The Côte de Beaune is a strip of land making up the southern part of the limestone escarpment home to Burgundy’s greatest vineyards: the Côte d’Or. While the Côte de Beaune is certainly home to some of the world’s leading red wines, made exclusively from the Pinot Noir grape, it is more famous for its Chardonnay-based white wine. While Chardonnay makes some great wines across the world, for a number of people the rich, nutty but completely dry flavors of white Burgundy cannot be exceeded.
An high number of outstanding, famous villages are contained within the Côte de Beaune. For the purposes of convenience, all pages relating to Montrachet have been grouped into their own section, as have the Corton-related areas. All the major Côte de Beaune villages are covered here, as well as the generic appellations of the Côte de Beaune. Of course, the eight Grands Crus of the Côte de Beaune are given detailed coverage.
Like the northern part of the Côte d’Or, the Côte de Beaune dates back to prehistoric days. But only after the royalty and papacy of early France became interested in the wines of the region did any semblance of a reputation begin to exist. As strides were made in wine technology, producers realized that the Chardonnay grape made the best wines in their area. For several centuries now, the Côte de Beaune has been one of the best places for dry white wine in the world.
In the 20th century, regulation of the wine produced continued with the AOC specifications. The region’s popularity suffered a shake-up when Chateau Montelena of California defeated a few top examples of their wine in the 1976 Judgement of Paris. The Judgement was criticized for being unfair, but the superiority of Burgundy wine–the white at least–had been thrown into question. Undoubtedly, the great Burgundy producers had begun to think they were invincible and rest on their laurels. Nowadays, California and Burgundy compete intensely for the top-end Chardonnay market.
Climate and Viticulture
The Côte d’Or is topologically a limestone escarpment–in other words, a slope made up of banks of limestone. This is mainly responsible for giving the Côte de Beaune wine, at its best, a wonderfully rich character. The Côte de Beaune is more versatile than the Côte de Nuits, as it produces red wine as well as white wine, and both of them are world-class. Many red wine drinkers favor the reds of Corton, Pommard and Volnay over the more expensive, exclusive Côte de Nuits examples.
Limestone is, of course, responsible for the greatness of this wine. Nowhere else in the world is such an optimum concentration of limestone combined with an equally optimum climate. The relative warmth of the Côte de Beaune keeps the wines rich rather than lean and acidic, like they can be in the more northerly Chablis. The further south you go, with a few exceptions, the less intense the wines are.
Nonetheless, terroir is of great importance here, and specific things like the slope of a hill, unusual climate conditions, and of course soil, are more important and are described on the individual pages.
Chardonnay is the grape that does the best here, making wines of a full, perfectly balanced richness and power. Due to the number of acidic, over-oaked, bland wines machined out by a number of inferior producers, Chardonnay in general has been given a quaffing-wine, downmarket image in about the past 10 years. When yields are low and production value is high, great Burgundy can be the antithesis to these examples. In fact, it can reach the peaks of white wine elegance.
Pinot Noir is secondary in the Côte de Beaune, but it’s nonetheless a world-class area for Pinot, if not quite as much so as the Côte de Nuits. Main areas are Corton, Pommard, and Volnay; most of the Pinot Noir is less intense and more perfumed than in the Côte de Nuits, but terroir is once again a factor. Notably, more Pinot than Chardonnay is actually made in the Côte de Beaune, but almost all the highest-priced and highest-quality offerings are Chardonnay.
A list of the important négociants can be found on the Burgundy page. Any Burgundian négociant worth its salt will have holdings in the Côte de Beaune.
Just like in the rest of Burgundy, the appellation is much more important than the producer. However, there are a few famous Grand Cru producers in the Côte de Beaune that deserve special mention. These five domaines typically command the highest prices and praise in the Côte de Beaune.
- Domaine Jean-Francois Coche-Dury
- Comte Lafon
- Domaine Leroy
- Domaine Ramonet
- Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
The base AOC of the Côte de Beaune is, in a confusing, distinctly Burgundian way, not Côte de Beaune AOC. Côte de Beaune AOC is in fact a small, almost irrelevant AOC for a tiny area of vineyards high on the slope. The real basic AOC is called Côte de Beaune-Villages, and it contains most good Côte de Beaune that doesn’t fall under a particular village AOC. Keep in mind that only red wine is made in this appellation. Also look for values from Bourgogne Hautes-Côte de Beaune, an appellation for the wine made from the other side of the slope. This is rarely outstanding stuff but can provide good deals. Négociants tend to dominate production for both of these appellations.
Buyers with more money and ambition tend to look towards a higher level of appellation; either a village or Premier or Grand Cru will usually be what appeals to them.
- Aloxe-Corton: This area, encompassing the communes of Aloxe-Corton and Ladoix-Serrigny is most known for its Grand Cru vineyards Corton, Corton-Charlemagne, and to a lesser extent Charlemagne. However, these Grand Crus span into other areas, so they are covered under “Corton areas”–the Corton and Corton-Charlemagne vineyards, as well as the lesser-known Charlemagne. Aloxe-Corton village wine, white and red, is also remarkable, and the area has 13 Premiers Crus.
- Auxey-Duresses: Auxey-Duresses is very close to Meursault, and as a result is mostly known for its less famous Meursault-style wines. It has nine Premiers Crus.
- Beaune: Beaune is a large town, which should not be confused with the Côte de Beaune itself. There are no Grand Crus, but a whopping 42 Premiers Crus in the village. Mostly red wine.
- Blagny: Blagny’s exclusively red wine is not very well-known. The actual AOC wine is produced in Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet, but has its own name to avoid confusion with the better-known whites. Seven Premiers Crus are designated.
- Chorey-les-Beaune: Produced entirely in the two-square-mile commune of the same name, Chorey-les-Beaune’s wine is mostly red; there are no Premiers Crus.
- Corton areas: Visit this page for an explanation of Corton, Corton-Charlemagne, and Charlemagne, which are three very complicated Grand Crus for red and white wine shared between Aloxe-Corton and Pernand-Vergelesses, and to a lesser extent some of Ladoix-Serrigny. Like Montrachet’s areas, we group the Corton areas into a single category to make it more understandable.
- Charlemagne: An uncommon Grand Cru.
- Corton: Fruity but very complex red wines; this is the only Côte de Beaune Grand Cru vineyard producing red wine.
- Corton-Charlemagne: Although it isn’t far from Corton itself, Corton-Charlemagne produces almost only rich, filling white wines.
- Ladoix: Less expensive, less well known AOC makes wine produced solely in the village of Ladoix-Serrigny. There are 11 Premiers Crus.
- Maranges: Maranges, which is produced in three communes, is a good affordable area for both red and white wine. Total seven Premiers Crus.
- Meursault: Famous for its rich, buttery, layered Chardonnays, Meursault has built a great high-quality reputation for itself without any Grand Cru vineyards. The 19 Premiers Crus produce mainly rich, buttery, very oak-influenced Chardonnay white wine.
- Monthelie: Monthelie is near Meursault; it has about 15 Premiers Crus making mostly red wines.
- Montrachet areas: Wine from these areas is often considered the best dry white wine in the world. The rich, complex Chardonnay comes from vineyards in either Chassagne-Montrachet or Puligny-Montrachet; if a Grand Cru, it will be labeled Bâtard-Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet, or Montrachet itself.
- Bâtard-Montrachet: Bâtard-Montrachet is a vineyard producing only white wine from 100% Chardonnay. Its vineyard straddles Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet, the two actual communes of the Montrachet areas. Intense, well-fruited and well-balanced, the wines can also be labeled as Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet and Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet.
- Chassagne-Montrachet: Chassagne-Montrachet is an actual commune with “shares” of both Bâtard-Montrachet and Montrachet itself. The village wine produced is also of a high standard, produced in both the communes of Chassagne-Montrachet and Remigny.
- Chevalier-Montrachet: Chevalier-Montrachet has the highest altitude of any of the five Montrachet Grands Crus, making slightly less approachable wine from mostly the same production techniques and styles as its neighbors.
- Montrachet: Montrachet itself makes some of the most famous white Grand Cru Burgundy, often entirely worth the high entitlement it is afforded. Whether it is worth the outrageous prices commanded is a different question, but no one can deny the power of Montrachet’s subtle and elegant yet powerful and rich Chardonnays.
- Puligny-Montrachet: In addition to containing some of the Grand Cru vineyards Bâtard-Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet, and Montrachet itself, Puligny-Montrachet grows its own village wine, much of which is of a high level of quality.
- Pernand-Vergelesses: A village AOC for red wine that comes close to its only partially owned Grand Cru, Corton, in quality despite having only eight Premiers Crus.
- Pommard: Considering the respect afforded Pommard in Pinot Noir circles all around the world, it is surprising that the area has no Grands Crus. Several of the 27 Premiers Crus are close to Grand Cru in quality, and all make wine of notorious power and richness.
- St-Aubin: Close to the Montrachet areas, St-Aubin is a source of affordable Burgundy, both white and red. There are 20 Premiers Crus.
- St-Romain: Affordable wine is made here, though there are no Premiers or Grands Crus.
- Santenay: Santenay wine is produced in the towns of Santenay and Remigny. Mostly reds from the 12 Premiers Crus.
- Savigny-lès-Beaune: The huge 14-square-mile appellation of Savigny-lès-Beaune produces both red and white styles. There are 22 Premiers Crus, several of which have become notorious for their red wine.
- Volnay: Another red wine village in the Côte de Beaune, Volnay can be on a par with its rivals Pommard and the Grand Cru Corton. These are some of the most elegant, delicate red wines in Burgundy; there are 28 Premiers Crus from which to choose.