1. Chardonnay grows better in these lighter, higher limestone content soils. Pinot Noir prefers some clay and silt, too.
2. Valleys make incisions into the hills, meaning more rain and wind assail the vines. Sturdier Chardonnay handles this better than thin-skinned Pinot.
3. The slopes are gentler, making the wrong exposition unforgiving for sun-seeking Pinot Noir.
From north to south, let’s examine this trail of microscopically mapped terroir to see what it delivers to your glass village by village.
Photo courtesy of Megan Mallen via Wikimedia Commons
Aloxe-Corton, Chorey-lès-Beaune, Pernand-Vergelesses and Savigny-lès-Beaune
These villages produce restrained reds and whites, including the Corton Grands Crus. Travel the RN74 and you’ll only see Aloxe and Chorey. Bear right on the D115d to climb to Pernand then head west to Savigny. Aside from Corton AOC, these villages offer affordable, highly mineral and early-drinking wines.
This distinguished producer makes this village lieu-dit taste more like Premier Cru. Purple-hued, packed with blueberries and goût de terroir and parading a taut backbone.
Most négociants own some vineyards. In Beaune, they own pieces of the most famous, like Clos des Mouches and Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus. Wines of both colors reveal tremendous minerality and lovely palate tension. Stash away the best for a decade.
This cru sports the characteristic sappiness of top Beaune reds (emphasized by the sprite 2010 vintage) along with a pleasantly round palate.
Pommard dons the king’s crown. Power and density rule, a result of the thick clay soils. The village wines, representing one-third of the terroir, often show angularity. With few exceptions, it’s worth upgrading to Premier Cru. Top wines display excellent longevity.
From a softer vintage and with some bottle age, this combines a top site with premier domaine. Technically a Premier Cru, this climat exhibits Grand Cru material.
Volnay and Monthélie
Doing a 180°, Volnay reigns as queen. The key to these bewitchingly scented, velvety reds is their lighter, stonier soils. Like a great matriarch, these wines can live long and nobly. Monthélie makes lean whites and reds, the later nodding to Volnay but showing less aromatic expansiveness.
D’Angerville offers the best value in Volnay. The wines are vinous and ethereal with great purity. Red fruits and gentle tannins abound.
Meursault, Auxey-Duresses and Saint-Romain
Meursault whites are easily distinguished from Puligny and Chassagne in aroma and mouthfeel. Meursault shows apple and pear rather than stone fruit, and its nuttiness sings alto as opposed to soprano. The mid-palate is broader (rugby player’s, not violinist’s, shoulders), and the texture is mealy not crisp (Red Delicious versus Fuji apples). The next-door whites of Auxey-Duresses and Saint-Romain favor Meursault but show less core and develop earlier; their reds crunch with leanness and show barnyard undertones.
La Sève means “the sap” – apropos for this concentrated, harmonic lieu dit from a top vintage. Then again, this epitomizes Arnaud’s style.
Puligny-Montrachet and Saint-Aubin
Endowed with the finest Chardonnay plots in the world, none of Puligny’s vineyards are slackers, even at the village level. They evoke descriptors like apricots, chamomile and hazelnuts. Saint-Aubin’s vines sit on the hill above and around the bend from Puligny. The wines resemble Puligny’s but cost one-third of the price.
Overtly perfumed: hawthorn and peony flirt with white peaches and wet stones. Archetypal Puligny including its mid-palate finesse and nuanced finish.
Chassagne doesn’t match Puligny in Grands Crus surface but boasts double the number of Premiers Crus. So there! It’s tough to distinguish these from Puligny, given their similar aromatic profiles, but Chassagne tends to be less chiseled. Chassagne also produces plenty of elegant, if firm, Pinot Noir for which it was better known until the late twentieth century, when world fell in love with Chardonnay.
A classic Chassagne village with fragrances of yellow plum, Bosc pear and Lily of the Valley. A fairly rich palate for a 2008, with a lingering creaminess.
Reds predominate here - characterized by their mid-weight body and oft-feisty tannins. Raspberry and lingonberry fruits are the norm and it seems a lump of dirt is thrown into every vat for extra terroir oomph.
A most satisfying example showing vibrant spiced red plum and forest floor. Mid-weight with a moderate finish and no evident new oak.