Wine Guide Burgundy Côte de Beaune

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urgundy can be considered as four distinct entities. In the north lies Chablis, at its heart is the Côte d’Or (Cote de Nuits and Côte de Beaune), next comes the Côte Chalonnaise then, still further south, the Mâconnais. The main appellations for each are given below, with more detail in the individual sections that follow.

Chablis & Yonne
Chablis and the surrounding vineyards are isolated from the heart of Burgundy, being almost halfway to Paris from the Côte d’Or. All Chablis is produced from the Chardonnay grape and is classified by vineyard site as either Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru or Chablis Grand Cru. Other than Chablis there’s Sauvignon under the Saint-Bris AC and occasional pure cherryish Pinot Noir from Irancy AC. Pinot Noir or Chardonnay from other villages in the Yonne is suffixed Bourgogne.

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Côte d’Or & Côte Chalonnaise

The Côte d’Or is synonymous with Burgundy and includes all its great red wines. The two parts are the more northerly Côte de Nuits (mostly red) and extending southwards, the Côte de Beaune (white and red).

The Côte De Nuits is Burgundy’s most classic red wine district and based primarily on just one grape variety, Pinot Noir. It runs from Marsannay and Fixin through the leading communes of Gevrey-Chambertin (including leading grands crus Chambertin and Clos de Bèze), Morey- Saint-Denis (with grands crus Clos de la Roche, Clos Saint-Denis, Clos des Lambrays and Clos de Tart), Chambolle Musigny (with Bonnes Mares and Le Musigny) and Vougeot (for Clos Vougeot), Flagey-Echezeaux (for Echezeaux and Grands Echezeaux), Vosne-Romanée (grands crus La Romanée, Romanée-Conti, Richebourg, Romanée-Saint-Vivant, La Grande Rue, and La Tâche) to Nuits-Saint-Georges.

Burgundy Côte de Beaune Wines

The Côte De Beaune is famous for great white Burgundy made from Chardonnay, although more Pinot Noir is planted. Much of both is at least potentially very high quality. In a confusion of appellations in the north, Aloxe-Corton with the famous grands crus of Corton (mostly red) and Corton-Charlemagne (white) stands out. Beaune, Pernand-Vergelesses and Savigny-lès-Beaune produce fine reds but some good whites too, while the celebrated Pommard and Volnay are restricted to red. Monthélie, and Auxey-Duresses provide more affordable red and a little white, while Saint-Romain and the often excellent Saint-Aubin do better with white. The big three white Burgundy appellations are Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet (including grands crus Chevalier- Montrachet, Le Montrachet and part of Bâtard-Montrachet) and Chassagne-Montrachet. The latter also produces red as do Santenay and Maranges in the tail of the Côte d’Or.

The Côte Chalonnaise begins close to this tail. Both the wines and the countryside are distinctly different but the village appellations are again classified for wines from Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir – with the exception the first village, Bouzeron, which is classified for Aligoté. Rully makes more white than red, while Mercurey and Givry produce mostly red. The southernmost appellation, Montagny, is for Chardonnay alone. Crémant de Bourgogne is for the region’s sparkling wine.

The Côte Chalonnaise begins close to this tail. Both the wines and the countryside are distinctly different but the village appellations are again classified for wines from Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir – with the exception the first village, Bouzeron, which is classified for Aligoté. Rully makes more white than red, while Mercurey and Givry produce mostly red. The southernmost appellation, Montagny, is for Chardonnay alone. Crémant de Bourgogne is for the region’s sparkling wine.

Mâconnais

As in the Côte de Beaune here too there is greatness in white wine (from Chardonnay), with a new wave of excellent producers beginning to emerge. Quality wine production is focused on Pouilly-Fuissé (with its four communes of Chaintré, Fuissé, Solutré and Vergisson), adjoined at its eastern end by the small Pouilly-Loché and Pouilly-Vinzelles ACs. Many other vineyards north and south of Pouilly-Fuissé qualify as Saint-Véran. There is fine quality too from Viré-Clessé and increasingly from several of some 43 villages that can be suffixed to Mâcon (eg Mâcon-Bussières).

Côte de Beaune background

What a difference a new generation and a responsive market can make. Younger, highly-trained and talented winemakers have played their part in transforming quality in this the most complex and magical of France’s wine regions. No stronger argument can be made for the validity of terroir than in Burgundy, where subtle differences of climate, soil composition and aspect identified over the course of centuries and expressed in individual climats make this region so complex and fascinating. Red Burgundy should enthrall with its perfume, complexity, finesse and textural qualities rather than power, oak and out-and-out concentration. White Burgundy should express complexity in both aroma and flavour, be it more minerally or buttery and nutty, and have a depth, structure and balance proportionate to its origins. Both should be more than just the most noble expression of two grapes, now familiar the world over, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Côte d’Or hierarchy

The basic hierarchy in the Côte d’Or is of grands crus at the top, followed by premiers crus – always associated with one of 25 villages (premiers crus are often blended together due to fragmentation, so labelled simply Premier Cru) – then the level of the village itself (e.g. Meursault) before the sub-regional appellations (such as Côte de Beaune) and finally the regional generics: Bourgogne Rouge (Pinot Noir), Bourgogne Blanc (Chardonnay) and Bourgogne Aligoté. The lowest level is not necessarily the humblest, however, as wine from any level may be sold as a generic (for instance, recently replanted vines that have only just come into production or vines that lie just outside a classified area). It is also worth noting that premier cru wine may also be included in part of a village-level bottling. This may be due to insufficient quantities for a separate bottling or a grower’s decision not to compromise the integrity of his premier cru when faced with unsatisfactory quality in a difficult vintage. Also important to understanding the appellation system in Burgundy is the concept of climat or individual vineyard areas. Occasionally only part of a named area may be designated premier cru while within the unclassified village areas (which may be large, as in Meursault) the named vineyards (lieux-dits) may be added to the label (e.g. Meursault Tillets). The best of these will be close to premier cru level, just as several premiers crus are comparable to some of the less well-defined grands crus. Note too that the spelling of a particular vineyard can vary slightly from one producer to another. What follows is a brief breakdown of the most important villages and their most important crus.

Côte de Beaune

The Côte de Beaune’s reputation is more for white than red yet the majority of wines are in fact red. From here south the gradients are lower and the swathe of vineyards wider, occasionally receding into the hills behind the main slopes. It begins in a cluster of villages around the famous hill of Corton. The humble AC of Ladoix (with seven premiers crus) is not widely seen and some of thewine is sold under the sub-regional appellation of Côte de Beaune-Villages. Wine for the latter can also come from another 15 villages, making it much more important than the Nuits equivalent. Aloxe-Corton at the foot of the Corton hill includes the famous appellations of Corton and Corton-Charlemagne, though vineyards spill into adjoining Ladoix and Pernand-Vergelesses.

An autumnal view of the Corton hill

Most of the white from Burgundy’s largest grand cru is sold as Corton-Charlemagne (51 ha) and most of the red as Corton (98 ha), though there is a little white Corton too (2.5 ha). The trend to planting Chardonnay begun in the mid-19th century continues, the paler soils at the top of the hill being the best site. Great Corton-Charlemagne is full-bodied but slow-developing due to a powerful structure and requires patience.

Red Corton (which oftens attaches one of several lieu-dit names) can be similarly austere when young but develops a richness and a distinctive minerally elegance with age. Aloxe-Corton AC, almost entirely red, includes 13 premiers crus which lie directly below the red Corton vineyards. To the west of the Aloxe-Corton commune lies Pernand-Vergelesses, some of it tucked into the folds in the hills. Increasingly good red and white is made under the AC. The best premier cru, Ile des Vergelesses, favours reds of finesse rather than power but they add weight with age. To the south, it adjoins Savigny-lès-Beaune, which extends east up a little valley to the village itself. The best vineyards lie on both sides, the more northern band of premiers crus (including Guettes, Serpentières and Lavières) are more elegant than those from the southern band (including Dominodes, Marconnets, Narbantons and Peuillets), which tend to be fuller and firmer. Importantly, this is a reasonably plentiful source of good-value Burgundy. Rarely exciting is wine from Chorey-lès-Beaune, from flat land to the east of the Savigny AC.

Beaune, historically and commercially, is the heart of Burgundy but it is also one of the three leading Côte de Beaune red wine villages and includes some excellent premiers crus from the gentle slopes west of the town. Due to diverse soil types, leading premiers crus vary from the full and firm to softer, more elegant wines. Marconnets, Fèves and Bressandes are of the first category, Grèves and Teurons are richer and softer, Clos des Mouches full but elegant too. Important vineyard owners such as Jadot, Albert Morot, Bouchard Père and Drouhin all provide the opportunity to compare and contrast some of the best crus from a single source. Another major vineyard owner, and one of the most important in the Côte de Beaune, is the Hospices de Beaune, their many (often oaky) cuvées (unique blends of predominantly premiers crus named for their benefactor) are sold at the famous auction in November. The wines are then ‘finished’ by the purchasing négociant, a factor that has a further bearing on their (variable) quality. The rarely seen Côte de Beaune AC is for a few vineyards in the hills behind Beaune AC. Pommard is a continuation of Beaune and its reputation for sturdy, fullbodied reds is in part due to more clayey, often iron-rich, soils than its neighbours. Grands Epenots and Rugiens Bas are the finest premiers crus. In Volnay the soils are lighter and poorer, contributing to the wine’s refinement and elegance. Most of the best premiers crus come from south of the village, including Taillepieds, Clos des Chênes, Caillerets Dessus and Santenots. Santenots actually lies within the adjacent Meursault but is generally sold as Volnay when made from Pinot Noir, and as Meursault if from Chardonnay. South and west of Volnay an ascending flank of vineyards extends into the hills and includes the villages of Monthelie, Auxey-Duresses and Saint-Romain. The first two can provide excellent reds from several premiers crus but also a little good village white, especially in Auxey-Duresses. Good Saint-Romain white can be better than its position in the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune hills might suggest.

Meursault is one of the three biggest communes in the Côte d’Or and is the most important white wine village. But as with Beaune or Gevrey-Chambertin, with size comes variability. At its worst it is heavy and characterless but good examples are full, ripe and fruit-rich. The finest are intense, stylish and in the case of the would-be grand cru, Perrières, minerally and refined. There are no grands crus but other fine premiers crus include the best examples of Genevrières, Charmes, Poruzots and Goutte d’Or. Village lieux-dits names of note include Chevalières, Grands Charrons, Narvaux, Tessons and Tillets. Blagny is a small red wine outpost nestled against Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet.

Vineyards at Puligny-Montrachet

‘Puligny’ and ‘world’s best’ often share the same sentence and with good reason. The village includes the grands crus Chevalier-Montrachet (7.36 ha), Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet (3.69 ha) and half of the 8 ha Le Montrachet and 6 ha of the 11.87 ha Bâtard-Montrachet. Le Montrachet is the greatest, and most expensive, of all but is a wine capable of marvellous concentration, sublime proportions and exquisite complexity. Chevalier-Montrachet, from thinner soils above, is potentially the closest in quality but Bâtard-Montrachet, from flatter vineyards, can offer superb richness and intensity too. There are many outstanding premiers crus which also command high prices. Caillerets (including Les Demoiselles) and Pucelles, adjoining the grands crus, will surpass any grand cru not at its full potential. Clavoillon and Folatières and the more elevated Champ Gain and La Garenne can highlight the Puligny finesse and intensity as can Champ-Canet, Combettes and Referts which extend as far as Meursault’s Perrières and Charmes. As well as the continuation of grands crus Le Montrachet and Bâtard-Montrachet, the village of Chassagne-Montrachet adds the tiny 1.57 ha grand cru of Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet. The wines sold under the Chassagne AC were once predominantly red but its reputation is now emphatically white. Leading premiers crus include Caillerets, Champs Gains, Embrazées, Morgeots, La Romanée and Ruchottes – mostly confined to lighter-coloured soils on the higher slopes. Reds vary from the thin and unripe to full and fleshy and can be a source of good value (they only command around half the price of a white from the same vineyard, thus the trend to white continues). La Boudriotte, Clos Saint-Jean, La Maltroie, Morgeots and Chenevottes are the most noted red premiers crus. Behind Chassagne and Puligny lies the commune of Saint-Aubin. Some remarkably good white is produced by the best growers from the most worthy premier cru vineyards: La Chatenière and those that adjoin Chassagne (Le Charmois) and Puligny (En Remilly and Murgers des Dents de Chien – backing on to the Mont Rachet hill). Reds tend to be relatively light and slightly earthy.

Santenay is the Côte de Beaune’s last significant commune for quality as the tail of the vineyard area swings west. From south-facing vineyards red wines dominate, the best of these are both full and stylish. These are likely to come from the premiers crus Gravières, La Comme and Clos des Tavannes that extend to the edge of Chassagne. One or two excellent whites are also being produced. While a fast improving AC with some excellent-value wines, Santenay is not so good from a weaker vintage or from a mediocre producer when the wine may be lean and stalky. To the west the vineyards adjoin Maranges, more earthy and robust than the best Santenay, though exceptions exist.

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