Waiting patiently for your Burgundies from the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits to reach their fully mature exquisiteness? The five wine-producing communes of the Côte Chalonnaise a little further south provide some excellent options for earlier drinking, advises Clive Coates MW
Secondly, the wines evolve fast. The whites are ready after a year or 18 months in bottle, the reds soften and mellow a few years after that.
And they will keep. The 2010 and 2009 whites are holding up well. And I still have 2002 reds in my cellar, which are delicious.
The Côte Chalonnaise spans five communes, beginning to the southeast – and closer to the River Saône – of Santenay, the southernmost commune of the Côte d’Or. The soil is largely crumbly limestone, without the hard rock found in the Côte de Nuits and in Chassagne-Montrachet, mixed variously with clay, gravel and sand, and with marl on higher slopes, this latter absent in the Côte d’Or.
Travelling from the south upwards, we come first to Montagny. This is a Chardonnay-only appellation, the Pinot Noir being merely Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise.
Historically any Montagny with an alcohol of 11.5% or more could call itself premier cru, but this was changed in 2004. Yet most of the vineyards are still entitled to this superior level: 202 hectares of a total 306ha. There are 21 climats classified as premiers crus. Two-thirds of the production comes from the local co-op in Buxy. Once in the maw of the co-op, it is difficult and costly to extract oneself. Only at death or retirement does this become possible. Yet some have done so, including some of the more enterprising individual estates.
Best growers: Stéphane Aladame; Laurent Cognard; Françoise Feuillat-Juillot
Domaine Françoise Feuillat-Juillot, Les Coères 1er Cru 2013
Rich, full, poised, pure and profound. This is excellent.
Price: £17.90 Thorman Hunt, Vin Cognito
Domaine Stéphane Aladame, Sélection de Vieilles Vignes 1er Cru 2013
Lovely ripe nose showing understated oak. Plenty of depth and style. Delicious.
Price: £16.58-£18.50 Goedhuis & Co, Liberty Wines, Montrachet, OW Loeb
The next village north is Givry, best known – and deservedly so – for its reds. A decade or more ago the whites were linear and charmless. Today they are a lot better, and in the best cases at least the equal of those of Mercurey, if not as delicious as those of Rully. But the reds, with an earthy yet round character and medium body, show a seductive fruit which matures after three or four years.
The appellation extends over the neighbouring villages of Poncey and Jambles, but the best wines come from an extensive slope above the village. Of the 25 premiers crus, look out for Servoisine, and even better the Clos Jus, whose wines which remind me a little of Chambolle-Musigny. In total the appellation measures 269ha, of which 120ha is premier cru.
Best growers: Guillemette et Xavier Besson; Domaine du Cellier aux Moines; Domaine Chofflet- Valdenaire; Jean-Marc Joblot; François Lumpp; Vincent Lumpp; Nicolas Ragot; Domaine du Clos Salomon
Domaine François Lumpp, Clos Jus 1er Cru 2013
Quite rich and oaky, but the latter is not exaggerated, allowing vigorous, succulent fruit to sing out. Lovely. It would be a pity to open this too early.
Price: £29.95 Berkmann, Georges Barbier, Lea & Sandeman, Thorman Hunt
Domaine Joblot, Servoisine 1er Cru 2013
Ripe, substantial, and a very high class wine. Splendid quality. The new oak (70%) does not dominate at all.
Price: £24 Big Red Wine Co, Hallgarten Druitt, Vin Cognito
Domaine Guillemette et Xavier Besson, Les Grands Prétans 1er Cru 2013
Splendidly rich nose. Good depth and substance. Summer pudding flavours. Very good grip. Fine.
Price: £19.80 Raeburn
Domaine Chofflet-Valdenaire, Clos Jus 1er Cru 2013
Splendid ripe, rich fruit. Lots of vigour. Long, pure and multi-dimensional. Fine.
Price: £22 Amps, Harveys, Stone Vine & Sun
Mercurey is really quite extensive, with 646ha, of which 168ha is premier cru. (To put his in context, Meursault, a big village, covers 439ha. Puligny-Montrachet, one of the smaller ones, 220ha.) The vines lie north of the road that connects Chalon and Autun, and also to the south, in the village of St-Martin-sous-Montaigu. The latter produce firmer and more rustic wines than the former. Overall we find more volume and, at their best, more depth than in Givry – as such, wines from Mercurey are marginally more expensive.
There are 32 premiers crus. The best of these are Combins, Champs Martin, Clos des Barraults, Les Naugues and Clos l’Eveque, from north of the village, and Clos de Roi and En Sazenay from the other side. As in the Côte d’Or, you will find these in mid-slope.
Best growers: Château de Chamirey; Philippe Garrey; Michel Juillot; Bruno Lorenzon; Philippe Menand; François Raquillet; de Suremain; Theulot-Juillet
Domaine Bruno Lorenzon, Champs Martin 1er Cru 2013
Whole-cluster vinification. Gently oaky, allowing sumptuous ripe cherry fruit to flood out. Has grace and persistence.
Price: £36.75 (2012) Lea & Sandeman
Domaine de Suremain, Clos l’Evêque 1er Cru 2013
This is a classic. Quite firm but expansively rich. Very good grip. Profound and complex.
Price: N/A UK www.domaine-de-suremain.com
Domaine François Racquillet, Les Naugues 1er Cru 2013
Splendid, rich, concentrated fruit. Abundant and harmonious. A fine, classy wine.
Price: £24.95 Lea & Sandeman, Thorman Hunt
Château de Chamirey, Les Cinq 1er Cru 2013
A blend of five of the estate’s premiers crus, assembled at the end of their maturation. Rich, fat and opulent. There’s plenty of fine new oak here.
Price: £55 Montrachet Fine Wine
Continuing north, we hit Rully – historically, and still, a major source for the grapes made into Crémant de Bourgogne, the local sparkling wine. Its great attraction is its white wines. The reds can be good, occasionally very good, but for me Rully stands out as a white wine commune, and these are not only the best in the Côte Chalonnaise, but very often preferable, at a much more interesting price, to a lot of what the Côte de Beaune offers.
We find here a suppleness of fruit, a flowery minerality and a purity which is wholly admirable, and within a delicate but intense structure that makes them quite delicious at two to four years after the vintage. There are 350ha planted, and 23 premiers crus. Look out for the following: La Pucelle, Grésigny, Meix Cadot, Montpalais and Champs Cloux.
Best growers: Stéphane Briday; Vincent Dureuil-Janthial; Domaine de la Folie; Christophe Grandmougin; P & M Jacqueson; Jaeger-Defaix; Erell Ninot; Jean-Baptiste Ponsot
Domaine Paul et Marie Jacqueson, La Pucelle 1er Cru 2013
My favourite wine from the Côte Chalonnaise. This is a splendidly laid-back and elegant example – impeccably balanced and absolutely delicious. The 2012 is wonderful too.
Price: £20.75-£21 Lea & Sandeman, Thorman Hunt
Domaine Vincent Dureuil, Le Meix Cadot Vieilles Vignes 1er Cru 2013
From vines planted in 1920. Marvellous, profound fruit on the nose. Full and multi-dimensional on the palate. Quite brilliant. And it will keep.
Price: £25.75 OW Loeb, Thorman Hunt
Domaine Jean-Baptiste Ponsot, Montpalais 1er Cru 2013
The vines are 60 years old here, and they lie above the La Pucelle 1er Cru. Fullish, balanced, mineral. ‘My objective is purity,’ says Jean-Baptiste Ponsot. He’s certainly got it here.
Price: £20-£25 Domaine Direct, Smiling Grape Co
Finally we arrive in Bouzeron. It is an appellation for Aligoté grapes only, but note that the word Aligoté does not appear on the label. Nor are there any first growths. The Pinots and Chardonnays are simply Bourgogne Rouge or Blanc, Côte Chalonnaise. The 55ha of Aligoté lie on both sides of a north-south valley just south of the town of Chagny, and the best sub-variety is Aligoté Doré. From the cellars of those such as Aubert and Pamela de Villaine this is a lovely wine, with a crisp, racy, individual flavour and heaps of personality.
Best grower: A & P de Villaine
Bouzeron Domaine A & P de Villaine, Blanc 2013
Made from Aligoté. I list this, not because the 2013 is brilliant: it isn’t. But the 2012 is, and still available. And yet the yield in this vintage was the usual 45hl/ha, while in 2013 it was 28hl/ha. Snap up the 2012 while stocks last.
Price: £21.95 (2012) Corney & Barrow, Vin Cognito
It seems like extolling a bicycle in a garage of Harley Davidsons, but I urge you to explore the Côte Chalonnaise. You won’t regret it.
Clive Coates MW has been writing for Decanter since its inception in 1975, and wrote in one of the earliest issues on the Côte Chalonnaise. Keep posted as we build up to the Decanter 40th anniversary.