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How to Pick Affordable Burgundy Wines

Burgundy wines have a reputation for being very, very expensive, and that’s because, well… they are.

Of course that’s a generalisation, but it’s often true. This famed region of eastern France, nestled in the valleys and slopes of the Saône, has been prized for its terroir and winemaking, particularly for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, since the medieval times.

Fear, not – this great prestige doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to get your hands on a bottle of the stuff. While the most premium vins de Bourgogne can be exorbitantly expensive, there are some others which are still wonderful and expressive of the region, and which are much more affordable.

To find these wines, the first thing you’ll need to understand is the levels of ranking, or appellation classifications, of Burgundy wines. They are, from highest to lowest, as follows:

The wine region Burgundy essentially runs from Dijon down to Lyon, and includes 100 AOC certified vineyards

Grand Cru

  • Wines labeled Grand Cru include the most valued, famous and expensive wines from Burgundy – they’re likely cost at least $100, but often go well into the hundreds and even thousands
  • Essentially all Grand Cru wines come from the northern Côte d’Or section of Burgundy, which is split into two – Côte de Nuit and Côte de Beaune (producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, respectively)
  • These wines are so precious because they come from Burgundy’s very best vineyards, sometimes down to the very best rows; with the label Grand Cru, you know the wine hails from specifically from one of Burgundy’s most reputable vineyards
  • Note: this AOC is the top tier appellation in Burgundy (and Alsace), but be careful if the wine comes from elsewhere – sometimes it simply implies “quality” wine, or is used in another ranking system (i.e. in Bordeaux’s Saint-Émilion where the term is not the highest level)
  • These wines are not for immediate consumption – they ideally have a minimum of 5 years ageing

Premier Cru

  • Premier Cru wines (or 1er Cru) are one level below Grand Cru – they’re often not not much cheaper (though you can find the odd bottle for around $70), but they don’t tend to go over a $200 value
  • These wines are still produced from specifically well-regarded vineyards, and are still very high quality
  • Often, in addition to Premier Cru, you will see a specific vineyard name or village name on the label (usually the latter means the wine was produced from more than one vineyard in the village)
  • These wines still need to be aged, ideally a few years minimum, and can sometimes hold their own against Grand Cru when kept for a very long time

Burgundy, Saône Valley, France

Village AOC

  • Working south from the Côte d’Or (and Côte Chalonnaise) you’ll find the Mâconnais region of Burgundy – most of the Village AOC wines come from here, and are considered to be more average than Grand Cru or 1er Cru wines, but as such they are more affordable and drinkable
  • These wines are often a blend of grapes from vineyard sites within the boundaries of a particular village; sometimes, the wines are still vineyard specific but the vineyard may simply not have official 1er Cru classification, so must be labelled as Village
  • These wines are best a couple of years after vintage, and the best can again hold their own over time against the more highly classified Burgundy wines

Regional AOC

  • Regional appellation wines (usually labelled as just AOC Bourgogne), can be produced from anywhere in the Burgundy region; wines made from more than one village in Burgundy must be considered regional (some can qualify with a subregional appellation, a.k.a. in between Village and AOC)
  • Whereas the above three appellations produce just red and white wines, regional wines can include some rosé and sparklings, as well as wines made from grapes other than the traditional varietals
  • These more ordinary wines are meant for immediate consumption

Villages of Burgundy, France

As always, you can find great wines within each category, and not so great in each as well. Often, the Grand Cru are worth the hype, but probably just as often, it’s marketing, reputation and not much else that gives them their value.

My main takeaway from all of this is that if you want to start getting into Burgundy, play in that Village region. Here, you can find some really beautiful wines which embody the best of Burgundy at a very affordable price.

Check out more insights on our other favourite international wine regions here.

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