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New Bourgognes for 2018 Wine Lists

In spite of the image that Burgundy shares with Bordeaux of charging very high prices for its best wines, the region continues to produce increasingly better wines from more places within its borders than ever before.  And most of them are quite affordable.  But if you must have your grand cru from the Côte d’Or, then expect to pay for it, primarily because a lot of other people from Cincinnati to Shanghai want it just as badly as you do.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Burgundy to report on all the activities associated with the 157th edition of the annual Hospices de Beaune Auction, which started in 1859 to support the charitable institution founded in 1443. Although there were some serious crop losses in some places, overall the 2017 vintage will be a very good year in terms of quality and quantity for red, white and crémant. If vignerons weren’t exactly dancing in the cobbled streets of Beaune, at least there was a spring in everyone’s step.

The negoçiants and independent winegrowers of Burgundy are zealots in being sure that everyone who wants Burgundy wine can find enough of it at every price level, even if it means tinkering with their precious appellations. Which means that two new Burgundies – a newly created village wine and a newly created regional wine – will be of interest to American sommeliers and beverage managers.

But before we go there, one word about terminology. Like most people, I have been talking about Burgundy wine from the Burgundy region for decades.  But Cécile Mathiaud, who heads communications for the Bourgogne organization, BIVB, points out that every other French wine, from Champagne to Rhone to Bordeaux, is known by the French name for the wine and not an Anglicized version of it.  So why not call “Burgundy” wine by its real name – “Bourgogne?”  And it’s not hard to pronounce. If you can say “begonia,” you can say “Bourgogne.” And it’s not that we can’t adapt to changes – Bombay is now Mumbai and Peking is Beijing.  I’ve decided to give it a try, although I may be a little slower in thinking of Burgundy the region as Bourgogne the region.

The first of the new Bourgognes is Vézelay, which will produce only Chardonnay-based white wines under that appellation. Lying in the limestone-laden hills just south of Chablis, Vézelay first became eligible to be called Bourgogne in 1985, was promoted to the regional appellation Bourgogne Vézelay in 1998 and now can use its village name with the 2017 vintage, which will first become available in September 2017. The upgrade to village status is important to drinkers because the promotion comes with regulations that should ensure higher quality.

Although it is still relatively small – only 66 hectares (163 acres) and 20 winegrowers at the moment – it will now be allowed to more than triple in size, making it a great source for high-quality white Bourgognes at a lesser price than the village wines of Macon such as Pouilly Fuissé.

The second new wine should be welcome to wine lists because of its famous name, even though it will be a regional wine – Bourgogne Côte d’Or.  As with Vézelay, the new appellation will also bring with it higher quality standards for its wines – Chardonnay whites and Pinot Noir reds.  The grapes can come from all the villages of the Côtes de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune from near Dijon in the north to Maranges in the south.  The region has the potential for about 1,000 combined hectares (about 2,471 acres) for producing red and white wines.

In learning about this latter appellation I also learned something I didn’t know before (but maybe you did) – the “Or” in Côte d’Or does not refer to “golden slope.” Rather the “or” was an abbreviation of “orient” or eastern-facing slopes.

If your curiosity is peaked, you might signal your interest to your importers, particularly those handling the large negoçiants, to have them bring samples by come autumn.

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