The Côte Chalonnaise 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, and Santenay, the most southern appellation of the Côte de Beaune, are practically touching) and the Mâconnais, the Côte Chalonnaise has often been in the shadows of these two viticultural behemoths. Yet the Côte Chalonnaise boasts many fine terroirs in five different municipalities (Montagny, Givry, Mercurey, Bouzeron, Rully), excellent producers and its own fair share of quirks.
Just like its big sister the Côte de Beaune, the Côte Chalonnaise is organized by a system of appellations that divides it into three separate levels of quality. First of all, the regional appellations: Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise, Villages and finally Premier Cru. No grands cru exist.
In spite of the huge progress made in the region, a reputation for high quantities of low-quality wine still subsists in the Côte Chalonnaise. Slowly but surely, things are changing, and even older images of the region are resurfacing: Givry, for instance, was Henri IV’s favourite wine and was considered the Vonlay or Chambolle-Musigny of the south in the 19th century. Even Napoleon was reportedly 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, which was imported from Champagne in the early 19th century in response to the increasing attraction for sparkling wines. Since then, the region has kept this tradition for crémant, 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 produce excellent examples.
Domains Jacqueson and Dureuil-Janthial are among the most sought after in the region. It is in part thanks to them that Rully is experiencing something of a renaissance, though many more, for the time being unknown producers are doing great things.
Perched at a typically Burgundian altitude of between 201 and 405m, 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 appellation was recognized as a village in its own right.
The high slopes in 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 side, on 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 the palate makes this wine, which is often regarded simply as an aperitif wine, 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 pairing. 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 stones 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. The future looks bright for Bouzeron.
Instalment two of this guide will take us to Mercurey, the crowning jewel of the Côte Chalonnaise…