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The Chloé Grandpierre Column no11

Bordeaux & Burgundy

Two French regions with opposite views

One is in the West, the other in the East. One is further south, the other more to the north. Already, geographically speaking, they are opposite. The people do not have the same accent, the regions do not have the same climate and above all, their wines are completely different!

Yet these two wine producing regions are surely the most prestigious in France. The two styles of wines are of a great delicateness being recognised worldwide! These areas are the ‘lungs’ of the wine world which do not necessarily breathe together but who cares, they touch our heart!

We often hear fans of Bordeaux denigrate Burgundy and Burgundy lovers decry Bordeaux. It is as if a sort of ‘war’ has been declared. But why? How?

Burgundy v Bordeaux, it is the battle of two flavours and two wine concepts. When did this discord begin? A good question which is difficult to answer but certainly it dates from ancient times. Can we really speak about a ‘war’? I believe we can but it is necessary to say, objectively, that wines from these regions are radically different. Let's look in detail at the obvious differences between the two ‘Bs’.

The Bordeaux classification is quite easy. The top level – the most famous – was established in 1855 as I am sure you will all know. Emperor Napoleon III asked the Bordeaux brokers to rank the wine estates according to prices and affinities to present a classification during the 1855 Universal Exhibition. It was (and still is) a highly political ranking, let’s not forget that.

Other rankings for Saint Emilion, Pomerol and Graves arrived later to complete the picture outside of the original Médoc and Sauternes areas. Crus Bourgeois, dating from 1932, and Cru Artisan, recognized in 1994 by the EU yet had existed for 150 years, now provide a ranking for châteaux outside of the top rankings.

Bordeaux with its vineyard-based ranking is relatively simple but Burgundy is at first view a little chaotic being ranked by terroir of which there is a multitude!

Château Margaux (1er Grand Cru Classé, Bordeaux) & Clos de Tart (Grand Cru, Burgundy)

There are four levels (described in descending order of status):

Grands Crus
At the top are the Grands Crus representing 1.5 % of the region’s wines. On the label you will find the name of the plot followed by the Grand Cru mention. Unlike in Bordeaux, these top level crus of Burgundy are tasted each year by a panel of experts and may be downgraded to Premiers Crus.

Premiers Crus

On the label you have the name of the vineyard followed by the Premier Cru mention.

Communal (Village) appellations

The name of the village, or two adjoining villages such as Chambolle-Musigny, is on the label.

Regional appellations
The least prestigious having just the name of Burgundy region often supplemented by the grape variety to meet the modern demand for such information.

In fact I don’t know which classification is the simplest. It is true that I am used to Bordeaux so it may be more obvious for me to assign a wine to a specific property, whereas in Burgundy there may be a many plots owned by several owners. In short, the novice gets confused there!

Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (2ème Grand Cru Classé, Bordeaux) & Clos Vougeot (Grand Cru, Burgundy)

A name saying the same thing – in Bordeaux we refer to a château (a relatively new concept which came to the fore in the late 18th century) but this term does not necessarily mean there is a classically designed building present. In Bordeaux properties are primarily vineyards with only sometimes a beautiful house built from the fair stones of Gironde. In legal parlance a ‘château’ wine is a quality product made on a precise domain by a given method.

In Burgundy on the other hand history has it that it was the monks who started vine growing. To provide a boundary for the soils which they cultivated and whose quality differences they knew, the monks built low walls in stone. So were born the Clos and arguably the most famous one in Burgundy is Clos Vougeot where we can still admire the stone walls.

In Burgundy there is real affection for these walls. It is as if the owners are anchored in their ground and reassured by their daily interaction with it. In Bordeaux however many of the fine estates were owned by the landed gentry who were far removed from getting to grips in person with the soil.

Bordeaux wine cellar (left) and a Burgundy one (right)

Another difference between our two wine-producing regions concerns the containers used.

In Bordeaux wood occupies a dominant place in the expression of flavours. It is a touch which should be well integrated but which we the consumers have to feel all the same. In Burgundy, this note of wood should be more than discreet, even imperceptible, because it is the fine flavour of the grapes which is the goal. Nevertheless, the barrel has its place in most cellars.

The French oak ‘barrique’ reigns in Bordeaux. With a capacity of 225 litres, the barrel is the classic of the classics. The Burgundian barrel is also famous. It has a slightly larger capacity (228 litres) but is smaller in diameter and thus is perfectly suited for the smaller cellars of Burgundy. Its centre is more curved so that deposits accumulate more easily.

As an aside, the term ' barricade ' comes from the Bordeaux region derived from ‘barrique’. The city has always rebelled against authority – it was already evident at the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the wife of the then King of England. Bordeaux under English rule because or thanks to this marriage was therefore in opposition with the capital and King of France.

We also find a big difference between bottles and glasses of Bordeaux and Burgundy. Indeed, a religious side could explain these differences. I find this an attractive theory but I am sceptical. Do not forget that Bordeaux was Protestant while Burgundy was Catholic. So the Bordeaux bottle is sober, convenient and easy to stack in a wine cellar. The wine is candlelight decanted to purify it in front of God (as it’s quite a biblical concept).

On the other hand in Burgundy they love shapes. The bottle has got a girth with a thick neck. They do not decant the wine and it seems that the more cloudy it is the better it is. The wine glass is also paunchy and very different from the Bordeaux glass. I dare to make the comparison with the beautiful stoutness of the good monks – well-known admirers of good wine.

It’s true that the differences between Bordeaux and Burgundy can be counted on the fingers of one hand. However we must understand them. In the second part of this article I get to the heart of the matter: the taste difference.

Bordeaux is known for its complex wines thanks to the blending. The blending is to 'mix' the grapes in a scholarly proportion that varies depending on the properties. The Bordeaux type of grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot (there are also other varieties like Petit Verdot and Malbec to a lesser extent) for the reds and Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle for white (dry and sweet). In Burgundy there is no blending and the King grape is Pinot Noir for the reds, Gamay in the Beaujolais region and Chardonnay for white.

Cabernet-Sauvignon (left) & Merlot (right)

Sauvignon (left) & Semillon (right)

The vision of sharing and fun is the same but Burgundy and Bordeaux do not have the same vision of wine. That is maybe the biggest difference between these two regions and the major point of divergence.

The taste of Bordeaux, what is it? A wine coloured bright red, ruby or garnet red or straw yellow, gold, white topaz for the whites. This wine is balanced between fruit and oak, a wine with body, volume and tannins with a complexity specific to each property. It is a drink which makes you hungry and satisfies your thirst. The wines can be drunk young. They have a good degree of alcohol. They also mature well if you have the patience to wait between 7 and 10 years.

In Burgundy, an ancient wine region like Bordeaux, the winemaker is a farmer. He has his hands in the soil. The cellars are confidential, small and sometimes seem frozen in time. There is an atmosphere, one that says that you are entering land steeped in history with wine flowing in its veins.

Pinot Noir (left) & Gamay (right)

Chardonnay (left) & Aligoté (right)

The colour of the wine is clear and bright: red, garnet, red-orange for the older wine, straw yellow, golden for the white. There is righteousness. The mantra is fruit, fruit and more fruit. The goal of the winemaker is to make a wine from the best fruit and to display the purest aspects of the grape and express the terroir to the full.

The differences between Bordeaux and Burgundy are diverse. However, in the final analysis it is your personal taste which guides you to a preference. On the one hand the power and complexity of Bordeaux against the roundness and finesse of Burgundy.

Personally I appreciate the wines of Burgundy but I prefer those of Bordeaux. It is not a question of quality, just a question of taste. Whichever is your preference ultimately there is something for everyone to be had from the two Bs.

Chloé Grandpierre, Professionnel du Vin