Chablis & Côte d’Or
Welcome to today’s lesson of Sommelier School. Today we will cover two areas. Chablis and Côte d’Or. While both are part of Burgundy. They are very different from each other.
Let’s start with Chablis. When you think of Chablis, do you think of those big jugs of white wine at the grocery store? Well, unfortunately the French did not protect that name before producers all over the world started capitalizing on the name for a white wine. These jug wines give people the impression that Chablis is cheap, low quality wine. The other problem is that these jug wines frequently don’t even have the proper grape varietal in them – Chardonnay. Real Chablis can range from the equivalent to those jug wines to exceptional.
Chablis is approximately 100 miles southeast of Paris. The district is also closer to the vineyards of Champagne than the next closest part of Burgundy, Côte d’Or. 40 miles vs. 60 miles. Chablis is typically the first area one goes through when visiting Burgundy.
In many ways it shares similar soil and climate to Champagne. Chablis sits on calcareous clay (limestone and clay) that is the intersection of the Kimmeridgian and Portlandian basins. And there is some debate as to which is better. The traditional view is the Kimmeridgian basin produces better Chablis, but according to Tom Stevenson in The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia the main difference is the microclimate and aspect more than just the soil.
As far as climate. Winters can get cold here and summers hot since there is no ocean to temper the temperature. Many wineries use what are known as smudge pots in the vineyards to prevent frost damage in the early spring. Though many also just spray water to coat the vines with a protective layer of ice. Hail storms can also pose a threat to the vineyards here.
Chablis was originally a huge wine production area. Very much like the southern parts of France (Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence, et al.) are now. In the second half of the 1800s a couple things happened that negatively affected the area. First was the introduction of a railway system throughout France. This allowed wine from all over to be shipped to Paris. Before then, much of the wine in Paris came from Chablis. Then the scourge of phylloxera came. A pest that ravaged not only the vineyards of Chablis, but much of France and Europe. Both of these combined to hurt the production of wine in Chablis. Now there are vineyards in about 1/10 (10,000 acres vs 100,000 acres) of the acreage planted over 100 years ago.
Chablis is associated with the Chardonnay grape. While there are some other varietals grown in the area and there are a couple of other AOCs here. Right now I am focusing on Chardonnay. I’ll get to the others later. With that said, the Chablis produced normally is of the crisp kind with lots of minerality. Some producers use oak, though they tend to not use new oak. The older or, well-used, oak doesn’t force the traditional oaky flavors like cream or vanilla on the wine. These wines still have a minerality to them. This style is what typically separates the wines of Chablis from everywhere else. Especially those of California which rely on oak quite a bit.
Within the district there are 4 levels of quality. These are in order of quality:
- Petite Chablis – very ordinary and unexciting wine that rarely makes it outside the country. Often maligned.
- Chablis – made from any part of the region, typically considered a better quality than Petite
- Chablis Premier Cru – very good quality wine.
- Chablis Grand Cru – top quality wine
Below is a map of Chablis itself to give you some visual reference for the information below:
There are 7 Grand Crus in Chablis. They all are located on a south-facing hill north east of the town of Chablis. Two have southeast-facing hills while the others have southwest-facing hills. There is one more that is in the same district as the other seven, and while not technically listed as a Grand Cru, it is allowed to use the name:
- Les Clos
- Les Preuses
- La Moutonne (the extra Grand Cru between Les Preuses and Vaudésir)
For the Premier Crus there 17 of which I’ve highlighted a few of note in bold:
- Mont de Milieu
- Montée de Tonnerre
- Côte de Léchet
- Les Fourneaux
- Côte de Vaubarousse
- Chaume de Talvat
- Côte de Jouan
- Les Beauregards
There are some other areas in the district of Yonne, where Chablis is located, that make wine. These areas will not only use the Chardonnay grape, they will also use the following:
- Pinot Noir
- Pinot Liébault
- Pinot Gris
- Pinot Blanc
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Sauvignon Gris
- Melon de Bourgogne
While most of the other AOCs are not of too much significance and don’t really fall in the scope of today’s lesson. Suffice to say that of these only two merit and mention – Irancy AOC and Saint-Bris AOC. Irancy makes red wines maily from Pinot Noir, but also use César and Tressot. Saint-Bris makes white wines using Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris.
On to the Côte d’Or. This area is named for the golden foliage along the slopes. The wines here are mainly grown between the wooded plateau on the top and the plain on the bottom. This are is divided into two main districts. Côte de Nuits to the North and Côte de Beaune to the South. In general, Côte de Nuits produces reds and Côte de Beaune produces whites. Though Côte de Beaune produces more reds than Côte de Nuits produces whites. This area is called the Heart of Burgundy, and it can be the most intimidating. For the purpose of this lesson I will highlight the most important information. To go into a lot of detail would require much more time and space than is available. Entire books can be written on just the Côte d’Or.
First let’s start with the varietals used here. Like Chablis, the predominant white varietal here is Chardonnay, and most of the whites produces are 100% Chardonnay. Other varietals that can be used are Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris (though it is listed as an ingredient in many red burgundies). For the reds, Pinot Noir is the main varietal used. Again, most of the reds here are 100% Pinot Noir. However, as mention before, Pinot Gris is listed as an official varietal that can be used along with Pinot Liébault – a mutant of Pinot Noir.
The soil here is a mixture of a lot of different types. You have limestone, clay, chalky skree (similar to mixed gravel), and marlstone (lime-rich mud with clay in it). Throughout the Côte d’Or the exact composition of the soil varies widely with neighboring vineyards having very different mixtures.
The climate here is somewhat similar to Chablis in that it can have cold winters and hot summers. Hail can also be a problem damaging the crop. As you go farther south to Côte de Beaune more rainfall becomes a factor.
There are 9 main communities or the Côte de Nuits are as follows:
- Morey-Saint Denis
For Côte de Beaune there are 17 such communities, all listed below:
Like I covered last week there are a few level of Burgundian wine. The top two are Premier Cru and Grand Cru with Grand Cru being the best. There are a total of 32 Grand Crus in the Côte d’Or. I’ve listed them below along with their region and village:
- Bâtard-Montrachet Côte de Beaune Puligny-Montrachet & Chassagne-Montrachet
- Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet Côte de Beaune Puligny-Montrachet
- Bonnes-Mares Côte de Nuits Chambolle-Musigny & Morey-Saint-Denis
- Chambertin Côte de Nuits Gevrey-Chambertin
- Chambertin-Clos de Bèze Côte de Nuits Gevrey-Chambertin
- Chapelle-Chambertin Côte de Nuits Gevrey-Chambertin
- Charlemagne Côte de Beaune Ladoix-Serrigny
- Charmes-Chambertin Côte de Nuits Gevrey-Chambertin
- Chevalier-Montrachet Côte de Beaune Puligny-Montrachet
- Clos de la Roche Côte de Nuits Morey-Saint-Denis
- Clos de Tart Côte de Nuits Morey-Saint-Denis
- Clos de Vougeot Côte de Nuits Vougeot
- Clos des Lambrays Côte de Nuits Morey-Saint-Denis
- Clos Saint Denis Côte de Nuits Morey-Saint-Denis
- Corton Côte de Beaune Aloxe-Corton
- Corton-Charlemagne Côte de Beaune Ladoix-Serrigny & Aloxe-Corton & Pernand-Vergelesses
- Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet Côte de Beaune Chassagne-Montrachet
- Échezeaux Côte de Nuits Flagey-Echézeaux
- Grands Échezeaux Côte de Nuits Flagey-Echézeaux
- Griotte-Chambertin Côte de Nuits Gevrey-Chambertin
- La Grande Rue Côte de Nuits Vosne-Romanée
- La Romanée Côte de Nuits Vosne-Romanée
- La Tâche Côte de Nuits Vosne-Romanée
- Latricières-Chambertin Côte de Nuits Gevrey-Chambertin
- Mazis-Chambertin Côte de Nuits Gevrey-Chambertin
- Mazoyères-Chambertin Côte de Nuits Gevrey-Chambertin
- Montrachet Côte de Beaune Puligny-Montrachet & Chassagne-Montrachet
- Musigny Côte de Nuits Chambolle-Musigny
- Richebourg Côte de Nuits Vosne-Romanée
- Romanée-Conti Côte de Nuits Vosne-Romanée
- Romanée-Saint-Vivant Côte de Nuits Vosne-Romanée
- Ruchottes-Chambertin Côte de Nuits Gevrey-Chambertin
It’s a lot to memorize all of these Grand Crus.
OK, so I’ve given you a list of all the Grand Crus and where they are at. But what about these areas? Well Côte de Nuits can be further divided into Nuits-St-Georges and Gevrey-Chambertin, named after the main towns in each area. The northernmost area – Gevrey-Chambertin contains 9 of the Grand Crus. Almost of these Grand Crus are situated between Gevrey-Chambertin and Chambolle-Musigny on the upper parts of slopes, with Musigny just south of Chambolle-Musigny. The red wines from this part of the Côte de Nuits tend to be the longest-lasting (20 years or more) and usually the best.
Just south is Nuits-St-Georges. Here are the communities of Vougeot, Vosne-Romanée, Nuits-St-Georges, and Prémeaux-Prissey. All of the Grand Crus are situated between Vougeot and Vosne-Romanée. These red wines are full and long-lasting with deep color.
In the Côte de Beaune there are three main areas; Beaune, Meursault, and Santenay. Beaune’s Grand Crus all lie around a large hill called Bois de Corton in the northernmost part of the region near Aloxe-Corton and Pernand-Vergelesses. Other communities included here are Savigny-lès-Beaune, Beaune, and Pommard at the southernmost point. The red wines here last a moderate amount of time normally, but it’s the whites that are it’s claim to fame. Many lasting up to 20 years. Pommard, though, is know for its excellent reds that can can upwards of 10 years to fully develop.
South of Beaune is the area of Mersault. The area between Puligny-Montrachet & Chassagne-Montrachet is where all of Mersualt’s Grand Crus are. Mersault is also mainly whites. While some reds are produced here, whites are the predominant style, with many being considered the best in the world. Other communities in the area are Volnay, Monthelie, St-Romain, Auxey-Duresses, Mersault, Blagny, Gantay, and St-Aubin.
And then finally there is the area of Santenay. Home of no Grand Crus. The communities of Bas-Santenay, Haut-Santenay, and St-Jean are here. The soil in the Santenay can be a complex mixture of many different types. A mixture of excellent reds and whites are made here.
So is that all there is of the Côte d’Or? For now, yes. There are two additional areas called Hautes-Côtes de Nuits and Hautes-Côtes de Beaune, but their wines are not of the same quality of the rest of the Côte d’Or
As always, thanks for joining me for today’s lesson. As you can see, this is not an easy subject and requires lots of memorization. Hopefully this is informative and not too overbearing. Feel free to leave and comments or suggestions below. Next week we will cover the rest of Burgundy.
Thanks for stopping in,
Mark V. Fusco
Aspiring Sommelier in Training