BURGUNDY’s COTE d’OR
Gevrey Chambertin. Puligny Montrachet. Pommard. Nuits St. Georges. Richebourg. Corton Charlemagne. Clos Vougeot. These are just a few of the place names that come readily to mind when you think about Burgundy. All of these, both villages and grand crus, are located in the Cote d’Or. While Burgundy is much more than only the wines from the Cote d’Or, that stretch from Dijon in the north to Maranges in the south is the heart of Burgundy.
Burgundy consists of four wine producing sub-regions – Chablis, the Côte d’Or, the Côte Chalonnaise, Macon – and, within them, any number of sub-regions. Beaujolais, which is often associated with Burgundy, is technically and politically is part of the department of the Rhone.
The most famous area of Burgundy, the Côte d’Or, is divided into two smaller areas, the Côte de Nuits in the north and the Côte de Beaune in the south.
The challenge of the Burgundy is that it is an overly divided area of small production and uneven quality. Because of French laws outlawing primo geniteur, the vineyards of the Côte d’Or are fragmented under thousands of different owners. Some vineyards may have a dozen or more owners, each holding a few rows of vines that are not even necessarily contiguous. There are very few vineyards in Burgundy that are not split among at least three or four owners. Because each owner possesses different levels of financing and skill, quality can vary from inspirational to undrinkable within even the smallest vineyard.
Unlike Bordeaux, where the consumer can rely on the reputation of the vineyard and the vintage to insure that he is buying a quality wine, in Burgundy, the name of the producer is the key to quality. A top producer with good financial resources, a dedication to quality, technical skill, and experience is going to make much more good, very good and excellent wine than any other kind. An under-financed, uncaring producer will consistently make disappointing wines from even the best vineyard sites in even the best vintage years.
That’s why, from any given vintage, you may see two producers’ Nuits St. Georges village offered at two very different prices. It is likely that the more expensive wine is from a better producer who is doing the right stuff in the vineyard and the winery. The less expensive wine may be a cheaply made wannabe offering little more than the name of the village on the label. Unfortunately, it also is possible that the more expensive wine was produced by a domaine or a negoçiant coasting on a past reputation.
With the fragmentation and variability in quality, a newcomer to Burgundy might wonder “Why bother?” All it takes is a taste of something special to answer that question. And Burgundy is full of special wines. A good Burgundian red or white (Pinot Noir or Chardonnay) can provide a most enjoyable wine that works well with wide varieties of food. Good red Burgundy gives earthy-minerally and fruity flavors and compliments everything from birds to beef. Good white Burgundy can go with the richest seafood dishes (especially crab), and is a classic with pork, veal, and mushrooms. The glory of Burgundy is when you encounter one of the magnificent bottles from a premier cru or grand cru vineyard from the right producer and vintage at an optimum level of maturity. You won’t necessarily need or even want food to enjoy with one of these special wines. You will want someone to share and talk about it with you.
As the Cote d’Or is what most people think of first when they think of Burgundy, it is the right place to start. The Cote d’Or (which, as a shortened form of “Cote d’Orient,” references the fact that the extended slope running roughly from north to south faces east) is formally divided two parts, the Côte de Beaune and the Côte de Nuits. The Côte d’Or is only about thirty-five miles long by from one-half to two miles wide.
The Côte de Beaune is the southern of the two parts of the Côte d’Or and is named the city of Beaune. The Côte de Beaune starts in the south with the villages of Maranges and Santenay and moves north through Chassagne and Puligny, Meursault, Volnay and Pommard to the city of Beaune and on through Savigny and Pernand to Aloxe and Ladoix in the north. I think of the stretch from Maranges through Beaune and into Savigny as a separate part from the “W” of the two hills of Pernand and Corton. The southern stretch up to and including the west side of Savignny is all east facing slopes. The west side of Savigny along with Pernand, Aloxe, and Ladoix wrap around the west, south, and east sides of two hills and so have some west, south, and east facing slopes that to me at least yield wines with a different character than the rest of the Cote de Beaune. The Cote de Beaune has only one grand cru red, Corton, and so is best known for its premier cru (1er cru) reds and its grand and 1er cru whites.
The Cote de Nuits starts north of Pernand with Prémeaux and Nuits St. George and heads north through Vosne-Romanée (and Flagey), Vougeot, Chambolle, Morey, and Gevrey to Fixin and Marsannay in the north. While a small amount of white wine is made (and even some rosé), the Cote de Nuits is best known for its red wines and especially for all the great premier cru and grand cru reds.
Most villages of the Cote d’Or take the name of their most famous vineyard and add it to their own. Examples include the town of Chassagne adding the name of its most famous vineyard, Le Montrachet, to arrive at “Chassagne-Montrachet” – just as the town of Gevrey appends Chambertin to form the appellation name “Gevrey Chambertin”.
Côte d’Or wines are classified in a hierarchy of quality starting with regional wines and working upward through village wines to the single vineyard wines from the premier cru (1er cru) and grand cru vineyards.
Regional wines in the Cote d’Or may be blends from a number of different villages. They may be from villages that don’t have enough of a reputation to sell their wines under their own names or they may be wines from more famous sites that, for any number of reasons, didn’t make the cut for the village blend. They can be labeled:
Bourgogne: a blend of wines from anywhere in Greater Burgundy (not just the Côte d’Or).
Côte de Beaune-Village: a blend of wines from certain villages in the Côte de Beaune.
Côte de Nuits-Village: a blend of wines from certain villages in the Côte de Nuits.
Village wines are always labeled with the name of the village (example: Chassagne- Montrachet) but may include the name of a vineyard or climat, or a proprietary name. These wines are always from one village as it is defined in the AOC laws. Village wines are the basic, good quality wines of Burgundy.
A “climat” name or lieu-dit is a legal name of a single site within a larger appellation. Lieu-dits are commonly seen in Village-level wine names (Meursault Narvaux, Chambolle Musigny Combe d’Orveaux) but may also be seen in a Grand Cru (Clos Vougeot Le Grand Maupertuis, Corton Bressandes).
Premier Cru are recognized sites that produce wines consistently higher in quality than village wines and show the character of their individual site. These wines are often the best values because their quality may be closer to the grand crus but they often have prices closer to the village level. Premier Cru wines are always labeled with the name of the village and usually an indication that the wine is a premier cru (example: Chassagne-Montrachet 1er cru Morgeot). If the wine is from a specific vineyard, it will usually include the name of a vineyard in the same size or smaller letters than the name of the town. A blend of premier cru wines from one village might be sold as simply “Beaune 1er cru.” Some wines are labeled with the names of sub plots within the premier cru called clímats. These wines can be hard to trace because most premier cru listings do not show the various clímats. It is key to know that just as all villages are not created equal, so not all premier cru are created equal. There are premier cru and there are PREMIER CRU.
Grand Cru is the highest quality and rarest vineyard classification in Burgundy. The wines are the most expensive in Burgundy. They must show the unique qualities of the vineyard, the character of the soil, the exposure, and the climate as well as the character of the grape, and exhibit those qualities in a concentrated and powerful, yet still elegant way. A few grand cru vineyards are shared between two or three villages. Grand cru wines are labeled only with the name of the vineyard (example: Le Montrachet) and may or may not indicate “grand cru” on the label. The labels do not include the name of the village. Unless you know which grand cru are in which villages, they can be confusing.
Types of Burgundy Producers and Shippers
The Negoçiant-Eleveur is a shipper who buys unfinished wines from many producers, matures them in his cellars, and blends them to sell under his label. Ideally, a negoçiant’s blends are representative of the names on their labels and are good values. The negoçiant serves the purpose of making entry level (or regional and village appellation) wines marketable on a worldwide basis. Many of the better negoçiants are buying grapes instead of wine whenever possible in order to increase their control over quality and style.
The Domaine is a vineyard owner that farms its vineyards, makes its wines, bottles its wines, and sells its them under its own label. There is an ongoing debate in the trade and among consumers about the quality and value of wines from domaines versus wines from the big houses. On the plus side, a domaine usually offers single vineyard, estate bottled wines at premium prices. Domaines usually specialize in a specific village or group of neighboring villages and may know more about those clímats than many of the larger producers whose lines encompass the whole of the Côte d’Or and perhaps Beaujolais, Macon, Chalonnaise, and even Chablis. The domaine may or may not have more dedication to quality than a larger producer. On the negative side, “estate-bottled” on a domaine’s label is only a guarantee of authenticity, not a guarantee of quality. Most domaines do not have the same level of resources, technical or financial, as the big houses or the negociants. A domaine may be call itself a proprieter.
The Big Houses. Some of the largest and best producers in Burgundy are both domaines and negoçiants. These firms may refer to themselves as a Negoçiant-Eleveur-Proprieter. Size can be an advantage because these large firms have the financial wherewithal to buy the best equipment and hire top people, and the marketing support to sell a multitude of labels or appellations internationally. Size also can be a liability because they may get too big to maintain quality and the wines may all begin to reflect a house style at the expense of the terroir. Some of the top houses in Burgundy have long-term leases on vineyards that they farm as if they were their own. Many advise the growers they buy from on viticultural practices. Whenever possible, the top houses buy grapes instead of wine.
Part of the debate concerning wine quality in the big houses, negociants, and domaines centers on a house style. Some observers feel that the big houses and negociants make too many wines that taste too much alike. There is some validity to this critisism but the same arguements can apply equally to domaines. A common reason why wines from a house all have similarities, even thought the grapes come from different sites is that they are all made by the same winemaker using the same yeast culture. Wine making decisions have a large effect on the finished product. Different yeasts develop different flavors. If all of a negociant’s or domaine’s wines are all made the same way, the wines are going to taste similar with the only differences coming from the terroir of the vineyard.
The White Wines of the Cote d’Or
Chardonnay is the most popular white wine grape in the world and is, along with Riesling, one of the two best quality white grapes in the world. It is grown in every wine producing country and makes fine wine in most of them. Chardonnay is a wine maker’s grape in that it provides an ideal palate for the wine maker to show his style. The natural fruit flavors in Chardonnay range from lemon (and even grapefruit) to peach and apple and on to tropical flavors such as pineapple and banana. Chardonnay can show the vanilla and toast of oak barrels and the butter of a barrel-fermentation as well as the soil, exposure, and climate of its vineyard.
Chardonnay is the fine white grape of the Côte d’Or. While Chardonnay produces great white wine all over the world, nowhere else does it reach the heights it achieves in the Côte d’Or. At its best, white Burgundy has enough concentrated fruit to support the chalky, limestone earthiness lent by the vineyards and the toasty, buttery, vanillan oak flavors from the barrels in which it is fermented and aged. From the grand crus and the top premier crus, Côte d’Or Chardonnay can be as good as dry white wine gets.
Pinot Blanc is a white wine producing mutation of Pinot Noir. Pinot Blanc sometimes is blended with Chardonnay (as in Savigny les Beaune). An undetermined amount of Pinot Blanc is planted in with Chardonnay and often is mistaken as Chardonnay.
Pinot Gris is a white or rosé producing mutation of Pinot Noir. Pinot Gris may be blended with Chardonnay (as in Savigny les Beaune) or with Pinot Noir (as in Corton). In Aloxe, a small amount of Pinot Gris is grown by Comte Senard and is vinified separately into a lovely and unique white wine that says “Pinot Gris” on the back label.
Aligoté is the grape responsible for the thin, tart country wine of the greater Burgundy area. It is not allowed in the top vineyards. Aligoté wines are seldom available for sale in the US. Aligoté’s chief claim to fame is as a base wine for Kirs. The Kir was named for a local figure who mixed Cassis with his Aligoté to make it palatable.
Vinification of White Burgundy
Most all white Côte d’Or wine is barrel fermented and undergoes full malo-lactic fermentation. Typically, the grapes are brought in and crushed and put into presses where the free run juice is allowed to run off. The presses are then cycled to extract the rest of the useful juice. Fermentations may be started in barrels (typically 228 liters) or in tanks and then transferred to barrels after the yeast gets going. Barrel fermentation is a warmer fermentation that is mostly completed in two to five days and slowly tapers off over the next eight to fifteen days. This produces a broader range of flavors and textures than temperature controlled, large vessel fermentations. These complex fermentation flavors are developed at the expense of some fruit flavor.
If new barrels are used, they impart oak flavors to the fermenting wine as well as yielding up some un-fermentable wood sugars that can give the finished wine a sweeter flavor. Malo-lactic fermentation (ML) is a bacterial process by which the wine’s natural malic acid (apple acid) is converted into lactic acid (milk acid). ML softens the wine giving it a milkier or creamier texture and makes it approachable at a much earlier age. These two techniques are possible only because Burgundy typically produces Chardonnay grapes with an abundance of fruit flavor and high acid levels.
After ML is completed the wine is racked off its lees into clean barrels and is dosed with sulfur dioxide to stop any further microbial activity and to preserve the wine as SO2 is an anti-oxidant.
Variations can include tank fermentations followed by barrel or tank aging, using larger barrels (300 liter, 500-liter or puncheon, 600 liter or demi-muid, etc.), and blocking ML.
The newly fermented wine is then stored in oak barrels for from four to sixteen months before it is blended (assemblage) and bottled. The wine may be degassed, filtered, or fined before bottling – or not. Fining is done using egg whites or skim milk. Many producers cold stabilize their wines to encourage them to precipitate out any remaining tartrate crystals before bottling.
The White Wine Producing Areas of the Côte de Beaune
The Villages of the Côte de Beaune that make white wines include Ladoix-Serrigny, Pernand-Vergelesses, Aloxe-Corton, Savigny-Lès Beaune, Beaune, Meursault, Auxey-Duresses, St. Aubin and St. Romain, Puligny-Montrachet, and Chassagne-Montrachet. While the white wines have their own characteristics (to a greater or lesser extent), they can be grouped together. The wines of Pernand, Ladoix and Aloxe make up one group. Meursault and Auxey-Duresses are similar make a second grouping; Chassagne and Puligny make a third. Savigny-Lès Beaune and Beaune don’t fit with any group or each other. St. Aubin and St. Romain make lesser wines from grapes grown in back of the main slope.
Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet share the grand cru jewels of Le Montrachet and Batard-Montrachet. In addition, Puligny has two grand crus to itself: Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet and Chevalier-Montrachet. Chassagne has a tiny grand cru all to itself, Criots-Batard-Montrachet. These grand crus at their best define the style of wine these villages should make: powerful, balanced, rich, elegant wines with a strong element of terroir.
In general, Puligny, tends toward firmness, elegance, and a certain austerity in even the warmest years. Puligny’s village level wines tend to be a bit more expensive than Chassagne’s. Puligny ‘s village level white wines are the most consistently fine of any village wines, red or white, in Burgundy. With the premier cru wines, Puligny pulls further away from the pack. Excellent wines from premier crus such as La Garenne, les Combettes, les Folatières, Clavaillon, les Pucelles, and Champ Gain are often available in the US. The best premier cru wines can age and improve for teen or more years. The grand crus have the potential for twenty plus years age in the better vintages. Puligny’s produce is over 99% white; the few red wines made are not very exciting.
Chassagne tends more toward ripeness and earthiness. The wines of Chassagne also tend to be a bit looser where Puligny’s wines are tight. Premier cru wines commonly seen in the US include Morgeot, Caillerets, Clos St. Jean, Chenevottes, Vergers, Champ Gains, and La Maltroye. Chassagne’s one unshared grand cru, Criots-Batard-Montrachet is the smallest of the five grand crus of Chassagne and Puligny. Chassagne also produces a very good, spicy, often very fairly-priced red wine.
The name “Montrachet” comes from the name of the hill the vineyard occupies, “Mont Rachet”. Tradition has it that the names of the grand cru vineyards derive from the passing down of parts of the vineyard from the owner of Montrachet to his two sons. The legitimate son received Chevalier-Montrachet; the illegitimate son received Batard-Montrachet. Batard-Montrachet has since been reduced in size as parts of it were split off to form two other grand crus, Criots-Batard-Montrachet and Bienvenue-Batard-Montrachet, as well as parts of premier cru and even village level vineyards.
St. Aubin is located o the west behind Chassagne. St. Aubin can produce some fine Chardonnay styled along the lines of a good but scaled down Puligny. It is uncommon in the US but can be worth a look.
Meursault is a full flavored wine that well expresses the ripe fruit, warmer clímat, and favorable exposures. At least this is true at the premier cru levels. At the village level, Meursault is a frequently characterless white wine made from less than ideal sites growing very high yielding vines. The fruit these vines produce reflects little of the quality of ripe fruit and minerals that makes Meursault so appealing. These hollow, commercial wines sell because of the demand world wide for white Burgundy. There are some village level Meursaults made to high standards; look for wines from Leroy and Chateau de Meursault. It is at the premier cru level that Meursault comes into its own. Meursault has thirteen premier cru vineyards with names such as Charmes, Genevrieres, Poruzot, and Perrières. Meursault’s best premier cru vineyards can rival any premier cru vineyard in the Côte de Beaune with lush, ripe fruit, and notes of nuts, spice, butter, and limestone. The best wines come from Latour-Giraud, Lafon, Drouhin, Coche-Dury, Leroy, Bouchard, Robert Ampeau, Louis Latour, and Louis Jadot. The Hospices de Beaune produces several excellent Meursault cuvees but they sell for extraordinary prices. Although Meursault has no grand cru vineyards, many observers feel that Meursault-Perrières is worthy of grand cru status. The white wines made in the neighboring village of Blagny are entitled to be sold as Meursault. If these wines are premier cru, they are sold as Meursault-Blagny What little red wine made in Meursault is legally sold as Volnay; if premier cru as Volnay-Santenots.
Auxey-Duresses white can equal than village level Meursaults costing much more. The lack of demand for the relatively unknown wines of Auxey helps keep prices down and discourages the growers from over cropping their vineyards. This combination can overshadow the fact that the exposures and soils are better in Meursault. Other than its very good, fairly priced wines, Auxey’s chief claim to fame is that it is the home of Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy, a co-owner of the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti and owner of the domaine and negoçiant Leroy.
Behind Auxey off of the main slope of the Côte d’Or is St. Romain. The village has no premier cru or grand cru vineyards but produces very nice, crisply balanced village level wines at lower price points. In riper vintages, St. Romain’s white wines are definitely worth a look.
Beaune doesn’t produce a lot of white wine as only about five percent of its vineyards are planted to Chardonnay. The white wines that Beaune does produce are mostly premier cru wines of very high quality. Wines such as Drouhin’s Beaune-Clos des Mouches, Jadot’s Beaune-Greves, and Bouchard’s Beaune-Clos St. Landry exhibit fruit with an almost Meursault intensity, and all the minerals of the most austere Puligny. While these wines are never cheap, they are worth seeking out. The other 95% of Beaune’s production is very high quality, mostly premier cru red.
Known primarily as a producer of robust if rustic red wines, about five percent of Savigny’s production is white. Savigny-Lès Beaune’s white wines are unique in the Cote d’Or in that they often contain as much or more Pinot Blanc than Chardonnay. This Pinot Blanc content can make Savigny wines easier to pick out in blind tasting. The Pinot Blanc gives a richer, riper, less minerally, often toastier flavor than Chardonnay on top of soils that yield a less pronounced gout de terroir.
Aloxe-Corton, Pernand-Vergelesses, and Ladoix-Serrigny suround the hill of Corton and share its grand crus, Corton and Corton-Charlemagne. All three villages share both grand crus. All the grand cru red wines are labeled either as Corton or as Corton with the name of the vineyard (lieu-dit) such as Corton-Clos de Roi, or Corton-Pougets). The white grand crus are labeled Corton-Charlemagne, Charlemagne, Corton en Charlemagne, or Corton Blanc.
Some white wine is made in Aloxe or Ladoix outside of Corton-Charlemagne. Outside of Corton-Charlemagne, Pernand-Vergelesses produces a small amount of white wine that bears little resemblance to Corton-Charlemagne.
At 177 acres, Corton-Charlemagne is the largest white grand cru in Burgundy. It is, along with Chevalier-Montrachet, the most consistently high quality white grand cru. The wines of Corton-Charlemagne show ripeness and opulence with a strong terroir component and a bigger, more powerful, more age-worthy structure. Corton-Charlemagne is a good value when compared to other grand cru white burgundies. The quality can be as good as most Montrachet and Chevalier-Montrachet but the price is consistently lower.
The Red Wines of the Cote d’Or
Pinot Noir is among the most difficult grapes in the world to grow and make into fine wine. It is slow to ripen and, when ripe, quickly loses all its acidity. Pinot Noir typically lacks color and tannin. It mutates easily and there are hundreds of clones in a broad range of different qualities. In Burgundy, Pinot Noir is at its best and worst, which ranges from powerful, ethereal wines with tremendous depth of flavor and delicate perfume all at once to hard, closed wines lacking fruit, color, delicacy, and charm. Top Pinot Noir wines can be at once delicate and powerful; lesser examples have been called thin and even anorexic. The aromas of Pinot Noir from Burgundy range from violets, spices, and berries to truffles, mushrooms, tar, and the notorious barnyard; the best wines somehow balance components from both lists. In some vineyards, Pinot Noir is planted with its white and pink mutations, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. In some instances (such as Corton) a small amount of these grapes get into the vat with Pinot Noir.
In addition to Pinot Noir and its mutations, there is a very small amount of Gamay grown on the Cote d’Or but it only goes into blends called Bourgogne-Passe-Tout-Grains.
Vinification of Red Burgundy
Starting in the vineyard, the right clones for quality juice and low yields must be planted. Yields must be kept low by means such as non-vigorous rootstocks, heavy pruning, and cluster thinning. Most quality oriented Burgundy producers try to pick at full ripeness. Some of the commercially oriented producers pick earlier in order to minimize risk due to changeable fall weather. In the cellar, most producers crush the grapes and at least partially de-stem before fermentation. Often, the must is allowed to macerate for a period prior to fermentation. Some producers (who follow Guy Accad) extend this maceration for up to ten days in order to get as much extraction as possible. A three to five day cold soak is more common. Some producers concentrate the must by bleeding of some clear juice (saignee) in order to increase the ratio of skin to juice and improve color and flavor extraction. Once the fermentation has started, a cap forms from the skins, pulp and seeds. This cap must be forced down into the fermenting wine in order to ensure maximum extraction. Most producers use wooden paddles to punch the cap down. Other producers use the time-honored method of climbing into the tank and using their bodies to break up and push down the cap. A very few pump over and some combine punch-downs and pump-overs. Once fermentation is complete, the new wine is racked out of the tank and the skins and pulp are pressed. After all the juice is pressed out of it, the pommace can be spread in the vineyard. This adds organic matter to the soil and helps develop a beneficial wild yeast culture. The press wine is immediately reintegrated into the free run. The new wine is then put into barrels for 6 to 18 months of aging. Flavor from the barrels is determined by the winemaker’s choice of the percentage of new oak versus one year old, two year old, or older barrels, the type of oak used, the level of toast used, and the length of time the wine stays in the barrels. During barrel aging, the wine is allowed to settle and may be racked off its lees to clarify it. It may be fined, filtered, or both, according to the practices of the producer. Before bottling, the wine may be sterile filtered, cold stabilized, or even pasteurized.
The highest quality producers will use an assortment of low yielding clones in the vineyard in what is more properly called a “massal selection.” They encourage wild yeast fermentations and ferment in smaller vessels at higher temperatures. They age the wine in mostly new or one year old oak barrels. They may fine but don’t filter but generally don’t cold stabilize or pasteurize. They don’t rush the wine into the bottle but take their time and bottle when the wine is ready.
The Red Wine Producing Areas of the Cote d’Or
Pinot Noir is grown and made into red Burgundy the length of the Cote d’Or, as well as in Macon and in the Cote Chalonaise. While there are several villages that make only red wine, there is no village that makes only white; there are even red Puligny-Montrachets and Meursaults. The style and quality of red wine produced changes as you move from one village to the next. There is an even more dramatic change in style as you move from the Cote de Beaune in the south to the Cote de Nuits in the north.
The Cote de Beaune starts in the south with the three villages of Cheilly, Sampigny, and Dezize. Then comes Santenay, Chassagne, St. Aubin, and Puligny, then Meursault and Auxey, Saint Romain and Monthélie, Volnay and Pommard. After Pommard comes Beaune, the politcal and trade center for the Cote de Beaune. After Beaune Savigny and Chorey and finally the trio of Aloxe, Ladoix, and Pernand.
Cotes de Beaune-Villages is an appellation for wines blended from anywhere in the Cote de Beaune except for Aloxe, Pommard, Volnay, and Beaune. Wines from lesser known villages are used along with wines not good enough to sell under a more famous village name.
Cheilly-lès-Maranges, Sampigny-lès-Maranges, and Dezize-lès-Maranges are a trio of minor villages that all take the name of their shared premier cru, Maranges. The best wines of the area are labeled with the name of the village, Maranges and the words premier cru. The law allows these three villages to sell all their wine, premier cru or not as “Maranges.” Much of the produce of these three villages goes into Cotes de Beaune-Villages blends.
Santenay is solidly red wine country with 99% of its vineyards planted to Pinot Noir. It has eight premier cru vineyards covering 319 acres. The best Santenay tends toward red fruit flavors with earthy, minerally notes. As Santenay is not a the most fashionable area, the wines are often good values.
Behind Chassagne-Montrachet is the lesser known village of St. Aubin. The vineyards are planted 70% to Pinot Noir with the remainder in Chardonnay. It has ten premier crus and a number of highly thought of producers but almost no market presence in the US. Because they are excellent values St. Aubin wines are worth a chance if you come across them. Like St. Aubin, St. Romain sits behind the main slope of the Coted’Or (this time behind Auxey which is itself behind Meursault). Also like St. Aubin, St. Romain’s red wines are rarely seen in the US but are worth a look. Much of these villages’ production goes into Cotes de Beaune-Villages blends.
In America, Chassagne-Montrachet is thought of as a producer of fabulous white Burgundies but a substantial (although decreasing) portion of Chassagne’s production is red wine. These are spicy reds with excellent fruit showing notes of red and black berries and liveley balance. The best reds are premier crus. Not much red Chassagne is sold at the village level but they can be very good. The least of the village wines typically go into Cotes de Beaune-Villages blend.
Puligny-Montrachet makes some red wine but little of it ever makes it to the US. The reason is that there is no demand for what is basically a curiosity.
Meursault makes a bit more red wine than Puligny but it is very rarely seen labeled as Meursault. Rather, red Meursault from the premier cru vineyards bordering Volnay is sold legally as Volnay-Santenots.
Auxey-Duresses produces mostly red wines (70%) but little of this production makes it to the US as Auxey-Duresses. Much of this production goes into Cote de Beaune Village blends.
Monthelie is the beginning of the Cote de Beaune’s serious red wine country but most American Burgundy drinkers have never heard of it. While much of this little known village’s wines have traditionally gone into Cote de Beaune-Villages blends, there are excellent values to be found with a Monthelie label. The best wines are full of ripe, chunky, spicy fruit.
Volnay produces all red wines including a bit of red Meursault sold as Volnay-Santenots 1er cru. Volnay wines are elegant and seductive; Becky Wasserman describes Volnay as able to “remove your socks with out untying your shoes.” The best wines combine supple, ripe fruit flavors with light tannins and firm acid structures to yield wines that drink well early but have five to ten or more years aging potential in better vintages. The village has 35 premier cru vineyards that generally represent excellent value for money. Bousse d’Or, Taillepieds, and Clos des Ducs produce the lightest, most elegant wines. Bigger Volnay comes from premier crus such as Caillerets and Champans. The Domaine de la Pousse d’Or’s Volnay monopole “Clos de 60 Ouvrees” is a small (5.9 acres) walled vineyard inside Caillerets.
Pommard is, along with Gevrey-Chambertin and Nuits St. George, the most abused and bastardized name in Burgundy. Even after the advent of the AOC laws in the 1930s, wine from other villages continued to be sold as Pommard because of the large demand around the world. While there is good village level Pommard made today, too much is over-cropped and diluted tasting (as is too much village level Gevrey-Chambertin and Nuits St. Georges). It is only at the premier cru level that Pommard shows its real character: masculine, muscular wines with deep color, full but soft tannins, and ripe, satisfying fruit. Top premier crus include Rugiens, Epenots, Grand Epenots, Boucherottes, and Les Pezerolles.
The city of Beaune is the wine center of the Cote de Beaune and the whole Cote d’Or. The big negociant-estate houses of Bouchard, Drouhin, and Jadot are located in Beaune along with a host of smaller concerns. Beaune’s production is 95% red but some extraordinary white wines are made. Beaune has no grand crus but is blesssed with an almost embarassing abundance of fine premier cru vineyards. Top red wine sites include Bressandes, Boucherottes, Chouacheux, Coucherais, Teurons, Clos des Mouches, Les Avaux, Vignes Franches, Marconnets, and Greves. These sites produce ripe wines full of Pinot Noir fruit flavors with a bracing note of limestone peeking through layers of medium tannins and sweet oak. The best of Beaune’s premier cru wines from top producers can rival some more expensive grand cru wines. Beaune’s premier cru wines are often the best value in great red Burgundy. Beaune village level wines are very rare in the US. These wines may be blended with four Beaune vineyards not entitled to the village name and sold as Cote de Beaune.
North of Beaune are the two villages of Savigny-lès-Beaune and Chorey-lès-Beaune. Both villages live in the shadow of Beaune but only Savigny seems to be trying to emerge. Chorey has no grand cru or premier cru vineyards. It makes a mostly anonymous red that goes mainly into Cote de Beaune Villages. Some wine labeled Chorey-lès-Beaune reaches the US. While it boasts no grand cru vineyards, Savigny is producing some stylish premier cru red wines offering concentrated spicy, black fruit flavors over limestone and wood notes, along with some fine whites blended from Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay. Top premier crus from Savigny include Coos de Guettes, La Dominode, Aux Vergelesses, and Les Lavières.
Aloxe-Corton, Pernand-Vergelesses, and Ladoix-Serrigny the hill of Corton and share its grand crus, Corton and Corton-Charlemagne. All three villages share both grand crus. All the grand cru red wines are labeled either as Corton or as Corton with the name of the vineyard (such as Corton-Clos de Roi, or Corton-Pougets). There is a tiny amount of white wine sold as Corton.
Ladoix produce mostly village level red that goes into Cotes de Beaune-Villages blends. Some premier cru reds make it to the US. Aloxe Corton produces some good premier cru and village level wines but they are rarely seen in the US. The premier crus in particular are worth a try. Pernand-Vergelesses produces good quantities of fine red wines that show ripe fruit flavors over notes of eartha and minerals. The premier crus from Pernand are generally very good values. Look for premier cru wines from the Île des Vergelesses, Les Vergelesses, En Caradeux, and Les Fichots. Louis Jadot’s “Clos de la Croix de Pierre” is a walled vineyard in En Caradeux.
Corton is the only red grand cru in the Cote de Beaune. The southeast, south and southwest exposures of the hill of Corton are pretty well covered by the various vineyards entitled to the Corton and Corton-Charlemagne appelations. At its best, Corton balances ripe fruit with unique eau de terroir, layers of oak, and fairly high alcohol.
The Cote de Nuits
The Cote de Nuits starts in the south with the villages of Corgoloin and Comblanchien. Next comes Prémeaux-Prissey and Nuits St. Georges, then Vosne-Romanee and Flagey-Echezeaux, Vougeot, Chambolle-Musigny, Morey St. Denis, Gevrey-Chambertin, Borochon, Fixin, and finally, on the outskirts of Dijon, Marsannay.
Cote de Nuits-Villages is an appellation allowed for the wines from the villages of Corgoloin, Comblanchien, Prémeaux-Prissey, Brochon, and Fixin. The best Cote de Nuits-Villages is dark, tannic red with good pinot Noir fruit and some earthiness. Fixin is now mostly sold under its own name. Wine from the best sites in Prémeaux-Prissey is legally sold as Nuits-St. George.
Nuits St. Georges is, along with Gevrey-Chambertin and Pommard, one of the three most famous, most abused, and most bastardized names of Burgundy. Wine from all over the Cote d’Or (and many other areas) has been sold as Nuits-St. Georges. What now is sold as Nuits-St. Georges comes entirely from the villages of Nuits and Prémeaux-Prissey. Because of high demand, the village level vineyards can be overcropped and produce thin, diluted wines of only commercial quality. While there are no Nuits-St. Georges grand crus, quality increases dramatically at the premier cru level. Premier crus such as Clos des Corvees, les Boudouts, Les St. Georges, Les Vaucrains, Les Cailles, Clos de la Maréchale and Les Pruliers produce wines that let you understand how Nuits St. George got its reputation in the first place. The best wines are big and concentrated, full of tannin and extract. Wines from vineyards located south of the city of Nuits are firmer while wines from vineyards north of the city (closer to Vosne Romanee) are softer and richer.
Vosne-Romanne is made up of the vineyards of the villages of Vosne-Romanee and Flagey-Echezeaux. All the village and premier cru wines are sold under the name Vosne-Romanee (the premier crus with their vineyard names attached). This is grand cru country and the home of the world’s most expensive red wines. The grand crus are Romanee-Conti, La Tache, Richebourg, La Romanee, Romanee-St. Vivant, Grands-Echezeaux, Echezeaux, and La Grande Rue, roughly in descending order of potential quality. The best wines offer powerful flavors, concentration, silky-sweet fruit, and supple balance. They routinely fetch the top prices of all red Burgundy. Top premier crus include Clos de Reas, Les Beaumots, Les Suchots, and Aux Malconsorts. The best of these wines offer much of the same sweet fruit as the grand crus but at a lower level of concentration and power.
Vougeot is the home of the Cote de Nuits largest and most variable grand cru, the 125 acre Clos de Vougeot. Clos de Vougeot is virtually the only red wine from Vougeot that is available in the US. Clos de Vougeot holds in its walls almost everything that is confusing about Burgundy. The vineyard goes back to at least 1336 when the Cistercian monks farmed the Clos de Vougeot as a single estate. While the demensions, placement, exposure, and soils are the same today as they were then, the vineyard now has not one owner but over eighty. Many of the owners hold more than one plot located in different parts of thee vineyard. The wines from these small plots is vinified seperately and sold seperately. Those plots on the top third of the slope seem to make the best wines, those in the middle third very good wines, and those on the bottom third, average village quality wines. There are exceptions but the rule generally holds. Because the wines are no longer blended into the traditional cuvees, the quality has changed since the Cistercians lost control of the vineyard during the French revolution. Some growers over crop; some pick to soon; some are not good winemakers. Here the name of the producer may be more important than anywhere else in Burgundy.
Chambolle-Musigny is home to two grand crus, Le Musigny and Bonnes Marres (Bonnes Marres is shared with Morey-St. Denis) ,and an excellent premier cru, les Amoureuses. There are other fine premier crus but the sites are so subdivided that the wines are rare (at least in the US). These top wines of Chambolle-Musigny are not powerfull but are elegant, gracefull, and balanced. Chambolle-Musigny’s best wines are distinguished by their fruit and limestone goute de terroir. Chambolle-Musigny village level wines are often an excellent value due to a high percentage of premier cru wines blended in.
Morey-St. Denis is home to five Grand crus, Clos de la Roche, Clos St. Denis, part of Bonnes Mares, Clos de Tart, and Clos de Lambrays, roughly in order of quality, and a number of fine premier crus. Top premier crus include Clos des Ormes, Mont Luisants, and les Millandes. The grand crus tend toward the style of the top wines of Gevrey-Chambertin while the premier cru and the village level wines tend toward the style of Chambolle-Musigny. Location on the slope is the key to style; higher up is more like Gevrey.
Gevrey-Chambertin is as famous as the source for really disappointing wines as it is as a source of really exciting wines. The potential for quality is higher here than anywhere else in the Cote d’Or (except Vosne-Romanee) but actual wine quality is variable at all levels. Gevrey is home to nine grand crus and a slew of fine premier crus. The grand crus are Chambertin, Chambertin-Clos de Beze, Charmes-Chambertin, Mazoyeres-Chambertin (a subsection of Charmes-Chambertin), Chapelle-Chambertin, Griottes-Chambertin Latricieres-Chambertin, Mazi-Chambertin, and Ruchottes-Chambertin. The grand crus can leave you amazed at the quality, depth, and concentration, or baffled as to why you paid so much for such a mediocre bottle of wine. The name of the producer is all. Quality is much more consistent at the premier cru level. The top premier crus include Clos St. Jacques, les Estournelles, Estournelles St. Jacques, Combe aux Moines, and Cazetiers. Many of the village level wines of Gevrey have been commercial and disappointing but the village level on the whole is improving are improving.
Fixin makes fine, chunky, fruity red burgundy in the style of what village level Gevrey-Chambertin should produce. Good winemaking and lower yields make up for lesser sites and exposures. Both the village wines and premier cru are very good values.
Marsannay makes lighter reds along with some fresh whites and some rosés. The fruit oriented, vineyard designated (lieu-dit) reds are some of the best values in Cote d’Or Pinot Noir. Some of the Marsannay vineyards are at risk as the urban sprawl of Dijon expands southward.