No country better defines its wine types by region than France. In Champagne, many of the world's finest sparkling wines are made. In Bordeaux, coveted bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon-based blends are crafted. And in Burgundy, the white wine is Chardonnay, and the red wine is Pinot Noir.
Burgundian wines are "governed" by laws passed in 1905 and 1919, delineating rankings and defining appellation boundaries.
Some 600 vineyards qualify for "Premier Cru" status - not necessarily because they are among the best Burgundian wines being made today, but rather because of the standards that existed early in the 20th century. That's not to say these wines are suspect in any way, only that there are plenty of Burgundian wines that lack the designation but are quite similar in quality.
The most prestigious designation is "Grand Cru," bestowed upon only 33 vineyards. The wines produced from those vineyards, few would argue, represent the best of the best in Burgundy - names such as Chambertin, Corton-Charlemagne, Montrachet and Clos Vougeot.
Among Burgundy's appellations, Cote de Beaune wines are ideal for the impatient. Cote de Beaune reds are known for their enticing aroma and lighter body - and for maturing a bit more quickly than wines made in other areas. It's said that drinking a red Burgundy before its time is a sin, but the red wines of Cote de Beaune actually reward early cork popping.
Among some of the other areas, the red wines of Nuits St. Georges are known for being robust and elegant, while the white wines of Pouilly Fuisse are soul mates to shellfish and oysters.
And if you're looking for a guarantee of quality on a label, seek out a bottle from Meursault, where a third of the production bears a "Premier Cru" designation.