T Bradfield, Staffordshire, asks: What are the differences between Burgundy’s ‘premier cru’ and ‘grand cru’ vineyard sites? Are there official definitions? And should one be able to tell the difference in taste?
Stephen Brook, a Decanter contributing editor, replies: Burgundy’s vineyard classification began in 1935 and completed in 1942. It’s not consistent – Marsannay, for example, has no premiers crus, while AP Montagny has a staggering 49.
But overall the classification is sound, although there is wiggle room between village level and premier cru, and between premier cru and grand cru. Nor is the system static. In 2010 Marsannay petitioned the governing body INAO to establish 14 premiers crus, but is still awaiting approval.
There are only 33 grands crus. One anomaly is that neither Volnay nor Nuits-St-Georges has grands crus. That is because in the 1930s leading growers chose not to petition for them, for a range of reasons, including a reluctance to pay the higher taxes levied on grand cru wines.
It’s hard to prove one site’s superiority to another, as wine appreciation is subjective. But centuries of experience have enabled growers to determine a widely accepted hierarchy. With arguable exceptions such as Corton, grands crus have earned their reputation, although a mediocre producer is unlikely to deliver a great wine even from the most outstanding site.