Vail Wine Ink column: Burgundy versus Bordeaux, two iconic regions for wine
The most important thing about a wine is that you enjoy it.
But if you have any interest in navigating the world’s best wines, the one thing you should know is the difference between the two most iconic wine regions in the world, Burgundy and Bordeaux. A little information can go a long way in helping you decide which region, and which region’s wines, best suit you.
So let’s take a quick look:
GET YOUR BEARINGS
Bourgogne, known as the “heart of France,” is a province that lies south and east of Paris. The Burgundy wine region begins near the city of Dijon (yes, home of the mustard) and runs 120 miles or so south to Lyon, which sits in the shadow of the Alps. Oh, and don’t forget Chablis, a district that is not really attached to the rest of Burgundy but is still considered an important part of the region.
Bordeaux is located in southwestern France, a little north of the Spanish border. The region is bordered to the west by the Atlantic Ocean, which provides a maritime influence that keeps temperatures cool in summer and generally prevents killing frosts in winter. Bordeaux is one of the most prolific wine-growing regions in the world, with upward of 7,000 producers and more than 13,000 growers.
The biggest differences between the two regions are the grapes used in the wines.
In Burgundy, it is all about pinot noir and chardonnay. Oh, there is a grape called gamay, which is used to make Beaujolais, but if you are talking Burgundy, it is pinot and chard that you need to know about. In Burgundy, they don’t blend the varieties. Buy a bottle of Burgundy and, with few exceptions, it will be made with either 100 percent pinot noir or chardonnay, though it may include blends of wines from different vineyards.
In Bordeaux, the dominant red grapes are cabernet sauvignon and merlot, with cabernet franc, malbec, petit verdot and carmenere used as supporting players in making the wines. It is the way these wines are constructed that makes the iconic “Bordeaux blends.” The wines of Bordeaux tend to be much bigger, darker, higher in alcohol and tannic, which means they make your lips pucker.
Then there is the vibe. Bordeaux is formal and based on commerce. While the Burgundians are also motivated by profit, there is a focus on the land and the art of making wines. The two places, and the lovers of each, are as different as, say, San Francisco and Boston. If Donald Trump were a wine drinker (he is a teetotaler), he would likely be into Bordeaux, while Bernie Sanders may be drawn to Burgundy. Just speculating, of course.
And then there is the glass. A bottle of Bordeaux on the shelves has severely sharp shoulders, while the Burgundy bottle slopes softly. And each requires a different shape glass. A Burgundy glass has a large, wide bowl that allows the aromas of the fragrant pinot noir to rise in the glass. Bordeaux glasses are taller, narrower and a little more austere.
THE SAME BUT DIFFERENT
But there are similarities between the regions, as well.
First, both regions have long histories of wine. In Bordeaux, it was the Romans who first planted wine in the first century A.D. In Burgundy, the earliest recording of wine dates to 591, when Gregory of Tours first tweeted about the region.
Both have seriously complex and sometimes archaic rules around what is and what is not allowed in production. They also have their own decrees that designate what wines can be classified as.
In Bourdeaux, the “Classification of 1855” — which created five “classes” of wines and designated Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Latour, Chateau Margaux and Chateau Haut-Brion, (though at the time of the classification, they did not include the word “Chateau” in their name) as “First Growths,” or the very best — is the most significant wine law ever. And it made the owners of each of those estates rich for generations to come.
Burgundy also has a strict classification system, but rather than classifying the individual estates and Chateau, the laws define the terroir, or the individual vineyards, as either Grand Cru, Premier Cru or Village wines.
In both regions, it is all about the money. If you are looking to buy either First Growth Bordeaux or Grand Cru Burgundy, I hope you are a 1 perecenter.
Both wines are delicious. To each his own.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and black Lab, Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.