How to create the perfect Burgundy cellar

Burgundy can seem intimidating to the uninitiated, so Decanter contributing editor Stephen Brook has compiled a foolproof guide to understanding the region, including recommendations that will help you build the perfect cellar – whatever your budget.

Burgundy, Burgundy cellar

Building up a serviceable collection of good Bordeaux is easy: with a few exceptions, there’s a lot around. Burgundy is more problematic. Not only are quantities far more limited, but individual growers may only have a few hundred cases of wine to sell worldwide from each of their vineyards.

The structure of Burgundy is simple enough – only two grape varieties to worry about (Pinot Noir for red, Chardonnay for white), and a hierarchy of vineyards with just four tiers. No need to fret about fifth growths or crus bourgeois or complex blends of grapes. In Burgundy, the most basic wines are labelled ‘Bourgogne’, while wines from individual villages are labelled, for example, Volnay or Santenay. Within each village there is a tier of supposedly superior sites entitled to be called premiers crus, while some villages also have even more prestigious vineyards designated as grands crus. All this has been set in stone since the 1930s.

It seems too simple to be true and, indeed, it is. So it is written that Charmes is a premier cru in Meursault, and it can produce some of Burgundy’s most seductive white wines. But not every proprietor within every cru makes good wine. Nor is every sector within a cru of uniform quality. The notorious example is Clos Vougeot, a large grand cru where the terroir varies considerably from top to bottom – as does the skill of the 70 or so owners.

Some decades ago, Burgundy production was dominated by négociant houses such as Drouhin or Bouchard Père et Fils, which sourced grapes or wines from a range of small growers. Over the past 20 or 30 years, those growers have realised it is far more profitable to produce and bottle their own wines. However, a superb grape grower is not necessarily a competent winemaker. Although the proportion of wretched wines from Burgundy has dropped considerably, there is still a good deal of rather dull and overpriced wine floating around. That means Burgundy is as much a minefield as it ever was.

I’m afraid that there is no substitute for finding out who are the best producers. Their identity is no secret, and most writers on Burgundy generally agree (there are about five excellent books and websites on the land and the wines, see ‘further reading’). If your local wine merchant has discovered a ‘terrific small producer in Fixin’ that neither you nor any Burgundy expert has ever heard of, you should probably give the wines a miss.

How to create the perfect Burgundy cellar

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