As my journey through the world of Burgundy continues I find myself in constant conflict over what I thought I knew, versus the truth. Recently, I was at a dinner with friends and family discussing the differences between Louis Latour's Beaune Vignes Franches and Volnay En Chevret, when someone said “You mean, Burgundy isn’t a grape?” In turn (and to my surprise), I found my new ‘French Ego’ passionately explaining the region and the grapes produced within it. Then I remembered what I used to know about Burgundy; all lies.
As a child, I remember Burgundy as a wine that I was very familiar with; seeing a variety of labels such as Burgundy table wine, Burgundy box wine, and California Burgundy on the dinner table, at holiday feasts and at other large gatherings. It was all just a fancy way of saying red wine, but what did that really mean? Growing older I decided that it was a cheap version of table wine, so I taught myself to generally stay away from what I knew as Burgundy wine. When I saw “French Burgundy” in a store, and didn’t see a grape listed on the label, I just assumed it was made by a Burgundy grape.
Many of us that weren’t formally educated on the wine industry in California, much less France, came to the understanding that Burgundy was a red grape that eventually became wine. The truth is that we were deceived; it was all just a money making CALIFORNIA marketing campaign, and it’s not just Burgundy..... see California Champagne and California Chablis as well. (Check out this breakdown of misinterpreted California wine labels).
When I recently shared a bottle of Chablis with my mom, her first response was that she didn’t like Chablis as much as she likes Chardonnay. Based on our common wine education, she too thought that Chablis was actually a grape used to make the California Chablis, but California Chablis is actually a blend of different white grapes, none of which called Chablis. The origin of Chablis wine comes from an actual region in France, northwest of Burgundy, which produces white wine made from 100% Chardonnay. Just the same, a California Burgundy is also a blend, and may include Gamay, Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel all mixed into the same bottle; California Burgundy wines are generally a dry and heavy bodied.
The marketing scams in California continue as the labels are inconsistent to the bottle’s grape origin as well as quality driven terms like “reserve” or “private estate”. The American Viniculture Area (AVA) doesn’t regulate the labels, whereas these types of regulations are strictly enforced in Spain, Italy, and France – especially Burgundy! Which means someone (or ones) went laughing to the bank when California Burgundy started flying off shelves, or when the “reserve” label from Napa Valley was actually made with grapes shipped in from Stockton, California. Given time, all this has really done is devalued California wine. With some education, you’ll see the reasons as to why it’s easier to find good quality when purchasing French wine versus Californian wine ….the truth or lack thereof lies in the wine labels.
So before we continue exploring Burgundy and what it has to offer, just remember one thing, TRUE BURGUNDY WINES are produced with PINOT NOIR and CHARDONNAY grapes. And the majority of the time, the wine label won’t list Pinot or Chardonnay; the producers instead list the place of grape origin within Burgundy. We will get more into Burgundy label specifics down the road, but for now just remember that ads like the one below played a huge part in the lack of understanding wine, winemaking, and grape origins in California; especially for those like myself that are without a formal wine education.
Stay tuned next week for a California vs Burgundy wine comparison guide….