Burgundy vs Bordeaux

“Paul, I joined the club recently. I joined because my knowledge of import wines is zero, and I would like to learn more. How do I identify a Burgundy from a Bordeaux? The label does not always say so. Friends will hand me a glass and tell me what it is. I look at their bottle, and nowhere is there a men­tion of it on the label.”

– L.S.; Santa Barbara

1.) Thanks for joining. If you do nothing else but read the newsletter and sip the wines I send you, the learning will occur by slow osmo­sis.

2.) Imports are fun, because they are entrenched in tradition and va­riety based on the cultures they come from. And quite a few do not have American counterparts, so you would miss out on a segment of the wine world if you did not become familiar with them.

3.) I am assuming you are speaking about French wines. I do not know of a California wine with the label saying Bordeaux. There are many California wines named Burgundy, but they are all impos­ters! They are generic wines, made to proximate the style of French Burgundy (which they do not by a far cry). Since their marketing ploy was successful when they were in­troduced, they continue.

4.) You are right, over 90% of French Bordeaux and Burgundy wines do not have those names on the label. Local custom and tradi­tion usually label the wines by the name of the estate, chateau, town or village. Rarely, and only recent­ly in the lower end wines, by grape name. Unfortunately, one must learn the names of the estates and chateaus, the towns, and the villages in these regions, to relia­bly classify the wine (a monumental but rewarding academic task!).

5.) If you identify the varietal grape, you can tell reasonably well the difference between the two. Both regions make red and white wines. In the red wines, the Bor­deaux wines are made from the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes, plus other lesser related grapes. Burgundy red wines are made from Pinot Noir exclusively and the whites are made from Pinot Chardonnay grapes, and al­most always as dry wines. The white wines from Bordeaux are primarily Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon; both dry and sweet ver­sions exist.

6.) A fairly reliable method that seems rather silly but valid, is the shape of the bottle the wine comes in. Bordeaux wines come in a cy­lindrical bottle with a stubby shoulder. Most California Caber­nets are bottled in this bottle shape. Burgundy wines come in a wider bottle with a tapered shoulder. Most California Char­donnays are bottled in this shape.

7.) The above is only a brief and broad stroke answer. Exceptions do exist.

8.) Do not get discouraged. Enjoy the learning experiences. A votre santée!

– P.K., Sr.

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