The Côte Chalonnaise is a long stretch of narrow land in the middle of Burgundy’s winegrowing region. It spans 4,000 hectares, from Chagny in the north to Saint-Genoux-Le-National in the south. Neighbouring both the Côte de Beaune (Rully, the northernmost appellation of the Côte Chalonnaise, practically touches Santenay, the Côte de Beaune’s most southern appellation) and the Mâconnais, the Côte Chalonnaise has often existed in the shadow of these two viticultural behemoths. Yet, despite its modest reputation, this dark horse boasts a whole series of fine terroirs across five different municipalities (Montagny, Givry, Mercurey, Bouzeron, and Rully), home to excellent producers and their own fair share of regional style.
Just like its big sister the Côte de Beaune, the Côte Chalonnaise is organised by a system of appellations divided into three different levels of quality. First of all, the regional appellations that go by the label Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise, then the Villages wines, and finally Premier Cru. There aren’t any grands crus in these parts.
In spite of the huge progress made in the region, a reputation for high quantities of low-quality wine still persists in the Côte Chalonnaise. A kind of redemption project is underway, though, with even older images of the region resurfacing: Givry, for instance, was reportedly Henri IV’s favourite wine and was considered the Volnay or Chambolle-Musigny of the south in the 19th century. Even Napoleon was supposedly astonished by the quality of Mercurey wines…
Rully, the birthplace of Crémant
Few people know that Rully is the birthplace of the traditional method of crémant production. Unlike other sparkling wines, crémant must come from a hand-picked harvest and be aged for at least nine months. This idea was imported from Champagne in the early 19th century in response to the increasing attraction for fizz. Since then, the region has kept its tradition for crafting crémant, and the result is often of very high quality.
Rully is real gem of a region. To the north of the region, the premiers crus Saint Jacques and Du Chaigne have land comparable to that found in Chassagne. The best wines in the centre are whites. Les Pucelles, or Les Grésigny, in the centre of the appellation, offer an elegance that is rare for this part of the côte. Paul and Marie Jacqueson are just one example of excellent producers.
Domaines Jacqueson and Dureuil-Janthial make some of the most sought after cuvées in Rully. It is in part thanks to them that the sub-region is experiencing something of a renaissance, though many more – for the time being little known – producers are doing great things, too.
Perched at a typically Burgundian altitude of between 201 and 405 metres, the village of Bouzeron boasts a grand total of 141 inhabitants. It was only in 1988 that winemakers were granted permission to call the Aligoté they produced there a Bouzeron wine. Thanks to local domain A & P de Villaine (owned by no other than Aubert de Villaine), the village was recognized as an appellation in its own right.
The high slopes of Bouzeron are perfect for growing Aligoté. To the north of the appellation lies the excellent plot “Les Corcelles”, from which Domaine du Champ Thémis crafts an excellent, deep and full single parcel cuvée. On the other side of the Hermitage hill, the limestone rich expression of the soils corresponds to the more mineral, taut and refreshing image of Bouzeron. The north-east facing parcel Les Clous offers a mineral, laser taut wine. To the south of the appellation, the Les Cordères plot produces a wine with a particularly noticeable limestone energy on the palate. The impressive length on makes this wine, often regarded simply as an aperitif wine, apt to pair with more complex dishes. Try pairing with lightly spiced foods to bring out the mineral profile of this climat. Otherwise, a simple goat’s cheese makes for a superb duo. It’s also worth trying to age your Bouzerons for a few years; you’ll see that, like its big brother Chardonnay, Aligoté has a lot to gain from aging. With some bottle age, the best of these wines are extremely mineral and deliver highly elegant nuances of stone and citrus on the nose.
Initiated by Domaine A & P de Villaine, much conservation work has been done for Bouzeron’s historic grape variety, Aligoté Doré (golden). Unlike Aligoté ‘vert’ (green), golden Aligoté is endemic to the appellation. It is found amongst certain domains’ oldest vines, as a vestige of when producers selected their plants themselves. Bouzeron chose to conserve this low-yielding grape to protect its exceptional genetic pool and raise the profile of its wines. In short, he future looks bright for Bouzeron.
Instalment two of this guide will take us to Mercurey, the crowning jewel of the Côte Chalonnaise…