With its three musketeers of Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault, alongside the imperial Corton-Charlemagne, the Côte de Beaune is home to the finest Chardonnays in the world. It has 7 of Burgundy’s 8 white Grand Crus, along with a single red Grand Cru. Ironically though, much more red wine than white is made in this southern half of the Côte d’Or (‘golden slope’).
Stretching 30km south past the town of Beaune to Cheilly-lès-Maranges, the Côte de Beaune has a more expansive feel and gentler slopes than the Côte de Nuits. Its finest Chardonnays are characterized by an incomparable intensity, complexity and finesse, while its Pinot Noirs generally have softness and finesse as their calling cards. The best reds come from Beaune, Pommard and Volnay, and the powerful Grand Cru of Corton.
As in the Côte de Nuits, the fragmentation of the Côte de Beaune’s vineyards brings the single biggest hurdle for any wine lover; namely the unpredictability of its wine. The human factor is paramount, and sadly too many lazy or unscrupulous growers and merchants have produced disappointing wines from some of the region’s greatest names while their more talented and quality-minded neighbours craft exquisite examples from the same terroir. Happily, quality is higher than it has ever been here and organic and biodynamic methods are increasingly popular, especially amongst the younger generation.
Wines labeled ‘Beaune’ come from the appellation adjoining the town while those labeled Côte de Beaune (red or white) come from a group of vineyards on the hill above. Côte de Beaune Villages is a red wine that can be made from a number of lesser, named villages in the region while Hautes-Côtes de Beaune (mostly red) is produced from vineyards in the hills to the west of the appellation, divided in two by St Romain. These tend to be light but often fine wines, especially in hot years like 2003 and 2005.