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Côte de Beaune


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The Côte de Beaune is a strip of land making up the southern part of the limestone escarpment home to Burgundy's greatest vineyards: the Côte d'Or. While the Côte de Beaune is certainly home to some of the world's leading red wines, made exclusively from the Pinot Noir grape, it is more famous for its Chardonnay-based white wine. While Chardonnay makes some great wines across the world, for a number of people the rich, nutty but completely dry flavors of white Burgundy cannot be exceeded.

An high number of outstanding, famous villages are contained within the Côte de Beaune. For the purposes of convenience, all pages relating to Montrachet have been grouped into their own section, as have the Corton-related areas. All the major Côte de Beaune villages are covered here, as well as the generic appellations of the Côte de Beaune. Of course, the eight Grands Crus of the Côte de Beaune are given detailed coverage.

History

Like the northern part of the Côte d'Or, the Côte de Beaune dates back to prehistoric days. But only after the royalty and papacy of early France became interested in the wines of the region did any semblance of a reputation begin to exist. As strides were made in wine technology, producers realized that the Chardonnay grape made the best wines in their area. For several centuries now, the Côte de Beaune has been one of the best places for dry white wine in the world.

In the 20th century, regulation of the wine produced continued with the AOC specifications. The region's popularity suffered a shake-up when Chateau Montelena of California defeated a few top examples of their wine in the 1976 Judgement of Paris. The Judgement was criticized for being unfair, but the superiority of Burgundy wine--the white at least--had been thrown into question. Undoubtedly, the great Burgundy producers had begun to think they were invincible and rest on their laurels. Nowadays, California and Burgundy compete intensely for the top-end Chardonnay market.

Climate and Viticulture

The Côte d'Or is topologically a limestone escarpment--in other words, a slope made up of banks of limestone. This is mainly responsible for giving the Côte de Beaune wine, at its best, a wonderfully rich character. The Côte de Beaune is more versatile than the Côte de Nuits, as it produces red wine as well as white wine, and both of them are world-class. Many red wine drinkers favor the reds of Corton, Pommard and Volnay over the more expensive, exclusive Côte de Nuits examples.

Limestone is, of course, responsible for the greatness of this wine. Nowhere else in the world is such an optimum concentration of limestone combined with an equally optimum climate. The relative warmth of the Côte de Beaune keeps the wines rich rather than lean and acidic, like they can be in the more northerly Chablis. The further south you go, with a few exceptions, the less intense the wines are.

Nonetheless, terroir is of great importance here, and specific things like the slope of a hill, unusual climate conditions, and of course soil, are more important and are described on the individual pages.

Grape Varieties

Chardonnay is the grape that does the best here, making wines of a full, perfectly balanced richness and power. Due to the number of acidic, over-oaked, bland wines machined out by a number of inferior producers, Chardonnay in general has been given a quaffing-wine, downmarket image in about the past 10 years. When yields are low and production value is high, great Burgundy can be the antithesis to these examples. In fact, it can reach the peaks of white wine elegance.

Pinot Noir is secondary in the Côte de Beaune, but it's nonetheless a world-class area for Pinot, if not quite as much so as the Côte de Nuits. Main areas are Corton, Pommard, and Volnay; most of the Pinot Noir is less intense and more perfumed than in the Côte de Nuits, but terroir is once again a factor. Notably, more Pinot than Chardonnay is actually made in the Côte de Beaune, but almost all the highest-priced and highest-quality offerings are Chardonnay.

Major Producers

A list of the important négociants can be found on the Burgundy page. Any Burgundian négociant worth its salt will have holdings in the Côte de Beaune.

Just like in the rest of Burgundy, the appellation is much more important than the producer. However, there are a few famous Grand Cru producers in the Côte de Beaune that deserve special mention. These five domaines typically command the highest prices and praise in the Côte de Beaune.

Subregions

The base AOC of the Côte de Beaune is, in a confusing, distinctly Burgundian way, not Côte de Beaune AOC. Côte de Beaune AOC is in fact a small, almost irrelevant AOC for a tiny area of vineyards high on the slope. The real basic AOC is called Côte de Beaune-Villages, and it contains most good Côte de Beaune that doesn't fall under a particular village AOC. Keep in mind that only red wine is made in this appellation. Also look for values from Bourgogne Hautes-Côte de Beaune, an appellation for the wine made from the other side of the slope. This is rarely outstanding stuff but can provide good deals. Négociants tend to dominate production for both of these appellations.

Buyers with more money and ambition tend to look towards a higher level of appellation; either a village or Premier or Grand Cru will usually be what appeals to them.