The second week of January is traditionally Burgundy Week in London. In the many tastings of the 2020s that would usually be scheduled for next week, the vast majority of wines would come from the Côte d’Or, the “golden slope” of limestone and marl facing east that produces the most revered wines. and the most expensive in Burgundy. .
Yet anyone studying a map will see that the southern end of the Côte d’Or flows directly into the northern end of the Côte Chalonnaise wine region. It owes its name to its main town, Chalon-sur-Saône. To the west, the Côte Chalonnaise vineyards revolve around the villages of Bouzeron, Rully, Mercurey, Givry and Montagny. Their wines are generally much, much cheaper than those of the Côte d’Or but the soils and altitude are very similar, and many vineyards enjoy the same type of appearance as most of the Côte d’Or. , facing the rising sun. .
So why are Chalonnaise wines perceived as so markedly inferior? The reasons are more historical and political than geographic. Napoleon was keen to give a strong orientation and character to each of the new departments in which France had been divided after the French Revolution. The Côte d’Or was intended to focus on wine production, while to its immediate south, the Saône-et-Loire, named after its two most famous rivers, was to focus on agriculture, in particularly Charolais beef, and industry. Montceau-les-Mines, to the west of the wine region, was a mining center, an important source of coal throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. The iron ore deposits around Le Creusot, north of Montceau, gave rise to an eruption of large factories during the industrial revolution.
But everything has changed. The ravages of the phylloxera louse towards the end of the 19th century left the vineyards of the Côte Chalonnaise, like most of the planet, in a sorry state. Additionally, men returning from fighting in WWI were drawn to work in factories rather than vineyards. (The Côte d’Or had little industry to speak of, so viticulture was much less severely damaged.) As a result, the best wine-growing sites – those on the most difficult to work hillsides – were abandoned in favor of the more fertile plains. Quantity has been privileged over quality and the Côte Chalonnaise has established itself as a source of inexpensive supply. thirsty wine for workers at the local factory.
The Second World War was no more lenient for the winegrowers here. In the excellent and much revised second edition of Inside Burgundy, Jasper Morris points out that the dividing line between occupied France and Vichy crossed the region and at least one citizen was arrested for having visited her garden in Vichy France from her house in the occupied zone.
Yet the Côte Chalonnaise had a tradition of medieval monastic viticulture as venerable as the Côte d’Or. Seen from this historical point of view, it was not until fairly recently, at the end of the 20th century, that the best wine-growing sites were replanted.
Since the vines take years to produce their best wine, it is surely the moment of the second coming of the Côte Chalonnaise. In addition, today there is an ambitious group of producers.
One is the Domaine A&P de Villaine in Bouzeron, just three kilometers from Santenay in the Côte d’Or. It produces some of Burgundy’s most distinctive wines: unique vineyard expressions of Burgundy’s “other” white grape, Aligoté, which has long been considered a poor substitute for Chardonnay because it is more difficult to mature. Yet climate change has revealed just how good fully ripe Aligoté can be, and this estate is among the best.
The “A” in the name (now just Domaine de Villaine) refers to Aubert de Villaine, who has just retired from the head of the most famous wine estate in the Côte d’Or, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti . For many years he and his American wife Pamela lived in Bouzeron but they have now moved. Since 2000, the estate has been run by Aubert’s nephew, Pierre de Benoist, whose parents own Domaine du Nozay in Sancerre.
Aligoté is loved by de Benoist. “As soon as I tasted the wine, I felt similarities with Sauvignon de Sancerre,” he says. It is certainly also rich in acidity and makes an excellent aperitif.
Yet most of the white wines from the Côte Chalonnaise are Chardonnays, just as the reds tend to be Pinot Noirs, just like in the Côte d’Or. During my visit to the region in September, I was particularly seduced by the Chardonnays from the Feuillat-Julliot estate from one vineyard, which happen to be made by an all-female team. The vast majority of the grapes grown here in the pretty east-facing amphitheater of Montagny go to the large Buxy cooperative nearby. However, Françoise Feuillat, daughter of the owner of the famous Mercurey estate Michel Juillot, has grown her own estate from eight to 15 hectares, replacing the red vines with Chardonnay. She and her daughter Camille bottle everything themselves.
The most grandiose estate on the Côte Chalonnaise, in terms of possessions, is the historic Domaine Thenard de Givry, which enjoys the enviable position of being the second largest owner of the fabulously expensive Côte d ‘white wine vineyard. However, Le Montrachet, where it owns nearly two entire hectares. Even billionaire entrepreneur François Pinault only managed to acquire 0.04 ha of Le Montrachet vines. Dom Thenard and Pinault both produce Le Montrachet, along with around fifteen other vineyard owners in this famous vineyard. Pinault’s is available in such small quantities that it is for personal use only.
The Côte Chalonnaise also produces beautiful reds. Those to watch are those made by Philippe Pascal and Guillaume Marko in the spectacular new four-storey gravity-fed winery of the restored Cistercian estate of Cellier aux Moines on a steep slope overlooking Givry, which must be one of the best vineyards in the region. . Locations. This is just one property where the young vines produce better quality wine than the older vines as the previous owners planted poor quality Pinot Noir clones.
In most wine-growing regions, only the best vineyards obtain the title of Premier Cru, or premier cru. But in Côte Chalonnaise, undoubtedly too many are designated as such. It is perhaps the desire to clearly indicate which are the best sites that has propelled what one might call a galloping inflation of Premiers Crus in the Côte Chalonnaise. For example, nearly 60 percent of the vineyards in Montagny are classified as Premier Cru, which increases their credibility. Further north, at Rully and Givry, the proportions (less than a quarter) are perhaps more useful.
It is truly a region in transition but, as Anne-Cécile Lumpp, daughter of the winegrower François Lumpp in Givry, has assured me when exhibiting their latest vintage, the Côte Chalonnaise is on the rise.
Recommended producers of Côte Chalonnaise
Domaine Belleville, Rully
Domaine du Cellier aux Moines, Givry
Domaine Dureuil-Janthial, Rully
Domaine Faiveley, Mercurey
Domaine de la Folie, Rully
P&M Jacqueson, Rully
Domaine Claudie Jobard, Rully
Domaine Feuillat-Juillot, Montagny
Domaine Bruno Lorenzon, Mercurey
Domaine François Lumpp, Givry
Domaine Jean-Baptiste Ponsot, Givry
Domaine Ragot, Givry
Domaine Suremain, Mercurey
Domaine A&P de Villaine, Bouzeron
Tasting notes on the purple pages of JancisRobinson.com. More resellers of Wine-searcher.com
Follow Jancis on Twitter @JancisRobinson
To follow @FTMag on Twitter to discover our latest stories first.