What's the difference between "Burgundian" and "Californian" wine styles?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I hear a lot about “Burgundian” style Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, versus, say, “Californian” or “New World” style. What’s the difference between these styles?

—Michael S., Westlake Village, Calif.

Dear Michael,

First and foremost, a truly Burgundian wine hails from France’s Burgundy region. But when used as a way to describe a wine’s style, its connotation can vary depending on the context. I’ll try to hit the major points.

Some specific winemaking methods are characterized as “Burgundian” techniques, such as barrel fermentation, lees aging and malolactic fermentation to soften the acidity in a wine. Sometimes “Burgundian” is used as a more romantic way of saying “handcrafted.”

Another way to interpret the “Burgundian” moniker—especially when used in contrast to “California” or “New World” style—is that wines from California and the rest of the New World favor a riper, more fruit-centric profile, while a wine from Burgundy might display less fruit and more earth and mineral notes. This is usually a dig on New World wines, as if there was something wrong with ripe fruit flavors and you have better taste if you choose something more traditional. I like plenty of different styles of wine, and I don’t think you have to pick just one.

Finally, another way “Burgundian” is used is to refer to the fact that high-end wines from Burgundy are identified by their vineyard sites, and in fact, their reputations are based on the idea that a wine’s terroir—its sense of place—can be distinguished from the terroir of another vineyard. So, sometimes I see the term used for wines that are made as an expression of a specific vineyard.

—Dr. Vinny

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