Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

The second week of January is traditionally Burgundy Week in London. At the many tastings of 2020s that would normally be planned for next week, the vast majority will be wines from the Côte d’Or, the eastern “golden slope” of limestone and marl that produces Burgundy’s most respected and expensive wines.

Yet anyone who studies a map will see that the southern tip of the Côte d’Or blooms straight into the northern tip of the Côte Chalonnaise wine region. It is named after its main town, Chalon-sur-Saône. To the west, Côte Chalonnaise winelands surround the villages of Bouzeron, Rully, Mercurey, Givry and Montagny. Their wines are generally much, much cheaper than those of the Côte d’Or, but the soil and altitude are very similar, and many vineyards enjoy the same kind of aspect as most of those on the Côte d’Or, which the emerging sun facing. .

So why are Chalonnaise wines considered so definitely inferior? The reasons are more historical and political than geographical. Napoleon was eager to give strong focus and character to each of the new ones departments in which France was divided after the French Revolution. The Côte d’Or was intended to focus on wine production, while Saône-et-Loire, named after its two most famous rivers, in its immediate south had to focus on farming, especially Charolais beef, and industry. Montceau-les-Mines, west of wine country, was a mining center, a major source of coal through the 19th and early 20th centuries. The iron ore deposits around Le Creusot, north of Montceau, gave rise to a rash of large factories during the Industrial Revolution.

But everything has changed. The devastation of the phylloxera lice by the end of the 19th century left Côte Chalonnaise vineyards, like most on the planet, in a terrible state. In addition, men returning from battles in World War I were lured to work in factories, rather than vineyards. (The Côte d’Or had little industry to speak of, so viticulture there was much less severely torn.) The result was that the best vineyards – those on the slopes that were the most difficult to cultivate – were abandoned in favor of the more fertile plains. Quantity was prioritized over quality and the Côte Chalonnaise became known as a source of cheap thirsty wine for local factory workers.

World War II was no friendlier for wine farmers here. In the excellent and much revised second edition of In Burgundy, Jasper Morris points out that the demarcation line between occupied and Vichy France cuts across the region and at least one citizen was arrested for visiting her garden in Vichy France from her home in the occupied zone.

Yet the Côte Chalonnaise had a tradition of medieval monastery viticulture as venerable as the Côte d’Or. From this historical point of view, it was only fairly recently, in the late 20th century, that the better vineyards were replanted.

As vineyards take years to produce their best wine, now is surely the moment for the return of the Côte Chalonnaise. Furthermore, there is quite a group of ambitious producers there today.

One of these is Domaine A&P de Villaine in Bouzeron, just two miles from Santenay in the Côte d’Or. It makes some of the most distinctive wines in Burgundy: single-vineyard expressions of Burgundy’s “other” white wine grape, Aligoté, which has long been considered a weak substitute for Chardonnay because it is more difficult to ripen. Yet climate change has revealed how well fully ripe Aligoté can be, and this domain makes many of the best.

The “A” in the name (now just Domaine de Villaine) refers to Aubert de Villaine, who has just retired from the management of the Côte d’Or’s most famous wine estate by a mile, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. For many years he and his American wife Pamela lived in Bouzeron, but now they have moved. Since 2000, the domain has been managed by Aubert’s nephew, Pierre de Benoist, whose parents own Sancerre’s Domaine du Nozay.

Aligoté is loved by de Benoist. “Immediately when I tasted the wine, I felt similarities with the Sauvignon in Sancerre,” he says. It is definitely so high in acid and makes a wonderful aperitif.

Yet most of the white wines of the Côte Chalonnaise are Chardonnays, just as the reds tend to be Pinot Noirs – exactly as they are in the Côte d’Or. When I visited the region in September, I was particularly touched by the single-vineyard chardonnays of Domaine Feuillat-Julliot, which were accidentally made by a female team. The vast majority of grapes grown here in Montagny’s beautiful, eastern amphitheater go to the large cooperative in Buxy nearby. Yet Françoise Feuillat, daughter of the owner of the well-known Mercurey domain Michel Juillot, grew her own domain from eight to 15 acres and replaced red vines with Chardonnay. She and her daughter Camille bottle everything themselves.

The largest domain of the Côte Chalonnaise, in terms of its possessions, is the historic Domaine Thenard of Givry, which enjoys the enviable situation of being the second largest owner of the incredibly expensive white wine vineyard in the Côte d’Or, Le Montrachet. , where it owns almost two whole acres. Even billionaire entrepreneur François Pinault managed to acquire just 0.04ha of Le Montrachet vineyards. Both Dom Thenard and Pinault produce Le Montrachet, along with about 15 other vine owners in this famous vineyard. Pinault’s are available in such small quantities that they are for personal use only.

The Côte Chalonnaise also produces some fine reds. People to watch are those made by Philippe Pascal and Guillaume Marko in the spectacular new four-storey, gravity-fed winery of the restored Cistercian Domaine du Cellier aux Moines on a steep slope overlooking Givry, which is surely one of the region’s finer vineyards should be. locations. This is just one property where young vineyards produce wine of better quality than the older vineyards because the previous owners planted poor quality clones of Pinot Noir.

In most wine regions, only the best vineyards deserve the title Premier Cru, or first growth. But in the Côte Chalonnaise, far too many are probably designated as such. Perhaps it is the desire to clearly indicate what are the best areas that have driven what you might call the unbridled Premier Cru inflation in the Côte Chalonnaise. For example, nearly 60 percent of Montagny’s vineyards are classified as Premier Cru, which is so much that it extends credibility. Further north, in Rully and Givry, the proportions (less than a quarter) are perhaps more useful.

It’s very much a region in transition, but as Anne-Cécile Lumpp, daughter of vigneron François Lumpp in Givry, assured me as they showed off their latest vintage, the Côte Chalonnaise is on the rise.

  • Domaine Belleville, Rully

  • Domaine du Cellier aux Moines, Givry

  • Domaine Dureuil-Janthial, Rully

  • Domaine Faiveley, Mercurey

  • Domaine de la Folie, Rully

  • P&M Jacqueson, Rully

  • Domaine Claudie Jobard, Rully

  • Domaine Feuillat-Juillot, Montagny

  • Domaine Bruno Lorenzon, Mercurey

  • Domaine François Lumpp, Givry

  • Domaine Jean-Baptiste Ponsot, Givry

  • Domaine Ragot, Givry

  • Domaine Suremain, Mercurey

  • Domaine A&P de Villaine, Bouzeron

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