The northerly end of the Côte d’Or limestone escarpment, the Côte de Nuits, is Pinot Noir’s exclusive domain. Nowhere else in the world is Pinot as legendary as it is in the Côte de Nuits. In contrast to the Côte de Beaune, the northern part of the Côte d’Or really only grows one grape, although the village of Marsannay is more diverse. As such, Pinot Noir’s flavors can rarely be found in such purity or concentration as in the Côte de Nuits, despite erstwhile rivals from the Côte de Beaune Grands Crus and Premiers Crus and up-and-coming wines from California, Oregon, and New Zealand.
As for comparison to the southerly part of the Côte d’Or, which is called the Côte de Beaune, the Côte de Nuits has only nine winemaking villages versus the Côte de Beaune’s 18. As such, there are fewer selections of village-level and Premier Cru wine. But the northern end has the last laugh with a whopping 24 Grands Crus to trump the Côte de Beaune’s eight. As a result, the Côte de Nuits is home to more of the world’s most prestigious wine. For the many Pinot Noir lovers that come here time and time again, it can’t be outdone anywhere in the world.
The Côte de Nuits has a more intriguing wine history than the Côte de Beaune, although there are many parallels. In the 400s B.C., winemaking was introduced to the area, and when the French government developed, many royalty and papacy members took a liking to the red wines that were being produced here.
As winemaking technology was brought to France, exports began to increase, and a market for the Côte de Nuits reds, already world-class at the time, developed. This was in part due to Louis XIV’s physician recommending Côte de Nuits wines for their healthful aspects, an angle which had yet to be discovered in other winemaking regions of France. This was an outstanding boon for the winemakers, as royal demand and the associated pedigree of the wine brought prices into the realm of the exclusive.
The royalty of France fell apart, but the limited production and the outstanding flavors and depth of Côte de Nuits wines kept the prices high. AOC regulations cemented the reputation of the wines, and Premiers Crus and Grands Crus were protected from competitors unfairly utilizing their names. The Côte de Nuits’ prices have always been more exclusive than those of the Côte de Beaune and they were unaffected by the 1976 Judgement of Paris, as no red Burgundies were judged. Pleasantly for Côte de Nuits growers and their high-priced wines, the area remains the unquestioned best place for Pinot Noir in the world.
Climate and Viticulture
The limestone escarpment known as the Côte d’Or divides into two parts, the Côte de Nuits being the northerly part. Although Pinot Noir fares excellently in the Côte de Beaune, the fact is that the appellation is a bit too warm for it to reach its deepest and most pure flavors. Pommard, Volnay, and Aloxe-Corton, the primary villages for Côte de Beaune red wine, lie in the north of the slope.
Clearly, then, the slightly cooler Côte de Nuits is a more optimized location for Pinot Noir wine. The limestone is excellently concentrated, in combination with dozens of other soil types, and in addition the weather conditions are perfect enough to give the majority of Côte de Nuits vintages potential for greatness.
But another factor is important: in the Côte de Nuits the viticultural concept of terroir matters more than anywhere else in the world. Vineyards right next to each other and even owned by the same producer (take the Grands Crus of La Tâche and Romanée-Conti) can taste completely different, and the only explanation for this is the miniscule differences within soil.
Pinot Noir is the king here, and there are no appellations in the Côte de Nuits that do not produce at least a majority of Pinot Noir. All but one of the Grands Crus here makes red wine from Pinot only, and that one (Musigny) makes only a small amount of white. Pinot Noir’s fruit flavors reach new levels of depth and sophistication in the Côte de Nuits, although occasionally competitors from other parts of the world will spring up and level with the best Côte de Nuits cuvées, but this happens rarely enough for these Grand Cru vineyards to still be the unquestioned leaders. In addition, Pinot from here can age longer than anywhere else, with the stunning Romanée-Conti vineyard’s wines needing 20 years just to reach maturity and lasting for 35+.
The usual Burgundian négociants have their Côte de Nuits properties. A few, such as Faiveley, clearly concentrate on the Côte de Nuits more than the Côte de Beaune.
Appellations have all the power in the Côte de Nuits, and a Grand Cru is almost guaranteed to be good from whatever producer you purchase it from. However, several “boutique” producers are greatly famous in the Côte de Nuits, and as such we list a few of them here.
- Domaine Leroy
- Domaine Jacques-Frederic Mugnier
- Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
- Comte Georges de Voguë
Unlike the Côte de Beaune, the Côte de Nuits is not itself an AOC. The “generic” appellations for wine produced here are Bourgogne Hautes-Côte de Nuits and Côte de Nuits-Villages. Neither is very common, but the Côte de Nuits-Villages is the better of the two on average.
But the best wines here unquestionedly come from within one of the nine villages that comprise the Côte de Nuits.
- Bonnes-Mares: The only Côte de Nuits Grand Cru that does not entirely lie in one village, Bonnes-Mares is shared between the villages of Chambolle-Musigny and Morey-St-Denis. It produces some of the most powerful, tannic wines of the region.
- Chambolle-Musigny: The three-square-mile village of Chambolle-Musigny is home to legendary Grand Cru Musigny and in addition houses 25 Premiers Crus of its own. The non-Grand Cru wine is itself fabulous, often aromatic and subtle.
- Musigny: The Musigny Grand Cru produces wine of a stellar character that combines powerful tannins and concentration with great elegance and smoothness—”an iron fist in a velvet glove”, as wine writer Oz Clarke put it. The wines are extremely expensive even for the area; a little white wine is also produced.
- Fixin: The Fixin appellation is a good-value location right next to Gevrey-Chambertin, with five Premiers Crus for red wines.
- Flagey-Échezeaux: This village produces no wine of its own, but has two important Grands Crus that share its name.
- Échezeaux: Échezeaux is a Grand Cru famous for its well-balanced, feminine flavors in a similar style to the also well-known Côte de Beaune village of Volnay. There are allegations, however, that there are too many producers here.
- Grands Échezeaux: The Grand Cru vineyard of Échezeaux also contains the Grands Échezeaux vineyard. These wines are more powerful and more expensive than Échezeaux since there are fewer producers and thus higher quality.
- Gevrey-Chambertin: Deep, intensely flavored but always elegant wines are produced in the communes of Brochon and Gevrey-Chambertin. There are 26 Premiers Crus, but the nine Grands Crus (a record for a Burgundy village!) are much better.
- Chambertin: Famously concentrated, deep wines are produced in this Grand Cru, which actually gave the Gevrey village its surname, not the other way around! This is certainly one of the top five Grands Crus in Burgundy.
- Chambertin-Clos de Bèze: With hundreds of great wines, Chambertin-Clos de Bèze is very similar to Chambertin and now almost in equal in status.
- Chapelle-Chambertin: This is a rather obscure Grand Cru, with some rather reasonably priced wine.
- Charmes-Chambertin: This Grand Cru vineyard is nearly as solid a wine source as Chambertin itself.
- Griotte-Chambertin: This very uncommon Grand Cru has few wines, but many of them are underrated and can develop into Chambertin-like Grand Cru wines with age.
- Latricières-Chambertin: This satellite is not so reliable, but a few good producers brighten things up.
- Mazis-Chambertin: Less expensive wines here.
- Mazoyères-Chambertin: This fairly obscure Grand Cru is mostly used by Domaine Perrot Minot, although a few competing producers keep things interesting.
- Ruchottes-Chambertin: Unlike some of the neighboring Grand Crus, there are a number of producers here, but in general they offer good prices and above-average quality.
- Marsannay: Large and with no Premiers Crus or Grands Crus, Marsannay nonetheless provides many good values.
- Morey-St-Denis: There are 20 Premiers Crus here, but far more noted are the four Grands Crus.
- Clos des Lambrays: A miniscule Grand Cru vineyard, Clos des Lambrays is almost entirely owned by Domaine des Lambrays, but they do not have a monopoly due to a few rows of grapes being owned by a competing winery.
- Clos de la Roche: Only slightly bigger than the tiny Clos des Lambrays, Clos de la Roche has a number of producers making exotically scented, unusual wines for high prices.
- Clos St-Denis: Even smaller than Clos des Lambrays, Clos St-Denis surprisingly has quite a number of producers that make their wine there. The wines are feminine, textured, and very well-made.
- Clos de Tart: The only Morey monopole, owned completely by Mommessin. Intense, at first austere wines, they are expensive but of more reliable quality than any of the other Grands Crus.
- Nuits-St-Georges: Almost 12 square miles of vineyard land are covered by this AOC. Reasonably priced and balanced, the wines come from village vineyards and over 40 Premiers Crus!
- Vosne-Romanée: Vosne-Romanée is the home of no less than six Grands Crus, all of which are worthy of their own in-depth descriptions and therefore pages. The six Grands Crus are the primary places in the world for Pinot Noir, along with Chambertin and Musigny. The wines are, of course, very expensive, even the village examples.
- La Grande Rue: Owned as a monopole by Domaine Lamarche, La Grande Rue offers excellent feminine-styled Vosne-Romanée. A tiny, four-acre vineyard, this Grand Cru is overshadowed by its neighbors but still one of the greatest in Burgundy.
- Richebourg: For many Burgundy hounds, Richebourg strikes just the right balance between power and elegance, making wine of a rich, luscious character very different from its neighbors. While small, Richebourg is large enough for there to be several producers that compete with each other to make the most outstanding wine.
- La Romanée: Owned completely by Comte Liger-Belair, La Romanée is the smallest AOC region in the whole of France at around 2.1 acres. La Romanée is usually of a masculine, backward style. Drunk at the right time La Romanée gets Pinot just right.
- Romanée-Conti: Fully owned by the legendary Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, this monopole is so amazingly expensive that only a very few people in the world have ever gotten an opportunity to try it. Only multimillionaires, wine critics, and insiders enjoy these wines regularly. DRC’s depth of flavor, complexity, and delightfully simple purity and elegance are its main selling points. With $10,000 a common price for new bottles, this is solidly the world’s most expensive wine.
- Romanée-St-Vivant: This Grand Cru vineyard makes less complex, less esteemed wines than its neighbors. Perhaps it simply suffers from stiff competition, since many of these wines are nothing short of great.
- La Tâche: La Tâche is the other monopole of Domaine de la Romanée Conti. Probably costing about 80% less than Romanée-Conti in the average year, it is nonetheless one of the world’s most expensive wines! Layered and feminine, it is the opposite of Romanée-Conti in style but rivals it in complexity.
- Vougeot: Vougeot is almost exclusively known for its Grand Cru.
- Clos de Vougeot: Exotic, backward, masculine wines are made in this Grand Cru, which is very large and unfortunately inconsistent due to the high number of producers. Nonetheless, this wine can be world-class.