One of the most picturesque parts of the whole Cote de Beaune (in my opinion anyway) is the hill of Corton. Where most of the top vineyard sites in the Cote d’Or (the ‘Department’ which contains both the Côte de Beaune and the Côte de Nuits) are on east-facing slopes, the hill of Corton, and its regional appellation Aloxe (pronounced Alosse)-Corton follows a break in the hillside, tracking around the limestone cliffs as they go into the valleys of Savigny-Les-Beaune and Pernand-Vergelesses. This makes Corton unique in that it is almost entirely south facing, which ties into the reason why it is the only red Grand Cru vineyard in the entire Cotes des Beaune. I had the great pleasure of being in Corton last week, and the even greater pleasure of meeting some amazing producers who make wines in from this exceptional appellation, so I thought I’d put down in writing what it is about Aloxe-Corton that makes it so special!
This special and unique hillside has been recognised as a premium plot for grape-growing for several centuries, with it first being mentioned in 696AD. In 775AD there are records showing that emperor Charlemagne, who owned all the land in this region, ceded the region of Aloxe-Corton to the Abbey of St-Andoche. The monks who lived in the abbey worked the vineyards as part of their daily toil as penance for their past sins, and sold the wines made from their land to pay for their food. The region was simply known as Aloxe until the middle of the 19th century, until locals decided to add their prestigious vineyard name to the end of their village, so that nobody would forget that here was where these great wines originated. This was very common at this time, and seen in several neighbouring regions; Vosne-Romanee, Gevrey-Chambertin, Puligny-Montrachet and so on. Corton, the diamond in Aloxe’s crown was awarded Grand Cru status in 1937, and was one of the first in Burgundy to be awarded the prestigious title.
The Grand Cru vineyard is quite a big site as it wraps around the south-east, south and south-west of the hill of Corton- in fact it is the largest grand Cru site in all of Burgundy! As a result, the wines produced from the different aspects can be very varied. Therefore the wines can be simply Corton Grand Cru, which are a blend from across the hill, or can attach another name (known as a Climat) to the Corton label to indicate where exactly on the hill they are. This can add to the complexity in understanding this appellation however the list below of the biggest and most notable Climats will hopefully clear things up a little bit;
Corton Le Corton is a long, thin site right near the top of the hill on the eastern side of the hill, and therefore receives the first rays of the sun every day. Natural erosion means the soils here are extremely poor, and the wines from here are dark, brooding and take years to develop and soften.
Corton Les Renardes is the site down the hill from Le Corton. Les Renards means The Vixen, and the wines from here have a distinct animal and earth note to them.
Corton Les Bressandes is more south-east facing and further down the hill, and therefore the wines tend to be warmer and more fruit forward. This is considered an excellent Climat.
Corton Clos du Roi sits almost totally on the southern slope of the hill in the middle of the slope, and is a walled vineyard often considered one of the best sites on the entire hill. Soils here are pebbly marlstone rich in iron oolite, and wines from the Clos du Roi are known for having an excellent balance of power and finesse.
Corton Les Perrieres is located on the lower southern slopes of the hill, immediately north of Aloxe-Corton village. Wines from this particular Corton climat are known for being more refined and slightly less powerful than those from sites further up the hillside.
Corton Les Languettes is upslope from Les Perrieres and runs up to the tree line. The soils are poorer and more exposed, showing more of the limestone subsoil, and allowing the planting of some Chardonnay vines.
Corton Les Pougets is on the mid-slope facing south-west. It has a few sections rich in limestone where Chardonnay is planted, but is mostly comprised of iron-rich marlstone making robust and tannic Pinot Noirs.
Corton-Charlemagne is the furthest section around the slope, and is almost completely west-facing. It is planted entirely to Chardonnay due to the limestone-rich soils and the orientation which only receives afternoon sun, and is named for the old emperor. As the fable goes, one of Charlemagne’s wives was sick of him getting red wine through his white beard, and asked him to only drink white wine, so he ordered this side of the hill to only make white wines. Today this Grand Cru site is one of the most highly regarded Chardonnay sites alongside the hill of Montrachet, though with more drive and focus as opposed to the opulence of further down the Côte de Beaune.
*One of the colourful characters I met on my travels!
The wines of Aloxe-Corton are not defined solely by the red and white Grand Cru wines however; there are several Premier Cru sites that are mixed in between the Grands Crus, which can produce excellent wine without the price tag the word ‘Grand Cru’ tends to add to a wine. They are quite rare, but if you see an Aloxe-Corton Premier Cru out there- grab it!
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