The lower vineyards of the Corton hill are mostly classified as Corton AOC, the only Grand Cru for red Pinot Noir in the Côte de Beaune. While world-famous villages such as Pommard and Volnay undoubtedly produce great Pinot, only the Corton vineyards are allowed to be classified as Grand Cru. As a result, Corton is often thought of as the Côte de Beaune's best red wine area. Ideally, the wines combine power with luscious aromas and flavors, making for some of the best Pinot, and it can age for 20+ years.
Over 360 acres of vineyards in Corton produce in excess of 30,000 cases a year. While only on the level of a Bordeaux first growth such as Lafite-Rothschild, this is amazingly high for a Burgundy Grand Cru. In fact, Corton is the largest Grand Cru of Burgundy.
This, and the fact that climats within Corton are so diverse, makes the use of lieux-dits necessary to further distinguish the wine for the benefit of the consumer. The vineyards in question do not always produce wine of a Grand Cru status, and there are many qualitative and geological differences among them.
Though reputation has largely set Corton as a red wine Grand Cru, it is also legal to classify white wine under its auspices. This Chardonnay-based white is very obscure, but can often be less expensive than the Corton-Charlemagne and sometimes equally good.
Like the other hill AOCs, the Corton appellation was founded in 1937. Before that, it did not have a particularly long or notable history.
Climate and Viticulture
The Corton appellation provides some of the best Pinot Noirs in the world due to its hilly climate. While white grapes do better higher up on the hill, making wine of a minerally richness distinct from the other famous Côte de Beaune Grands Crus, Pinot Noir takes the concentrated limestone vineyards in a more intense, but equally balanced and elegant, direction.
The climate of Corton, and the microclimates of the very diverse individual vineyards, are of course highly optimized. And the low yields of the great producers makes for even better wine. In short, Corton is for whatever mysterious reason, one of those areas where all of Pinot Noir's finicky conditions are met and the grape just thrives.
- Pinot Noir: Pinot Noir, generally considered better in the Côte de Nuits, finds its only Grand Cru distinction on the Côte de Beaune right here in these vineyards. Almost all Corton manufactured is red, and although the size of the appellation makes for great diversity in the realms of both quality and flavor, it often sticks to the same style. The wine is intense and powerful, unlike Volnay's Pinot Noir, and is concentrated almost entirely around a core of powerful red fruit. Sometimes, more exotic aromas such as leather creep into the wine, but much of the time it sticks to the usual Pinot Noir-style fruit and varies only in the level of its intensity and concentration. Either way, the great structure and power of the wine is undoubted. Due to the firm, high-tannin style of the wine, it usually needs 20 years or more of aging, and can be among the most long-lasting of all Burgundies.
- Chardonnay: There is so little Chardonnay produced here that it is nearly insignificant. Flavors are more firm and heavy with less mineral influence than in the Corton-Charlemagne and Charlemagne appellations.
Lucien Le Moine is our favorite producer of Chardonnay-based white Corton.
As for the red wine producers, there are a number of them. Most Corton wines are above average, but not all are excellent or worth the price. A list of all those expected to be outstanding are found here. All négociants not mentioned in this list also produce reliable, if not absolutely leading, red Corton. The below list contains 17 of the best producers.
- Domaine Bertrand Ambroise: This producer has many Côte de Beaune holdings, but arguably the best example is the Corton-Rognet. Within this vineyard, Ambroise's Pinot Noir has been produced for many vintages. While always leading, it seems to have improved since the late 1990s, now showing great intensity but, with that considered, a remarkable roundness and balance. The Pinot flavors are fairly typical with a slightly exotic note. Prices range from as low as $85 to about $150.
- Bouchard Pere et Fils: Bouchard has a surprisingly powerful presence in Corton. Its Pinot Noir, labeled Le Corton, actually comes from a lieu-dit of the same name and is not generic Corton wine. Earthy, exotic flavor notes are typical of the appellation; what's not is an often luscious combination of silky, soft tannins and a deep, full body, two things which are rare in the same wine. The wines start at about $100 and can range up significantly.
- Chandon de Briailles: This house produces Corton from no less than three lieux-dits. The most obscure is Les Maréchaudes. The Clos du Roi, which costs about $100, is a somewhat less intense wine of great red-fruit character. It is a reliable wine, but the truly leading one is Les Bressandes. The 2002 is an especially good example of the fruit-forward but tannin-rich wine known here, which manages to combine weightlessness with a big, masculine bouquet in a way that's rare on the south side of the Côte d'Or. All these cost about $100 in general.
- Bruno Clavelier: Not an outstandingly available producer, Bruno Clavelier nonetheless makes a great Corton-Rognet. Average prices are in the $100-$150 range, once again not a bad deal for Grand Cru wine. Earthy, red-fruit characteristics are complemented by excellently rounded tannins and overall the wine leaves a good impression. There are few bad examples of this one since the late 1990s.
- Domaine Marius Delarche: Look for the Renardes here.
- Faiveley: Made from Faiveley's eponymous lieu-dit Clos des Cortons Faiveley, this wine has potent berry flavors, and the wine is intense enough, but a sweeter, silkier tinge is what distinguishes it. In the best vintages, however, it is tannic and needs long aging to show its potential. What's more, the wine is not extraordinarily expensive, often costing less than $100.
- Girardin: Some obscure Clos du Roi is produced here, as well as equally rare Les Perrières. Les Renardes is the most available--and good--wine, offering tough but ripe flavors with high tannins and intensity but without the red fruit core that Cortons are known for. They are very solid wines, and often cost $100 or less.
- Maison Camille Giroud: This big producer makes some excellent Clos du Roi, which is much more intense and darker in both color and flavor than most Cortons. In fact, its wines are somewhat reminiscent of Bordeauxs in their youth. The Rognet is more sweet and fruit-forward, more Pinot-like in general. Somewhat in between the two in style is the cheaper Les Renardes. None of the wines are usually over $100.
- Jadot: As with his Corton-Charlemagne, Jadot's Corton bottlings are exceptional. Some excellent generic Corton is produced, as well as some obscure Clos du Roi, Les Grèves and Les Vergennes, but the best of these bottlings come from the Les Pougets lieu-dit. Classy, elegant, somewhat less intense and backward, the Les Pougets ranges between $90 and $140, and can be drunk early on as well as age for a long time.
- Domaine Leroy: The Nuits-centered designer domaine also has holdings in Les Renardes in Corton, which rarely can be found for less than $500 in price and regularly range up to $1500. They provide an excellent way to add a designer, shock-value bottle to your most ostentatious collection, but for most people aren't worth the difference in quality, if there is any, that separates them from $150 bottles made by négociants. Exotic and intense, the wines are classic in style with a Pinot core and a rich flavor set.
- Domaine Méo-Camuzet: Méo-Camuzet's Clos Rognets is quite backward in style, calling for long aging to bring out the core of Pinot fruit. Early drinking can lead to the flavors being overwhelmed by harsh tannins and surprising austerity. But when aged for a long time the Clos Rognets frequently is some of the most magical wine in all of Corton. Prices are usually around $200.
- Domaine de Montille: This domaine has a number of holdings in the Côte de Beaune but time and again it seems to win out qualitatively as well as quantitatively. Two holdings in Corton are both stellar. Feminine, silky wine from Les Pougets is a great one even if it may be slightly obscure. Much more powerful and masculine Clos du Roi is equally good. Both of them cost about $120 to $160.
- Domaine de la Pousse d'Or: A highly structured but still somewhat feminine wine, the Bressandes is excellent and rarely costs more than $100. Enviably consistent, it can be drunk young; the more intense, backward Clos du Roi costs the same amount and is a better bet if you're interested in long aging.
- Domaine Jacques Prieur: While obscure and fairly expensive ($200+ is standard) Domaine Jacques Prieur's bottlings, exclusively from the lieu-dit of Les Bressandes, are often much better than $200 wines from other Grands Crus. They have more refinement than many other Cortons, with less overwhelming intensity and a somewhat forward, early-drinking style that nonetheless displays excellent sophistication in its core of Pinot fruit. A very well-produced wine.
- Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair: This leading domaine has two important holdings in Corton. The Les Renardes costs about $75. It is very structured and classic, but not relaxed in any way, shape, or form, so most vintages need a few years of aging to show their more aromatic side. The much more round, elegant, feminine Le Rognet has a more definitive core of red fruit, and has higher ratings but as a result costs slightly more.
- Domaine Tollot Beaut: This world-class domaine has two classic, well-done Pinot Noirs from Les Bressandes and Le Corton in Corton. Ranging from as low as $70 to as high as $150 in price, both holdings demonstrate classic and elegant Pinot Noir flavors. Both of them are good buys at the price and exhibit enough intensity to age for some time.
- Domaine de la Vougeraie: The Clos du Roi is Vougeraie's only known holding in Corton. The wines are as intense as Clos du Roi usually is, but have an alternative fruit-forward side that makes them good for early drinking. The flavors are more earthy and Bordeaux-like, without the red-fruit core that Corton wines are known for. A somewhat experimental style, but still excellent according to most critics. Prices are generally over $100.
Following is a list of the 32 lieux-dits of Corton. Some of these--the more famous ones in general--will on occasion be listed, hyphenated, right after Corton, such as Corton-Bressandes for Les Bressandes. Predecessing words such as Les are dropped in these cases. Keep in mind that they are the same as simply listing the lieu-dit on another line as Corton.
- Basses Mourottes
- Les Basses Vergelesses
- Les Bressandes: One of the most famous and important Corton vineyards. The Chandon de Briailles is a remarkably rich, weightless style, unusually good for Corton, but the simpler Jacques Prieur, Pousse d'Or and Tollot-Beaut examples are similarly excellent. All in all consistently high quality from this vineyard.
- Les Carrières
- Les Chaumes
- Clos des Cortons Faiveley: Wholly owned by Faiveley, this Clos produces some of the most outstanding wines of all of the Corton Grand Cru. Known for a silky tinge, the wines are generally very reliable and a trusted name.
- Clos des Meix
- Clos du Roi: One of the most widespread lieux-dits of Corton, the Clos du Roi vineyard is used by many producers. The vineyard tends to make wine of great intensity and backwardness that usually requires aging. Chandon de Briailles, Giroud, Montille, Pousse d'Or, and Vougeraie all epitomize this style.
- Les Combes
- Le Corton: This generic-sounding AOC does not refer to generic Grand Cru Corton wine. A number of producers use this appellation, notably Bouchard Pere et Fils. Flavors are silky and classic.
- Creux de la Net
- En Caradeux
- Les Fichots
- Les Fiètres
- Les Grandes Lolières
- Les Grèves
- Hautes Mourottes
- Île des Vergelesses
- Les Languettes
- Les Maréchaudes: Chandon's cuvée here has grown obscure.
- Le Meix Lallemand
- Les Moutottes
- Les Paulands
- Les Perrières: Fairly obscure, but occasionally seen, lieu-dit.
- Les Plantes des Champs et Combottes
- Les Pougets: One of the most famous of the Corton lieux-dits, this one tends to make feminine, silky wine that is much more approachable in its youth than more masculine wines such as those from Clos du Roi. Pougets is Jadot's signature lieu-dit and deservedly so; Jadot's Les Pougets is a very classy wine in almost all vintages. Montille's example is a bit silky.
- Les Renardes: Girardin's ripe, intriguing cuvée is among the best here, while moderate wines from Giroud and Delarche are classic in style but improve with age. Leroy's outrageous wine is too expensive but has definitive flavors.
- Rognet: The Rognet lieu-dit is the signature subvineyard of Corton and certainly the most important and popular way to label Corton wine. Good examples include the intense but round Ambroise, earthy, round Clavelier, the sweet, fruit-forward Giroud, Méo-Camuzet's powerful "Clos Rognets", and the elegant Thibault cuvée. In general the style varies here; it can be either masculine and rich or feminine and silky. Either way, though, this is the most reliable part of Corton.
- Sous Les Clos Berthet
- Les Vergennes: A fairly obscure but generally reliable lieu-dit.
- La Toppe au Vert
- La Vigne au Saint