One of white Grand Crus, Corton, shares its name with the sub-region's sole red Grand Cru. The rest of its epic red confrères lie in the Côte de Nuits. However, the Pommard producers’ association is trying to change this. In 2011, they petitioned the French appellation authority, INAO, to elevate the Premier Crus Rugiens and Epenots to Grand Cru. À voir (we’ll see).
From north to south, here are bullet points on the Côte de Beaune’s major villages. Though Corton is an appellation, not a village, it is a heavy-weight, unlike its villages Pernand-Vergelesses and Aloxe-Corton. So, I cover it here by mention of the AOC.
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Corton is one of only two Grand Crus that covers both white and red wine. The fame of the vineyard dates back to Charlemagne, who loved the wines from this imposing hill. He was particularly taken by the reds. However, once his beard became stained with its purple juice, he ordered the black grapes to be ripped out and whites planted. Wow, even Charlemagne had a sense for terroir!
The wines of Corton are the leanest of Burgundy’s top growths. They are reticent to unfold their fragrance in their youth and they show firm acidity, emphasized by the presence of tannins in the reds. These wines need more time than other Grand Crus to open up. The western, Pernand-Vergelesses side is best suited to whites while eastern Aloxe-Corton is equally well-suited to both.
The vineyards to the east of Beaune produce wines that resemble neighboring Corton. They tend to the leaner side of the spectrum. Sometimes they even seem downright crunchy. Vineyards toward the north generally produce sturdier wines while vineyards toward the south tend to be more delicate. Don’t be surprised to find wines of both colors bearing the same appellations, ex. Clos des Mouches Premier Cru.
Pommard makes reds. If you were to walk the vineyards of the Premier Crus, you’d guess this by simply looking at the soil. It’s red, too. These Pinot Noirs are known for their power and edge. Deep color and firm tannins characterize Pommard, unlike most other Côte de Beaune. The vigor of these wines can make them foursquare, but generous though never plump fruit bolsters top wines. Black cherry and black plum overlay red fruits here, which otherwise dominate Côte de Beaune Pinot.
Volnay epitomizes femininity, in contrast to Pommard’s masculinity. You can almost see it in the contrast of the villages’ buildings. Volnay is a cozy cluster of lovely old homes lining narrow lanes, while Pommard’s gated, stately manor houses proudly surround the grand church on the town square. Their primary shared attribute is that they only make Pinot Noir. Volnay delivers svelte tannins and supple fruit: red cherry, raspberry and red plum.
Meursault is a white wine village. There are reds, but very few, and they often take the names of other villages like Volnay and Blagny. Despite its blessed vineyard sites and many talented winemakers, Meursault has no Grand Crus. Nonetheless, the top Premier Crus could make a strong case for Grand Cru status. Additionally, many of Meursault’s village level lieux-dits clearly merit Premier Cru status. These Chardonnay share a distinct nuttiness, especially hazelnut, and are broad and rich on the palate.
It’s hard to find a real cellar in Puligny-Montrachet because the water table is so high. You don’t need an underground cellar to make some of the world’s greatest Chardonnay. Puligny-Montrachet possesses a wealth of Grand Crus, some of which it shares with Chassagne-Montrachet to the south. The Grand Crus possess a distinguishing unctuousness, depth of flavor and lingering finish. Whether Grand Cru or village, Puligny-Montrachet-sourced wines possess profound minerality and ethereal aromas of white flowers, ripe peach and Comice pear. (P.S. An itty bit of red is grown here, too.)
Chassagne-Montrachet is also known for exquisite Chardonnay. Reds are made here as well and are often austere but offer lovely fragrance. Chassagne-Montrachet is often a bit less gossamer and filigree than Puligny-Montrachet. However, it is as likely to be the hand of the winemaker as the plot of land that makes the difference. They resemble each other so closely that they can be tough to distinguish in a blind tasting.
Check back soon for “Notes on Nuits”!