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Burgundy Wine Label Information

Burgundy wine labels are famously complex. Distinguishing villages from vineyards (and domaines from négociants) requires a certain understanding about how Burgundy's wine system works. Below is a typical label, and an overview of the region's wine classification and appellation system. For comprehensive information about the region itself (and listings of its wines), see Burgundy.

The variation in soil and climate (terroir) between Burgundy's many vineyard sites is the basis of the region's wine classification system. The quality of a Burgundy wine depends largely on its producer, but the vineyard site in which the grapes were grown is also of key significance. This explains why so many of the wine labels display a vineyard name along with their quality designation and appellation title.

Since the 1930s, Burgundy's better vineyards have been officially classified (by the INAO) according to the quality of their terroir, and thus the potential quality of their wines. They are either 'Grand Cru', 'Premier Cru' or 'Village'. Wines from unclassified vineyards qualify only for lower-level regional appellations.

  • Grand Cru denotes the highest-quality vineyard areas, each of which has its own independent appellation title. Some of Burgundy's 32 Grand Cru appellations permit their wines' labels to name precisely which part of the Grand Cru area the wine comes from (e.g. Bougros in Chablis and Les Renardes in Corton).
  • Premier Cru denotes vineyard sites of very high quality, but which are not quite on a par with the Grand Crus. All Premier Cru wines are made under their local commune (village) appellation, but their labels state 'Premier Cru' to show their superior provenance. If the wine comes from just one single vineyard, that vineyard's name may be appended to the commune name as part of the appellation title. Thus a wine from the Perrieres Premier Cru vineyard in Meursault will be labeled either as Meursault-Perrieres or as Meursault Premier Cru with the Perrieres vineyard name mentioned elsewhere on the label. There are roughly 600 Premier Cru vineyards spread across all five of Burgundy's sub-regions except for the Maconnais.
  • 'Village' vineyards hold neither Grand Cru nor Premier Cru status, but can nonetheless give wines of good quality. These can claim only the local communal (village) appellation (e.g. Pommard), or lower-level, regional appellations. Village wines may come from a single vineyard site or several.

Regional appellations
In addition to its village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru appellations, Burgundy has various regional (e.g. Bourgogne) and sub-regional (e.g. Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Nuits) appellations which appear on labels. These are typically used for wines from unclassified vineyards, and cover a relatively wide catchment area – almost all of Burgundy in the case of Bourgogne. These are the only appellations to cover Burgundy's rosé and sparkling wines and those made from 'lesser' grape varieties, Aligote and Gamay. Confusingly, there are a number of villages (e.g. Chitry) and vineyard sites (e.g. La Chapelle Notre-Dame) whose names may be appended to the Bourgogne appellation title. These are quite distinct from the 'proper' village and cru vineyard appellations described above.

Domaine vs. Négociant
Burgundy's land ownership is extremely fragmented, so only a small proportion of vineyard owners make and bottle their own wine. Those who do will almost certainly state mis en bouteille au domaine ('bottled at the domaine') on their labels. The majority, however, sell their grapes or unfinished wine to co-operatives or, more commonly, négociants (who buy from many individual growers and market the wine under their own négociant brand).

See also wine label information for Alsace, Bordeaux and Champagne.

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