It’s hard to imagine anyone overlooking the hill of Corton. Marking the northern terminus of the Côte de Beaune, as vineyards give way to marble quarries, it rises above the surrounding countryside like a leviathan surfacing from the deeps.
Nearly 400 meters at its peak, the hill is crowned with 50 hectares of forest, the famed Bois de Corton. Below the woods, vineyards partially encircle the hill, covering the east, southeast, and southwest facing slopes at elevations of 250 to 330 meters. Chardonnay is planted predominantly on the white marl clay at the top of the slope, with more extensive vineyards found to the southwest. Pinot Noir flourishes at mid-slope, where the soil is reddish with less clay and more iron, occupying most of the southeast and east facing hillsides.
Flanking the hill – like loyal retainers paying patient court to a slumbering monarch – lie the three villages of Pernand-Vergelesses, Aloxe-Corton, and Ladoix. While each is home to villages and premier cru vineyards, they owe their reputations to the Grand Cru vineyards which climb the slopes above the towns. The precise boundaries of those vineyards have been a matter of some dispute since the first attempts to codify them in the 1930’s under the nascent AOC system. Given the financial incentives, expansion has generally been favored over retreat, with the result that today there are some 160 hectares of vineyards designated as Corton Grand Cru AOC, more than three times the size of the next largest Grand Cru vineyard, Clos de Vougeot.
Within the Corton appellation, there are 28 vineyards, or climats, designated Grand Cru either entirely or in part. If 100% of the fruit is sourced from a single vineyard, its name may be appended to the designation “Corton”, as in “Corton-Clos de Roi” or “Corton-Bressandes”. While this may be true of any, in practice it is limited to the most prestigious of vineyards. Lesser climats are often labeled simply as “Corton”, in the same way as blends from multiple vineyard sites. For the white wines, no vineyard names are added. In addition to the lieux-dits, “En Charlemagne” and “Le Charlemagne”, there are seven other climats that are allowed to use the appellation “Corton-Charlemagne”. Any other may plant Chardonnay but it is labeled as simply “Corton”.
Grand Cru Burgundies are some of the most sought after wines in the world. Their reputation for quality and their relative scarcity drive demand, pushing up prices and making the best wines hard to acquire. The Hill of Corton, however, dominates the market for Grand Cru Burgundy in the same way it dominates the countryside north of Beaune – of the 2 to 3 million bottles of Grand Cru Burgundy produced in an average year, one in every three will bear the label “Corton” or “Corton-Charlemagne”. Yet when people are asked to name a top Burgundy Grand Cru vineyard, they think Montrachet rather than Corton-Charlemagne or Richebourg rather than Corton-Clos de Roi.
The best values, and the best prices, for Grand Cru Burgundy come from the hill of Corton. Anyone looking to add some bottles to their cellar would be best advised to begin there. Some top picks from a recent staff tasting:
The Domaine was officially established in Beaune in 1811, though the family had been involved in the wine trade in Burgundy since 1731. The Bouchard family continued to run the Domaine throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, consolidating their holdings and their reputation. The Domaine was purchased in 1985 by Joseph Henriot of Champagne Henriot. The Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru is produced from 3.65 hectares of vines in Le Corton.
Long family history in Pommard going back several generations. Anne Parent, along with her sister Catherine, has taken over responsibility for the domaine since the retirement of their father Jacques Parent in 1993. They produce 1er cru and villages wines in Pommard, Beaune, and Ladoix, along with Grand Cru Corton-Les Renardes (0.30 hectares) and Corton-Le Rognet (0.28 hectares).
Founded in 1859 by Louis Jadot and run by his heirs for over a century. In 1985, the domaine and its associated negociant business was purchased by the Kopf family, owners of Kobrand Corporation, sole United States importer of Jadot Burgundies since 1945. Note: Located on the lower slopes of the hill of Corton, Les Marechaudes is split between Corton Grand Cru and Aloxe-Corton premier cru.
Run by Romain Taupenot along with his sister Virginie, seventh generation vignerons. Their father Jean Taupenot, from Saint Romain, married Denis Merme, sister to Marie-France Perrot-Minot, whose son Christophe now runs that domaine. They farm 12.9 hectares in total, including Charmes-Chambertin and Mazoyères-Chambertin Grand Cru, as well as Chambolle Musigny, Morey-St-Denis, Gevrey-Chambertin, and Nuits-St-Georges villages and premier cru. The Domaine also includes (since 2003) the vineyards of the St-Romain branch of the family, Auxey-Duresses and Saint Romain villages and premier cru. The plot of vines on the hill of Corton (0.41 hectares of Le Rognet) was acquired in 2005.
From 3.02 hectares of vineyards solely owned by Domaine Faiveley in Le Rognet. Founded in 1825 in Nuits-St-Georges, this family-owned domaine has been run since 2006 by seventh generation Erwan Faiveley.
Established in Chorey-lès-Beaune in the 1880’s. Currently run by Nathalie Tollot. The Domaine produces three wines from vineyards on the Corton hill: Corton Charlemagne (from 0.4 hectares of vines planted in 1956 in the lieux-dit of Les Renardes), Corton (from vines planted between 1930 and 2008 in Les Combes), and Corton-Les Bressandes (from 0.91 hectares of vines planted in 1953 and 1955).