How to Read a Burgundy Wine Label

How to Read a Burgundy Wine Label

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines


Bottle of Gevrey-Chambertin on a wall with two red wine glasses.When you’re longing for the experience of lingering over a bottle of complex red or white wine, you may find yourself dreaming of the rolling hills and cobbled streets of Burgundy in eastern France. This historic region is famous for its food, its vineyards and the rich, sometimes other-worldly, wines produced here. 

The Burgundy wine region is located near the city of Dijon and its vineyards and terroirs have been cultivated by hundreds of years of winemaking traditions. The wines are steeped in rich history, with ties to the monasteries that are nestled in the slopes and valleys of this verdant region of Europe. In July of 2015, this storied region earned UNESCO world heritage status

Because of the cool and mild climes, the key grapes of this region are pinot noir and chardonnay. Some of the top estates in the region are Domaine Leroy, Domaine Armand Rousseau, and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

While it’s easy to enjoy the blissful wines of Burgundy, it can prove challenging to learn how to read a Burgundy label. They are famously complicated, but with a bit of effort you can quickly master the basics.

How to Read a Burgundy Wine Label

First, you must tackle the primary elements that are present on the label. Many labels include these details:

  • Producer name
  • Village name
  • Appellation
  • Vineyard name
  • “Bottled By” title
  • Producer location 
  • Alcohol content

One of the more confusing things about Burgundy labels is that the elements may not be listed in a standard way, and not every possible element may be included on a given label. 

When reading labels, it is helpful to understand Burgundy’s wine systems, and it is also beneficial to possess a basic knowledge of villages versus vineyards, common appellations, and more. Essentially, astute wine drinkers can ascertain both the quality and qualitative aspects of the wine in question based on who the producer is, which village the wine is from, what terroir the grapes have been cultivated in, and whether there is a cru designation on the label.

It is important to note that most French wine labels are based on the place the grapes were grown, and the grape variety is is implied by location rather than explicitly designated on the label. For example, white wine from Burgundy is almost always chardonnay, though there are some exceptions.

The Burgundy wine label can be broken down into four basic components:

Producer

Most labels feature the producer of the wine, which can appear anywhere on the wine label. Multiple producers and growers can create wine from grapes of the same region or vinyeard. However in some cases, the producer of the wine doesn't own the land. Rather, they purchase the grapes directly from the Burgundy vineyard. These producers are known as negociants, who market the wine under their own brand.

However, those who both own the vineyard and produce the wine will make it clear on the label. This is typically denoted by the statement, “Mis en Bouteille au Domaine,” which means “bottled at the Domaine” on their labels. 

Region

The region of Burgundy is often designated as Bourgogne on its labels. Most often, the bottle you are holding will be either from chardonnay or pinot noir grapes. But not 100% of the time, as other varieties are allowed to be grown in the region (e.g. Gamay and Aligote). This may be as specific as the label gets, in which case the wine would be considered a regional wine. About 50% of wines from Burgundy are regional — meaning they are likely basic and affordable, yet still delicious.

Appellation

Some Burgundy wine labels list the specific appellation where the wine came from. An appellation is a specifically defined growing area whose wines are a step up in quality from regional wines. The regulations that govern an appellation are enforced by local growers and government agencies.

Typically, these labels denote a wine that comes from the vineyards grown within the boundaries of a village. The appellation of these wines along with the Bourgogne designation are printed on the label as well.

Vineyard 

If the wine in question is made from grapes from a particular vineyard or cru, it’s name will be printed on the label. In some cases, you may see the name of the vineyard includes the word "clos", which indicates a wall surrounds the vineyard (an interesting convention in the region of Burgundy). Regardless, a named vineyard usually means that the wine is of higher quality and is typically more expensive than regional or appellation wines.

The naming of a specific vineyard denotes wine from a particular plot of land and terroir that has been deemed to be of exceptional quality. Burgundy’s many vineyards have been cultivated on a wide range of soil types and climes. Because of this, knowing about the vineyard's name can tell you much about the taste and quality of the wine in hand.

Cru

The highest quality Burgundy wines are often made from a single vineyard or cru which is a delineated area of origin designated as an AOC, or Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée. The AOC is a complex set of standards created for wines made in France by a specific branch of the French Ministry of Agriculture. 

Wines that meet this highest standards of quality are ranked as Premier Cru or Grand Cru. 

Premier Cru

A Premier Cru is considered the second-best ranking for a Burgundy vineyard. This designation is awarded to the vineyard itself and many growers can own parcels of it, all of which are labelled as premier cru. Only 10% of Burgundy wines earn this title.

Grand Cru

Grand Cru vineyards are considered to be sites that represent the pinnacle of quality in the Burgundy region. Wines from grand cru vineyards have their own AOC and they are labelled with the name of the vineyard only and with no reference to the village. Less than 1% of the vineyards in Burgundy have been awarded Grand Cru status.

Finding the Right Burgundy Wine

Now that you understand the basics of deciphering a Burgundy wine label, it’s time to find the perfect bottle of Burgundy. Based on your new knowledge of the Burgundy label, you can find the bottle at the right level of quality and the right price for your tastes.

It might be a bit challenging to learn how to read a wine label properly, but it doesn’t have to be difficult to pick out wine for your home. If you need a little help knowing which wine to choose, connect with our friendly and knowledgeable consultants at JJ Buckley Fine Wines

We make it simple to find the wine you’re looking for. Whether you’re looking for a Grand Cru Burgundy or a California wine, JJ Buckley can meet even the most avid wine lover's needs with our wide selection of quality wines.