know Château Montrose is a St Estephe or who the producer is.

    The only possible confusion is that some châteaux produce second wines, a cheaper wine usually containing younger vines. But the Bordelais usually carefully avoid using the name "château" in the title of second wines so the relationship is clear. Thus one has: Ch Latour and Forts de Latour, Ch Lafite and Carruades de Lafite, Ch Montrose and Dame de Montrose, Ch Palmer and Alter Ego de Palmer.

    Classification and Naming of Burgundy

    In Burgundy it is the vineyards that have been classified, not the producers. The classification is broadly very accurate. It divided the land into into four ascending grades, bourgogne, village, premier cru and grand cru. So far so good.

    What is difficult for many people to understand is that the vineyards in Burgundy often have many owners. So Le Chambertin, for example, is owned by 21 producers, who may bottle some or all of the production or sell some to a negociant.

    Thus in Burgundy, to identify a wine you need two bits of information: the name of the vineyard and the name of the grower, in this case, for example, Le Chambertin Domaine Armand Rousseau, or Le Chambertin Domaine Dujac etc. Many producers put the name of the appellation in the largest type on the label and their name in quite small type at the bottom.

    In a tiny number of cases the whole vineyard is owned by one producer, which is known as a monopole, or monopoly. For example, Clos de Tart is owned 100% by the Mommessin family, La Grande Rue by Lamarche and La Tâche is owned by Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. There is thus only one Clos de Tart, La Grande Rue and La Tâche.

    The disadvantage of this system is that the producers are not classified. So for example, of the 21 Le Chambertins there is a big difference in quality and style, with some producers such as Armand Rousseau making superb quality and others making poor quality not worthy of the grand cru appellation on the label.

    This variation in quality as well as style, as we have seen above, is another reason why we suggest you choose Burgundy by producer first, then appellation.

    One last complication in the naming of vineyards is that a tradition developed where the villages of Burgundy decided to add the name of their best vineyard to the end of their name. Thus Gevrey added the name of Le Chambertin to become Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle added Le Musigny to become Chambolle-Musigny. Le Montrachet straddles two communes, Puligny and Chassagne, hence Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet etc.


    This can lead to confusion.

    When you see a Gevrey-Chambertin and a Le Chambertin which is the village wine and which is the grand cru?

    The latter will have Grand Cru on the label. Thus the hierarchy is as follows:

    • Villages, premier cru and grand cru
    • Gevrey-Chambertin is a wine from the villages appellation (£25-45)
    • Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Les Cazetiers (£45-80)
    • Le Chambertin Grand Cru (£80-350)


    Let's visit the nearest WeWine store to own special wines form Bordeaux and Burgundy or call 1900 636 749 for better support. 

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