Grand Cru: Burgundy’s ultimate categorization

At the top of the Burgundy organization system are the Grand cru vineyards, where some of the most desirable wines in the world are produced. the origins of Burgundy’s Grand crus can be found in the work of the Cistercians who, among their vast land holdings, were able to delineate and isolate plots of land that productes wine of distinct character.

Following the French Revolution many of these vineyards were broken up and sold as smaller parcels to various owners.

Since there are so few vineyards classified as Grand cru, understanding them should be easy. But this is Burgundy so there are many exceptions to the rules.
The “if it is white, it’s Chardonnay and if it is red it’s Pinot Noir” rule applies to all Grand Cru classified wines of Burgundy – no exceptions. Any wine designated as Grand cru must be produced from grapes entirely from that cru – no exceptions.
Each Grand cru is its own Appellation or better know as d’origine contrôlée (AOC) – that is, it is documented by the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (INAO) as a unique appellation AND is also classified by Burgundians as Grand cru.
The exception to this is Chablis. The appellation of Chablis Grand Cru is recognized as a specific appellation, within that appellation are seven climats (climat is refers to a named vineyard in Burgundy) designated as individual Grand crus.

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For extra credit, look up the “eighth” Grand Cru of Chablis, La Moutonne. This monopole (a monopole vineyard is owned exclusively by one producer) vineyard straddles the Vaudésir and Les Preuses Grand cru climats. The complications of why it is unofficially documented as Grand cru are too complicated to explain in the space, but it’s great trivia for Chablis lovers.
Most Grand crus are controlled to producing either red or white wines. Corton (the largest Grand cru) and Musigny are the exceptions – they produce Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

A common mistake that customer make is saying “I’m looking for some Montrachet.” Most of the time they are referring to the popular AOC wine Chassagne-Montrachet. The Grand cru, le Montrachet, is among the most expensive wines in the world and those who are ordering that wine will say le Montrachet if that is what they want – those who pay $400 to $800 for a current vintage bottle of white wine know how to order it.

Due to inheritance scheme outlined by Napoleonic code specified that all inheritance must be equally divided among heirs further contributed to the parceling of Burgundy’s vineyards, marriages and lost fortunes over the centuries, most Grand crus have many different owners. The Grand cru Clos Vougeot was once a monopole vineyard of 125-acre owned by the church. Today it has over seventy different owners, some of whom only own enough vines to make a case of wine per vintage. There are a few monopole Grand Crus – one of the best is Corton Grancy, owned by Louis Latour.
All owners of parcels of Grand crus can designate the name of the cru on their wine, no matter how little their holdings. Just be aware, if you give the same extraordinary end ingredients to seventy chefs, you will end up with varying results. Not all Grand crus, even from the same vineyard, are equal.
The good news is, the best way to determine which Grand cru you like and which producer of that Grand cru does the best job for you is to taste these amazing wines.

The bad news is, these are among the most expensive wines in the world. So whenever you get a chance to taste Grand cru Burgundy, make notes of what you like. For most people it will take years to have the opportunity to become familiar with Grand cru Burgundy. Here is a link to a number of Grand cru in our stores cellar that you might enjoy without braking the bank:

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