With Burgundy en primeur upon us, Decanter has listed the top Burgundy producers, based on the best known and most expensive as a starting point. Look out for all the Burgundy 2014 en primeur tasting notes on Decanter.com later this month.
Complex Burgundy hierarchy
The hierarchy of Burgundy, to some, is considered complex. Burgundy lovers can struggle to learn firstly the commune or village level wine names, then the Grand Cru vineyards and finally the Premier Cru vineyards.
A recent piece by journalist John Elmes, who is currently learning about wine for the first time with the WSET, was in high contrast to the in-depth piece by Benjamin Lewin MW on Burgundian classification. It served as a reminder of the breadth of knowledge needed to understand the Burgundy classification system.
Burgundy producer types
Due to this complexity, finding your favourite Burgundian producers can be much more fruitful in the long term when purchasing wine.
This, once again, is not a simple as it sounds. The Burgundian wine trade is split in two between growers and négociants. This has arisen due to a law attributed to Napoleonic times – the laws of equal inheritance. When applied to the vineyards of Burgundy, over time, it has meant that individual growers may only own a small row of vines. This is only enough to produce a miniscule amount of wine.
The merchants in contrast buy grapes or wine from lots of different growers, make the wine in larger volumes and sell it on. To make matters more complex, some well-known growers will make wine from their own holdings as well as buying in grapes from elsewhere.
Burgundy top producers:
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
‘DRC’, as the Domaine is fondly referred to, is the best known and the most prestigious estate in Burgundy. The Domaine constantly appears in the list of the world’s most expensive wines: wine-searcher. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is owned by the de Villaine and Leroy/Roch families and produces only Grand Cru wines – although a premier cru is also released in exceptional years.
The domaine has 25 hectares of vineyards, including the 1.8 hectare monopole La Romanée Conti. This makes Domaine de la Romanée-Conti the exception to the law, that no Domaine can be named after a vineyard. It bought the other monopoly, La Tâche, in 1933 and possesses holdings in Échezeaux, Grands-Échezeaux, Richebourg, Romanée St Vivant and Le Montrachet. It produces seven red wines and one white.
Romanée-Conti Grand Cru only produced 5,673 bottles in 2011 and the wines can retail from £2,000-£10,000 per bottle depending on the vintage.
Arguably Burgundy’s greatest white wine domaine and a beacon for top Chardonnay. Domaine Leflaive is a family estate created by Joseph Leflaive, converted to biodynamic principles by the late Anne-Claude Leflaive, who was a biodynamic pioneer in the region. The estate is now managed by Brice de la Morandiere.
Leflaive has 22 hectares of vineyards, with five hectares of Grands Crus vines including Chevalier Montrachet, Bâtard Montrachet, Bienvenues Bâtard Montrachet and Le Montrachet and 10 hectares of Premiers Crus.
The Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru, made from three plots over 1.99 hectares, can retail from £350 per bottle depending on the vintage.
Domaine Armand Rousseau Père et Fils
Another legendary family-owned wine producer that has seen popularity and prices rise steadily in recent years. Based in the Côte d’Or the domaine owns old vines in Gevrey-Chambertin, half of which are Grand Cru. The estate was established in the early part of the 20th century by Armand Rousseau who was a pioneer of domaine bottling. After Armand’s death, his son Charles assumed control, enlarging the holdings and creating its world-wide reputation. Today Charles’ son, Eric Rousseau, manages the domaine.
The domaine has vineyard holdings of 15.33 hectares, of which three hectares are Village Appellation, 3.77 hectares are Premier Cru and 8.51 hectares are Grand Cru A.O.C, including Le Chambertin and Clos-de-Bèze.
The Chambertin Clos de Bèze is made from 1.42 hectares and retails for around £1,000 a bottle – 80% of the production is exported.
The Gevrey-Chambertin based grower, Bernard Dugat, joined the Burgundy elite in the 1990s, having spent his early years learning his craft working for his father’s estate before founding Domaine Dugat-Py. Domaine Dugat-Py is well known as an old vine and organic specialist, with grapes from vines under 30 years old being declassified and used in Bourgogne Rouge.
Domaine Dugat-Py has grown steadily, acquiring small plots annually. It now owns 10 hectares of land, including sites in three grands crus: Chambertin, Mazis Chambertin and Charmes Chambertin
Its Chambertin can retail for over £1,500 per bottle depending on the vintage and has an annual production of 220 to 270 bottles.
Owned by former Domaine de la Romanée-Conti director, and current shareholder, Lalou Bize-Leroy.
Bize-Leroy left the DRC board in 1992 having previously purchased Domaine Charles No’llat in 1988 and changing its name to Domaine Leroy. The domaine practices strict biodynamic principles and owns cellars in Vosne-Romanée
Lalou Bize-Leroy has 23 hectares of vineyard and produces wines from the grands crus of Chambertin, Clos de la Roche, Corton Renardes, Romanée-St-Vivant, Richebourg, Clos Vougeot, Musigny, Clos de la Roche, Latricières-Chambertin and Le Chambertin.
The Latricières-Chambertin retails for over £2,000 per bottle depending on the vintage, with less than 600 cases produced annually across the entire range of wines.