While the Grands Crus and top villages steal the headlines, often with eye-watering pricing to match, there is so much more to discover in the Côte d’Or. We explore a few of the lesser-known appellations being exploited by some of Burgundy’s grandest producers
Montrachet, Chambertin, Richebourg: these names will send chills down the spine of any Burgundy lover. But many of the Côte d’Or’s most famous domaines are looking beyond these grand names, making wines from vineyards and appellations that might otherwise fly under the radar. With reputations at stake, the likes of Domaine d’Auvenay, Coche-Dury and Bizot put as much effort and care into these “lowly” wines as for their Grands Crus.
Quality in these appellations is soaring – with better vine material, cooler sites that are benefitting from the warming climate, not to mention better winemaking and know-how all contributing. Here we offer a guide to just a handful of the treasures to be found in Burgundy if you look a bit further afield.
Right in the middle of the Côte de Beaune, Auxey-Duresses is a small, sleepy village situated above Meursault. Prior to AC regulations, the white wines of Auxey-Duresses were sold as Meursault and the Pinots sold as Pommard or Volnay. While probably better known for Pinot Noir production, some of its top wines are Chardonnays made in a specific part of the appellation directly bordering Meursault. Here, high up on the hill, over the brow of Meursault’s highest vineyards you will find vineyards facing unusually north-west. While these vineyards are too cool to adequately ripen Pinot Noir, they have proven to be a great climate for Chardonnay, particularly in today’s warming climate. In a warm vintage, the whites can give the top Meursault vineyards a run for their money.
Domaine Leroy, one of Burgundy’s most eminent estates run by Madam Lalou Bize-Leroy, has holdings in this part of Auxey-Duresses in Les Lavières, while Domaine d’Auvenay also regularly produces an Auxey-Duresses Blanc on this particular northwest-facing slope from the vineyards of La Macabrée and Les Boutonniers. Depending on volumes D’Auvenay can produce three separate Auxey-Duresses Blanc cuvées in one vintage or if volumes are down will blend into one. While these are expensive options, the quality is undoubtedly there and this is a great lesser-known spot in the Côte d’Or to source outstanding Chardonnay, particularly in warmer vintages. Domaine Roulot, Olivier Leflaive and a Jasper Morris MW favourite Domaine Diconne (which has vines dating back to 1924) also produce excellent Auxey-Duresses Blanc on these slopes adjacent to Meursault. While stricter in style than their neighbors, they remain fantastic value. For reds Domaine Comte Armand’s Premier Cru Auxey-Duresses is another great buy. Made from two complimentary Premier Cru sites – La Duresses (whose brown clay soil brings density and tannic structure) and Les Breterins (on lighter soil bringing fruitiness) combine to make a fabulous Auxey-Duresses well worth discovering.
Next door to Auxey-Duresses, sandwiched in between Meursault and Volnay, is another lesser-known appellation which has an impressive line-up of producers on its roster. Comtes Lafon, Coche-Dury, Philippe Pacalet and Domaine Roulot, as well as Leroy, all produce Pinot Noir from this little, often-forgotten appellation. Monthélie is actually one of Bize-Leroy’s personal favorite appellations for her Maison Leroy selection. Historically, Monthélie tended to produce Gamay more than Pinot Noir, but that is not the case today. While the village wines tend to be a little lean and err too far towards vegetal flavors, the Premiers Crus within the appellation deserve much more attention. Domaine Coche-Dury produces a Premier Cru Les Barbières, while Comtes Lafon’s Premier Cru is in Les Champs Fulliot. Both of these vineyards have full south exposure, enabling the wines to ripen fully even at higher Hautes-Côtes-like altitudes. In the warmer vintages you could be justly rewarded for sourcing wines from this under-appreciated little corner of Burgundy. Monthélie is also home to Domaine Potinet-Ampeau whose collection of older bottlings can on occasion wow the senses and are a fascinating and educational insight into mature Burgundy.
When it comes to underrated Chardonnay appellations in the Côte d’Or, few register higher than Pernand-Vergelesses. Its close proximity to Corton-Charlemagne makes this unsurprising. This winemaking enclave tucked behind the hill of Corton has long been a consistent appellation where you find outstanding quality at a fantastic price. While consistent in quality, it is often inconsistent in quantity due to its position between two rising hills. The lay of the land produces natural air flows that attract hailstorms and is also susceptible to frost as cold air sits in this natural pocket of vineyards. If the region escapes these climatic perils, the Chardonnays are linear and have a flinty, mineral character. The wines can age really well, gaining richness as they mature.
A top producer of particular note is Domaine Rapet – of whom Wine Advocate critic William Kelley recently noted, “It’s a mystery these wines are not better known or distributed.” Being the biggest landowner of Corton-Charlemagne, they are one of the region’s most consistent white wine producers. Domaine Chandon de Brailles (based in Savigny-lès-Beaune) is also widely recognized for producing the best Pinot Noir in the appellation. Their Pernand-Vergelesses Premier Cru Ile de Vergelesses regularly competes with top Pinot Noirs made in the more famous appellations and is often described as one of Burgundy’s bargains given the quality. Other better-known producers such as Dugat-Py and a more recent purchase in 2012 by Domaine Jean-Claude Ramonet (one of the world’s top Chardonnay producers) – testifies to the quality found here. A favorite Savigny producer of ours – Domaine Jean-Marc & Hugues Pavelot – also produces outstanding chardonnay from Pernand-Vergelesses.
While Morey-Saint-Denis can hardly be described as under-the radar, it continues to be undervalued amongst its neighbors despite its obvious pedigree. Morey-Saint-Denis’s prime location in the Côte d’Or sandwiched between Gevrey-Chambertin and Chambolle-Musigny, for some reason – despite being home to five Grands Crus (Clos de la Roche, Clos de Tart, Bonnes Mares, Clos des Lambrays and Clos St Denis) – never gets the same limelight as either of its neighbors. It’s possible to blame the autonomous nomenclature of its Grands Crus – with only Clos St Denis having a clear link to the village. It has meant that Morey-Saint-Denis as an appellation is seen as somewhat lesser in quality than its neighbors. Another reason might be that, like Auxey-Duresses, before the AC regulations came into play, the wines of Morey-Saint-Denis were either sold as Gevrey-Chambertin or Chambolle-Musigny. Outside the Grands Crus, a top example comes from a recent discovery of ours, Domaine René Bouvier, whose Morey-Saint-Denis En la Rue de Vergy is a simply stunning Pinot Noir no matter where it is from. While only classified as village, this vineyard is surrounded by Morey-Saint-Denis’s most illustrious Grands Crus – Clos des Lambrays, Clos de Tart and Bonnes-Mares – on the border with Chambolle-Musigny. In a sunny vintage this cooler site has completely excelled and remains one of the great value-buys of 2019.
It is not simply lesser-known appellations that often get missed but wines that don’t obviously fit the bill. While its Chardonnays get all the attention today, Chassagne-Montrachet was historically a Pinot Noir appellation (as was Meursault). These days Pinot Noir only represents about 20% of production within the Chassagne-Montrachet Premiers Crus, but up until the 1960s the appellation was dominated by the red grape. Some of the top Pinot Noir sites here were judged to be as good as Musigny, Clos de la Roche and Clos de Tart.
Today Chardonnay is the better variety in the village, but there are still top examples of Pinot Noir to be found – and often at a great price for the quality. The red wines from the Clos Saint Jean Premier Cru are often described as a unique expression of Pinot Noir – a wine of fantastic finesse, quite at odds with the appellation’s reputation for robust reds. It is arguably the finest site for red wine in Chassagne-Montrachet. Jean-Claude Ramonet produces a top example along with a Premier Cru La Boudriotte, which is also great, but a little leaner in style.
Many Burgundy buyers rarely explore further north than Gevrey-Chambertin in search of the next big thing, but all indications are pointing in that direction. Marsannay was only given appellation contrôlée status in 1987, encompassing three districts of Chenôve (on the outskirts of Dijon’s urban sprawl), Marsannay La Côte and Couchey. Unique to the appellations of Burgundy, Marsannay can produce a rosé wine from Pinot Noir (and was the foundation for the village’s reputation). There are in fact vineyards within the appellation that are dedicated exclusively to rosé production (if a red wine is made in these vineyards it has to be declassified to Bourgogne Rouge).
While Sylvain Pataille and René Bouvier make the most serious and age-worthy rosés in the appellation, it is the whites and reds that are arguably the most exciting development in recent times. The village of Marsannay is arguably producing the best Pinot Noir for the money in the whole of Burgundy. Cult producers such as Domaine Bizot with Jean-Yves Bizot’s Marsannay Clos du Roy and his Bourgogne Le Chapitre, situated just south of Dijon, are already on the radar for aficionados. These wines are made in tiny quantities and has only further increased the collectability of these wines made in a distinct style (100% whole-bunch fermentations and zero sulphur additions). If sourcing Bizot wines is too painstaking and out of one’s budget, there are plenty of other exceptional growers in this region. Domaine Audoin is producing outstanding Premier Cru Marsannay that can compete with some of the top Gevrey bottlings and the wines still remain fantastic value. The aforementioned Domaine René Bouvier also makes exceptional wines from Marsannay.
Côte Chalonnaise: Givry, Montagny and Rully
Outside the Côte d’Or, to the south in the Côte Chalonnaise, Mercurey dominates the limelight compared to neighboring appellations Rully, Montagny and Givry. When handled correctly, however, Givry, can produce fantastic, powerful Pinot Noir that also offers finesse. Rully and Montagny are also a great source of Chardonnay and remain outstanding value. Montagny only produces Chardonnay – the top producers being Domaine Stéphane Aladame, Domaine Bruno Lorenzon and Domaine Maxime Cottenceau. Rully produces white and red but it is their Chardonnay that really stands out, with some of Burgundy’s best-value white wines. Producers worth looking out for include Domaine Jaeger-Defaix and Domaine Vincent Dureuil-Janthial.
Domaine Joblot is the leading producer in Givry and whose wines consistently compete with those in the Côte d’Or, a beacon for the appellation’s reputation, yet remain very sensibly priced. Of the estate’s 14 hectares, nine are Premier Cru, including some of the village’s finest plots such as Clos de la Servoisine and Cellier aux Moines. L’Empreinte is the property’s top wine, a blend of their four red Premier Cru sites (Clos de la Servoisine, Cellier aux Moines, Clos Marole and Les Bois Chevaux); while the white Cuvée Mademoiselle is a blend of their older-vine Premier Cru Chardonnay from En Veau and Clos de la Servoisine. Joblot is rightfully praised by the likes of Clive Coates MW, Robert Parker, Allen Meadows and Jasper Morris MW as not only the leading address in Givry, but one of the great estates in the whole of Burgundy.
Hautes-Côtes de Nuits
Situated over the brow of the main Côte d’Or slope and further to the west are the vineyards classified as the Hautes-Côtes (the higher slopes) of the Côte de Nuits. Typically around 100 meters higher in altitude, only the southwest and southeast slopes are warm enough to ripen grapes, but geologically parts of the region are identical to the Côte d’Or. With warmer vintages, quality here is greatly improving and you can find some outstanding wines at a great price. Two top examples of this come from Vosne-Romanée’s Domaine Gros Frère & Sœur and Domaine David Duband. Both estates have invested heavily in the region believing in the potential of these cooler sites in a warming climate. Aubert de Villaine’s Domaine de la Romanée-Conti also produces an Hautes-Côtes de Nuits Blanc, from grapes grown on the slopes below the historic Abbaye de Saint Vivant.