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Dear Dr. Vinny,
What’s the difference between Bordeaux and Burgundy? And if I use a Bordeaux red wine in a recipe that calls for Burgundy, will that affect the taste of the dish?
—Katherine, Phoenix, Md.
Bordeaux and Burgundy are both wine regions in France. In Europe, wines are typically referred to by their designated geographic origin (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, or A.O.C., in France; Denominazione di Origine Controllata, or D.O.C., in Italy, etc.) rather than by what grape they're made of. For instance, Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne are all actual places in addition to being the terms we use to refer to the wines from those places.
Bordeaux’s red wines are largely based on the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes, along with Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Bordeaux whites are usually blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Meanwhile, Burgundy’s red wines are made from Pinot Noir (the Beaujolais region is technically considered part of Burgundy as well, and the red wines there are made from Gamay), while white Burgundies are made from the Chardonnay grape.
You asked about cooking with red wine, so let me speak in very broad terms here. The wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy are quite different. Generally, red Bordeauxs will be bigger, heavier and more tannic or drying than wines from Burgundy. I’d expect purple fruit, tobacco and anise flavors in Bordeaux, while Burgundies should show off red fruit flavors, spice and fresh earth notes.
As far as substituting for each other in cooking? I think that depends. If it’s just a splash of red wine, it probably doesn’t matter. But if you’re making coq au vin with an entire bottle of wine, well, that would change the flavor profile a bit. Pinot Noir’s red fruit flavors are ideal pairings with the bacon and mushrooms in that dish, and that might be lost by substituting a red Bordeaux. I’d recommend substituting another Pinot Noir if you don't have any red Burgundy available.