A guide to.. Labels - Burgundy

The role of a label is ostensibly product information.. & no more so in the world of wine where they hold a wealth of what can be very precise (& potentially confusing!) information. They can also be beautiful & alluring, especially by dint of what is held within the glass. A personal touch & marker of origin.


And here’s where things get complicated; a wine’s origin is like an in depth astrological chart with all sorts of names, classifications & acronyms. What means what. & where. & how? And of course, there is no such thing as a standard. Wouldn’t sit well with all things vinous allure.


We will do our best to demystify area labels with some regular overviews as to what it all means. Starting with the most famously complex of all..


Burgundy, France


For an area that predominantly uses 1 white grape & 1 red (chardonnay & pinot noir respectively), the Burgundy or Bourgogne region is alarmingly complicated. Delve a bit deeper & you soon see how this wonderful wine-growing area is brimming with subtle nuances: soil, slope, compass point, altitude; you name it, that makes up its complex terroir system & dramatically effects the end product. In fact, SO important is the appellation (specific area the wine comes from) that often there is no mention of what grape the wine is at all on labels; geographical origin really is paramount.

For ease (& hopefully clarity!) of explanation we will aim to go through things systematically, but this doesn’t always hold true as there are no rules!


Producer name:
(ie Aubert de Villaine, Jean Grivot, Domaine Leroy)


This is generally at the top of the label & is whoever made/owns the land on which the wine was made. This can be a ‘maison’ or cooperative, where growers have passed on their grapes.


(ie Beaune, Gevry-Chambertin, Meursault)


This is (as the title might suggest) the village or town that the vineyards sit around. If it is just the name of the village & there is no mention of any other classification (Premier Cru or Grand Cru), then it means that it’s contents are of high quality, but not classed into the two superior categories. Which brings me neatly onto..


(ie Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Villages)


Because of the dramatic changes in soil type & climate, the exact position of a terrior creates very big differences in the end result; namely its quality & therefore how it is classified. The three main distinctions are Grand Cru – the crème de la crème with 32 allocated terroirs; Premier Cru – top but not quite Grand Crus with over 600 allocated; and then finally ‘Villages’ which is still classified & origin specific fare, just not deemed to be in the same league as the other two. Villages are also not necessarily all from one vineyard..


(ie Domaine de la Romanée Conti – Grands Échezeaux, Domaine Leflaive – Chevalier-Montrachet, Comte de Vogüé – Chambolle Musigny)


However IF the wine is from one specific terroir, which it definitely will be for Grand & Premier Cru wines, the vineyard will (most likely) be detailed next. Burgundy is a bit of a patchwork quilt of terroir-specific ownership, so one producer will bottle under lots of different vineyard or terroir names.   However, much of burgundy’s grapes are sold on to negociants (like Maison Bouchard Pere et Fils who then bottle cooperatively & distribute the fare under their own brand.


(ie Chablis, Cote de Beaune, Beaujolais)


Burgundy or Bourgogne is an enormous area, thankfully sub-divided into 6 appellations, or areas: Chablis, Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais, Beaujolais, Côte de Nuits & Côte de Beaune. Each appellation makes distinctive wines depending on soil, climate & predominant grapes. For example, Chablis in the Auxerre region right in the north is predominantly Chardonnay, cooler & a more mineral soil; Maconnais right down in the south-east is predominantly Gamay, warmer, flatter & mainly sandstone-based soil.


Appellation Classification:
(ie. AOP, IGP, Vin de France)


By law, all French wine has to be classified, so the appellation classification will be found on every label. Unless it’s illegal which I’d probably steer well clear of. Appellations are divided into 4 different classes: “Appellations d’Origine Protégée/Contrôlée” (denoted AOP, since 2009 or AOC) which is highest classification & applies to most areas; ‘Vin Delimité de Qualité Supérieure’ (VDQS – the waiting room for AOP, only applies to a very small number of areas); Indication Geographique Protegée (IGP) or Vin de Pays (increasingly being replaced by former – from a given region, ie Cote d’Or but less strictly regulated); finishing off with ‘Vin de France’ (formerly ‘Vin de Table’ – the most basic classification – both titles do what they say on the tin; a “French wine” needs no further introduction!)  In Burgundy producers will often put the appellation or village name in the accreditation too, so “Appellation Beaune Contrôlée”, for example.


Bottling detail:
(Mis en bouteille…)


This will either state “Mis en bouteille au domaine” which means by a producer who owns his own land & bottles there (as the best wines are); or “Mis en bouteille par/pour..” which means the gapes have been sold to a negociant.


Producer Location:


This will be the address of the Domaine; good for Google Maps if you want a better idea of where a given appellation is. Especially given how complicated the whole system is!  However, true to form, the Burgundians often just give a rough village & area associated with their Domaine as vineyards can be scattered, so best look up all the information on the label for absolute precision’s sake.


Alcohol Content:
(ie. x%)


A given & legality – anything between 12% & 14% depending on colour, area & grape.


So, there we have it.. sometimes there is good reason for a product’s information to be complicated, especially when that end product is something as rich & rewarding as a glass (or 2!) of burgundy. And as much as label content will jump around a bit depending on personal tastes & redesign, the information required is ever-regulated so once you start to get to grips with it all, can go a long way into helping understand one of the most traditional & wonderfully complex wine growing regions the world has to offer.


The Author

Helen Richards

Hely's love of wine was born from a young age, spending summers exploring the vineyards of France. After studying Modern Languages at Oxford, she worked in publishing and branding before joining the JF Tobias team to help build our blog / written content. She loves wine, writing, yoga and adventure in equal measure and strives to balance all four, although not necessarily all at the same time!