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 Editorial  Share this article     Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 42, June 2006   
Côte d'Or, Côte de Beaune, Côte de NuitsCôte d'Or, Côte de Beaune, Côte de Nuits  Contents 
Issue 41, May 2006 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 43, Summer 2006

Côte d'Or, Côte de Beaune, Côte de Nuits

Heart of the enological excellence of Burgundy, Côte d'Or is the indisputable homeland of extraordinary Pinot Noir wines and prestigious Chardonnay wines

 If you are thinking about Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, it is therefore impossible not to associate these two grapes with a specific area of Burgundy, with a name full of promise and of good auspice: Côte d'Or. Despite its literally translation is Gold Slope, indeed its name is the abbreviation of Côte d'Orient, that is Eastern Slope. Côte d'Or includes four wine areas, of which the most important and famous ones are Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune. Despite these two areas are famous for their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines, Côte de Nuits, in the northern part of Côte d'Or, is mainly known for its Pinot Noirs, whereas Côte de Beaune, in the southern part, is mainly known for its Chardonnays, although it should be remembered in this area are produced excellent Pinot Noirs as well. In the Côte d'Or are also defined two other wine areas: Châtillon - north from the Côte de Nuits - and the Hautes-Côtes, defined both for the Beaune and Nuits areas.

 Côte d'Or, despite its small area covering a narrow strip of territory about 50 kilometers long (about 31 miles), is the most famous wine area of Burgundy and among the most renowned ones of France. The cultivation of vine and the production of wine in these lands is dated back to ancient times. When ancient Romans came to Burgundy in 51 BC, the territory was already occupied by Celts who practiced viticulture and therefore the production of wine. Archaeological researches in these areas suggest the production of wine in Burgundy was practiced since 200 BC. Wine was however an important element even at those times, besides the findings of ancient local wine amphoras, archaeological diggings have allowed the finding of Etruscan amphoras, a sign of the commercial activity of the ancient people from central Italy in these lands. The first written evidences about Burgundian wine are dated back to 312 AD.

The C\^ote d'Or
The Côte d'Or

 Burgundian wine and its quality are mentioned in 591 AD, in a writing of Gregory of Tours who in his “History of Franks”, wrote in the hills west from Dijon were produced such noble wines which could be compared to Falerno, one of the most praised and famous wines at those times. During the dominion of Charlemagne, viticulture and production of wine in Côte d'Or lived high moments of splendor, in particular thanks to the activity of Benedictine monks. Despite the vine was cultivated in every place, the privileged conditions of monasteries, in particular the availability of underground cellars suited for keeping, allowed monks to excel, in a systematic and methodic way, in the production of wine: their contribution in wine making, here as it was everywhere, has been fundamental. The first monks to buy vineyards were the Benedictines of Cluny. With the building of the abbey of Cluny in 910 AD, the monastic order spread in the main European countries, and the interest for vine and wine was always a characteristic that came with them.

 Thanks to the donations of nobles and well-offs, in 1273 the abbey of Cluny owned all the vineyards around Gevrey. Another abbey who owned famous vineyards was the one of St.-Vivant. In 1232 the duchess of Burgundy gave to this abbey the famous vineyards of Romanée-Conti. La Romanée, La Tâche, Richebourg and Romanée-St-Vivant: vineyards which are still today considered among the most prestigious ones in Côte d'Or. The abbey of St.-Vivant also owned vineyards in Pommard, Auxery and Santenay. Another monastic order which played a fundamental role in viticulture and in the wine making of Burgundy was the one of Cistercians, founded in the city of Cîteaux, not very far from Nuits-St-George. Their first vineyard was acquired in 1098, thanks to the donation of the duke of Burgundy and, despite the order practiced austerity and asceticism, they soon began to acquire vineyards. In 1336 Cistercians owned vast vineyards in the areas of Vougeot, Beaune, Chambolle, Fixin and Pommard. In particular, they built a wall encircling their vineyards at Vougeot, therefore giving origin to the renowned Clos de Vougeot.


 Thanks to the work of Cistercian monks - done with a scrupulous activity of experimentation and comparison - they finally arrived to the concept of terroir, which is kept in a high consideration by French vintners, as well as the study of the differences among the many crus. Up to the fifteenth century, because of the difficulties of transportation, which in these lands could be done by land only, the most famous wines of Côte d'Or - and of Burgundy - were the ones from the Beaune area. The wines which seemed to be successful were the ones produced in the areas near the rivers: the ease with which they could be transported represented a huge advantage. The notoriety of Côte d'Or and Burgundy wines increased in the twelfth century, when pope Clemente V moved the papal court to Avignon. The request for wines from Beaune - that is wines from Burgundy - increased and with that their prestige as well, and they were soon considered to be “second to nothing”. Another important event which contributed to increase the prestige of the wines from this region, was the predilection the dukes of Burgundy had for them. it is right to this period the first mention of Pinot Noir is dated back, at those times called Noirien.

 it is more likely, the wines produced at those times in Burgundy were made with Formenteau grape, a variety today considered the ancestor of Pinot Gris. Chardonnay - which is today the most representative and common grape in Burgundy - will enter the wine scene of the region during the Middle Age only. It should be noticed at those times, wines were generally consumed during the first year from harvesting, therefore there was no custom of aging wines. The fame of Côte de Nuits wine was already high in 1728, as it was mentioned in Claude Arnoux's “Dissertation on the situation of Burgundy”, in which are mentioned the rose wines of Volnay, whereas white wines from Côte de Beaune are marginally mentioned. The notoriety of Côte d'Or was stopped in 1878, when in vineyards arrived phylloxera. In 1855, Dr. Lavalle published his “History and statistics of Côte d'Or” in which was included an informal classification of the best vineyards. His work was formalized in 1861 when it was introduced the classification of vineyards in three categories. Finally, in 1930, with the introduction of the Appellation Côntrolée system, the current classification of Burgundy and Côte d'Or wines was introduced.


Classification of Côte d'Or

 Wines of Côte d'Or, just like the ones of Burgundy, are classified according to the French Appellation Côntrolée system. As opposed to Bordeaux wine region, where quality is defined according to the historical and traditional prestige of the many châteaux, in Burgundy the classification is based on the quality recognized to regions, villages and single vineyards. The lowest level is reserved to regional appellations, such as Bourgogne AC, Beaujolais AC or Chablis AC. The next quality level is reserved to villages, that is reserved to areas inside the territory in communes of specific towns, such as Pommard, Volnay, Gevrey-Chambertin or Meursalt. The two next levels are reserved to the highest quality and are both destined to single vineyards of historical and documented quality. The first one of these two levels is Premier Cru followed by the highest level of quality Grand Cru, reserved to very few vineyards of Burgundy from which traditionally come wines of exceptional quality.

 Wines belonging to this class have in the label the name of the vineyard and the mention Grand Cru. All the vineyards classified as Grand Cru in Burgundy are found in Côte d'Or and in Chablis. Just like all the other wine classification systems used in other countries, the highest level does not always ensure the best quality and Burgundy makes no exception. Because of historical facts and French laws concerning succession of lands, many of the Grand Cru belong to different owners - each of them owning few hectares - producing very different quality levels. For this reason, it is always good to consider quality in function of the producer instead of the category: in fact, it is not rare to find Premier Cru wines having a superior quality than a Grand Cru. Côte de Nuits villages in which are defined Grand Cru vineyards are: Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey St.-Denis, Chambolle-Musigny, Vougeot, Flagey-Echézeaux and Vosne-Romanée. The ones in Côte de Beaune are defined in the villages of Pernand-Vergelesses, Ladoix-Serrigny, Aloxe-Corton, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet.


Production Areas

 The Côte d'Or is located in the northern part of Burgundy, in the outskirts south from Dijon, and covers an area of about 50 kilometers (about 31 miles), reaching the neighboring of Santenay, in a pretty narrow strip of territory. The northern part is defined as Côte de Nuits, from the name of the city of Nuits-St.-George, and in which are almost exclusively produced red wines, whereas the southern part is the Côtes de Beaune, from the name of the city of Beaune, and in which are being produced both white and red wines. The main grapes of Côte d'Or are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, however in the area are also found Aligoté and Gamay grapes. The soil composition in Côte d'Or is mainly limestone, particularly suited for the cultivation of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varieties. The areas from which come Premier Cru and Grand Crus wines are all located at altitudes from 250 and 300 meters (820-985 feet), whereas at higher altitudes are being produced lighter wines, generally belonging to village appellation.


Côte de Beaune

 In the Côte de Beaune are produced both white wines, from Chardonnay grapes, and red wines, from Pinot Noir grapes. The area is however famous for its white wines and it is from Côte de Beaune which come the best Chardonnay wines of Burgundy. Hear are in fact found the famous Grand Cru of Montrachet, Bâtard-Montrachet, Bienvenue-Bâtard-Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet, Corton-Charlemagne and Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet. Also the red wines of Côte de Beaune are of high quality - in particular the ones from Corton - however they are considered of less value than the ones from Côte de Nuits. As opposed to the red wines from Côte de Nuits, the ones from Côte de Beaune are characterized by a smoother roundness and more “immediate” organoleptic qualities. Among the most famous areas of Côte de Beaune from which are being produced red wines, are mentioned Aloxe-Corton, Beaune, Volnay and Pommard. White wines from Côte de Beaune are characterized by a surprising organoleptic richness and body, with aromas frequently recalling honey, hazelnut, vanilla and - sometimes - truffle.


Côte de Nuits

 Côte de Nuits is indisputably the worldwide homeland of the best Pinot Noir red wines. In this area is also produced a small quantity of white wines from Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc grapes. The red wines from Côte de Nuits have a higher structure and organoleptic complexity than the ones from Côte de Beaune and are considered the best Pinot Noirs of Burgundy and of the world. Here are in fact located the famous Grand Cru areas of Bonnes Mares, Le Chambertin, Chambertin Clos-de-Bèze, Clos de La Roche, Clos de Vougeot, Grands Echézeaux, Le Musigny, Richebourg, Romanée-Conti and Lâ Tache. Despite Côte de Nuits is a pretty narrow territory, the diversity of its terroirs is vast and rich. To this are also added the vinification techniques adopted by producers in order to increase body and complexity of their wines, such as, for example, pressing and, in particular, the specific philosophy adopted by every producer for aging. Recently it has been introduced cold maceration of grapes before fermentation, a practice which is followed by many producers which however has strong detractors in the ones supporting a production obeying to the traditional model. Despite these “little” disputes among producers, an aspect which remains indisputable of Côte de Nuits, is that here are being produced the best Pinot Noirs of the world.


 Editorial  Share this article     Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 42, June 2006   
Côte d'Or, Côte de Beaune, Côte de NuitsCôte d'Or, Côte de Beaune, Côte de Nuits  Contents 
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