The Grand Cru of Charlemagne is practically never used, and Corton is almost entirely used for red wine, so the hilly vineyards of the Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru AOC cover the great majority of white wine production on the Corton hill. The white wine, which is based on Chardonnay, is all that is produced, with no supplementary red wine coming under the scope of the classification. In certain areas, the Corton and Corton-Charlemagne AOCs overlap, but few producers break with the tradition: Red Pinot Noir comes from Corton, and white Chardonnay from Corton-Charlemagne.
The Grand Cru mostly covers the higher part of the Corton hill appellations. Lieux-dits or other suffixes are rarely used, so most of the wine labeled Corton-Charlemagne should be exactly as expected. It is a full-bodied, round, nutty and buttery white Burgundy, without the exceptional balance of Montrachet but with more earthy flavors and lower prices. It is rarely intense enough to be unapproachable, even early on, although it is indeed better aged.
Like the other hill AOCs, the Corton-Charlemagne AOC was created in 1937. About 2,500 cases of Chardonnay have been produced there annually since then.
Climate and Viticulture
Corton-Charlemagne (and this goes as well for the similar but obscure Charlemagne appellation) is located on the higher part of the Corton hill. The Corton hill is itself wonderfully optimized for wine production, with concentrated limestone soil and perfect weather and rain conditions. The soft slopes of the hill are further helpful, as flat land is always inferior to slightly--or even extremely--sloped vineyards.
The climate, worthy of Grand Cru, is helped by low yields and extremely concentrated efforts from almost all the serious producers. Viticulture in Corton-Charlemagne, like most of the good Grands Crus, is taken very seriously. Just the slightly cooler temperatures and the efforts of these growers make Corton-Charlemagne worthy of its Grand Cru status.
- Chardonnay: Corton-Charlemagne makes Chardonnay of a round, balanced, approachable nature, that can be easily drunk early but also can age for decades. As far as flavor goes, the characteristics generally cited range across the spectrum, but tend to follow a general earthy characteristic, with those classic white Burgundy undertones of nuts, butter, and richness taking a back seat. The mineral note is what diffentiates Corton-Charlemagne's Chardonnay: often a delightful aroma of wet stones can come through, along with other minerals. Long aging is sometimes required for the flavors to be at their richest. In general, you are safe to age a Corton-Charlemagne for 10 years, and most likely more flavors will be gained in this span of time than will be lost. The best can last for 15-20 years.
Quality variance in Corton-Charlemagne is nearly nonexistent. In fact, the wines of nearly all the domaines that produce wine here, even négociants such as Drouhin and Latour, would have to be considered world-class. There are really no slackers in the small field of producers that make Chardonnay in Corton-Charlemagne.
But if only for descriptive purposes, we list eight producers that seem to be particularly reliable and widely available.
- Boillot: This domaine's holdings and labels are somewhat convoluted, but Corton-Charlemagne of any kind from their vineyards is guaranteed to be marvelous. At around $200, the wine is not cheap, but better than many Montrachets. Flavors are classic and rounded.
- Bouchard Pere et Fils: Bouchard's presence here was never for naught, but the last dozen vintages have been particularly special. For about $150, this Corton-Charlemagne is also not a bad deal on price, costing less than many similarly rated competitors. Early drinking is possible, as is long cellaring; flavors are classic to the appellation.
- Domaine Jean-Francois Coche-Dury: This is somewhat of a cult wine, and unlike many of the relatively inexpensive offerings from négociants, is extremely expensive. The 2007 and 2000 are at least $1,000. But they regularly receive stellar ratings, with intense power lurking underneath the facade of tropical fruits and minerals. They can age like red wines.
- Joseph Faiveley: Faiveley isn't really known for his Corton-Charlemagnes, but his latest move towards white wines should favor them. The wines are classic in nature with that distinctive mineral note, and intense enough for long aging, but they still are fairly approachable early on. Everything seems to be under $300.
- Girardin: Powerful and acidic, the wines need long aging but are true to their appellation in the end. They carry the nickname of Quintessence after the appellation. Prices can be under $100.
- Jadot: Jadot is mostly known as a less expensive producer with operations all over Burgundy, but recent vintages of his Corton-Charlemagne have been on a level with the local growers there. Sourced from prime growing land on top of the hill, the powerful, earthy wines require long aging and often are some of the most intense, well concentrated Corton-Charlemagnes. The 2002 was especially successful.
- Domaine Leroy: Leroy is a cult winemaker whose Corton-Charlemagne prices are as often over $1,000 per bottle as they are under. The powerful wines are among the leading examples of Corton-Charlemagne; the typical minerality is present in the wines, but they are not bone-dry and in fact sometimes have noticeable sweetness. This is an unusual style for Corton-Charlemagne—but it never strays too far from the appellation's classic flavors to be unrecognizable.
- Lucien Le Moine: Since the knockout 2002 vintage, Lucien Le Moine has been on the map as a top producer here. The wines are difficult to get, but exhibit classic flavors with remarkable harmony. Prices usually range from $200 to $250.
Unlike in Corton, there are no lieux-dits in Corton-Charlemagne.