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Côte Chalonnaise


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There is a much less well-known limestone escarpment in Burgundy, aside from the Côte d'Or. Known as Côte Chalonnaise, it lies directly south of the Côte de Beaune and thus has inferior weather conditions for wine production, if only by the slightest degree. Wines here are often looked down on as "baby" versions of the Côte d'Or masterpieces. Nevertheless, there are four great villages here as well as a lesser-known one called Bouzeron.

Coverage of Burgundy tends to gloss over the Côte Chalonnaise and quickly move on to the more prestigious appellations. This may be righteous in the mind of perfectionistic wine critics, but for the consumer the gigantic difference in price between many good Givrys and Montagnys and wines from more prestigious appellations, may make up for the difference in quality. After all, this difference is only minor anyway, and much of the Côte d'Or stuff can be inconsistent and overrated.

History

Originally planted with vines by the Romans, Côte Chalonnaise was long thought of as inferior to the perfectly placed vineyards of the Côte d'Or, and this perceived quality difference has continued throughout history.

But when collectors and all buyers realized that the Côte d'Or's wines were overpriced and the Côte Chalonnaise could make wines of similar quality at the lower levels, a greater market arose for these alternative wines. Towards the end of the 20th century, they reached new peaks of popularity, and many of the wines are now sold in stores right alongside Côte d'Or gems.

Climate and Viticulture

So how significant is the difference in quality? Very significant, according to most critics. The difference is slight to the untrained palate, but there is little doubt among the wine in-crowd that the slightly warmer climate with less rain and less finely honed production methods make less sophisticated wine.

As usual, though, a great difference lies in the soil. There's plenty of limestone, but its concentration is far from perfect and even in the best appellations, there's rarely a good balance of limestone and the more clayey, chalky elements of soil. Iron-rich marl is present in some of the white wine Premiers Crus, but once again it's a far cry from the Côte d'Or's best. Also, altitude is a factor, since even the highest peaks of the Côte Chalonnaise are still hundreds of feet below the Côte d'Or.

Grape Varieties

With that being said, to the average person, rather than a highly discerning critic, there may not be much of a difference between entry-level Côte d'Or wines and entry-level Côte Chalonnaise wines. In fact, at the same price point the Côte Chalonnaise examples may even be better! The reds, made exclusively from Pinot Noir except for low-quality blends, are like reds from many of the Côte d'Or's less prestigious appellations, such as Santenay in the south and Fixin in the north. Red fruit combines with plums and more soil-toned, earthy aromas. Some styles are elegant, while others are firmly tannic.

But for generic Bourgogne Aligoté and the curious wines of the Bouzeron appellation, Chardonnay is the main white grape of the Côte Chalonnaise. Leanness and overripeness is prevented mainly by oak aging, lending the wine a bit more character than it would have without barrel enhancement. Smoky and often nutty and buttery, these wines are unlikely to rival their Côte de Beaune counterparts on technical merits but to the average palate the difference may be slight.

Major Producers

There is plenty of overlap between the Côte Chalonnaise and the Côte d'Or producers, as many of them can get cheaper land and make less expensive wine but still sell it well due to their name. These are generally the bigger producers and négociants; the same is true of the Mâconnais appellations. These producers include Bouchard, Faiveley, and Boillot--familiar names for readers of the preceding Côte d'Or section. Quality varies but at their best these wines are excellent "babies" of the producers' more high-fly cuvées.

Also look for wines from Domaine de Villaine. This domaine is owned by Aubert de Villaine, famous for heading up Domaine de la Romanée-Conti since 1953. As well as producing an interesting Aligoté in Bouzeron, the domaine has plenty of property across the Côte Chalonnaise and almost always makes wine of competitive quality here.

Subregions

Wines here that do not fit into one of the five village appellations, must be sold as either a generic Bourgogne appellation (Bourgogne Aligoté is common for those Aligotés not grown in Bouzeron), or under the region's basic AOC, Bourgogne-Côte Chalonnaise. These wines are generally of low quality and are not much lower-priced than the village wines.

There are five villages here. This seems like a high number compared to Côte de Nuits' nine, indicating that Côte Chalonnaise may make half as many wines. However, there is a big quality difference, since the villages themselves don't have the same land that, say, Gevrey-Chambertin, lays claim to. Here is a list of the five, four of which we have separate pages for.