As the Côte de Beaune winds down at its southern end, there’s a pause in its majestic south- and east-facing slope. It then resumes, in a more broken fashion, with side valleys and interior secret sweet spots.
A succession of communes begins, and runs from north to south: Rully, Mercurey, Givry and Montagny, each with its own appellation, character and pleasure.
This is the Côte Chalonnaise, named after the city of Châlon-sur-Saône, out on the plain to the east.
It’s hard not to like the wines from this underappreciated region. Many are priced between $20–30, and it’s rare to see any climb above $50. Approachable and enjoyable, the reds are full of delicious, juicy, red-cherry Pinot Noir fruitiness, especially from Mercurey and Givry. The whites, meanwhile, sing of crisp minerality in Montagny and irresistibly soft texture in Rully.
But the Côte Chalonnaise is not just a source of affordable alternatives to better-known Burgundian bottlings. It’s a region to appreciate in itself, with its own range of flavors and a cast of growers and producers worthy of greater attention. Discover its distinct appellations and the wines to seek out now.
History and Energy
It may not have scenic drama, but Rully’s quiet charm delivers. Wines produced across the appellation’s 880 acres can easily age for up to a decade.
The three-mile slope of its east- and southeast-facing vineyards drops down gently to the Saône River plain. There are 23 premier crus here, which start in the north with Clos Saint-Jacques and end in the south with Margotée. A small village, with a medieval church and chateau, lies at the heart of the appellation, in a hollow among the vines.
Rich, mineral-driven whites predominate production with luscious spice and tropical fruit tones. In certain sectors, where there’s more clay in the soil, wonderfully fruity cherry- and berry inflected reds are the norm. The tannins are often soft, which means these wines only need about five years to reach peak maturity.
Domaine de la Folie showcases the mix of history and modern energy that’s at the heart of Rully’s renaissance. Situated on 32 acres at the northern end of the appellation, the estate’s wines display a cool character.
Clémence Dubrulle, who has run the estate since 2010 with her husband, Baptiste, says the wines exhibit, “strong minerality and freshness,” and still offer plenty of the typically rich Rully character.
Three generations live in the 18th-century chateau. On the top floor of the three-story structure is Clémence’s grandmother, while her parents live underneath. Clémence, Baptiste and their kids take residence on the ground floor.
Other estates exhibit a sense of dynamism and youthful energy. Domaine Ninot is run by young siblings Erell and Flavien Ninot; it regularly scores 90-plus points for its La Barre white and La Chaponnière red.
While many fine Rullys are produced by négociants in Beaune, about 30 minutes away, the appellation’s domaines are the ones that bring out the potential of the generous fruit in the reds and the fine balance of richness and crispness in the whites.
Domaine Michel Briday 2017 Gresigny Premier Cru (Rully); $43, 92 points. This is an impressive wine, packed with fruit and a textured character that promises great longevity. White fruits flavors are balanced by acidity and given further complexity by spicy accents. Drink from 2021. Vineyard Brands.
Domaine de Suremain 2016 En Sazenay Premier Cru (Mercurey); $51, 92 points. This is a wine for long-term aging, with rich tannins and impressive red fruits that promise a fine future. It comes from a well-exposed vineyard on the western edge of the village that begins the slope into the hills. Drink from 2023. Fruit of the Vines Inc.
Domaine Jeannin-Naltet 2016 Les Naugues Premier Cru (Mercurey); $60, 92 points. Ripe and dense, this fruit- and wood-flavored wine is bold and rich. The black fruits and tannins will allow the wine to age. A concentrated, limited-production wine, it will take a while to mature. Wait until 2023. T. Elenteny Imports.
Domaine Ninot 2016 La Chaponnière (Rully); $27, 90 points. Still young, this wine is rich, although it hasn’t yet revealed its true ripe colors. It has the weight and concentration to age well, with prominent tannins and black cherry flavors. Drink from 2022. Cynthia Hurley Fine Wines.
Joseph Drouhin 2017 (Rully); $27, 90 points. Still closed and young, this wine has potential for great development. The weight lends promise of a fine wine that will show its richness in the future. Drink from late 2020 or 2021. Dreyfus, Ashby & Co.
Domaine Faiveley 2016 Clos de Myglands Premier Cru (Mercurey); $51, 90 points. A wholly owned vineyard, called a monopole in Burgundy, this 14-acre parcel has produced a juicy wine full of red fruits and some firm tannins. Its bright flavors, acidity and structure are still young and the wine should age further. Drink from 2021. Frederick Wildman & Sons Ltd.
Where Reds Rule
Mercurey is the red-wine capital of the Côte Chalonnaise, a distinction it lives up to with some of Burgundy’s most attractive, cushioned and vibrant Pinot Noirs. The northern part of the appellation offers smooth reds of juicy cherry character and aging potential of five to seven years. More structured reds come out of the south, and carry black-fruit richness and generous tannins.
They can age well for 10 years, depending on the concentration and power of these two traits.
Mercurey’s long village street runs at the base of a valley, surrounded by a massive bowl of vines that rises up on three sides. With about 1,355 acres of Pinot Noir and just under 210 acres of Chardonnay, it’s the largest appellation in the Côte Chalonnaise and the second-largest appellation in Burgundy, after Chablis.
It’s also home to some impressive wines. Local domaines like Domaine de Suremain and Domaine Jeannin-Naltet have upped their game. And larger firms like Les Clos Rodet Antonin and Domaine Faiveley, helmed by young winemakers Anne-Laure Hernette and Julien Bordet, respectively, are in transition from négociants to vineyard owners.
“Mercurey was well known because of its easy-to-remember name,” says Amaury Devillard, part of that fifth generation. “Then, it became forgotten, a hidden treasure, but seen as making rustic wines. Today, with the considerable replantation of vineyards and the new generation, the reds are delicious for their freshness, balance and cherry fruits.”
In the cathedral-like surroundings of the newly reconstructed winery of Domaine Faiveley, Bordet agrees. “They can be a little wild with their spicy black fruits,” he says. “But they can also have charm. They used to be austere, now they are so friendly.”
Two wines stand out among the Faiveley Mercureys: the generous fruit of La Framboisière, planted on a former strawberry field, and the firm tannins of Clos des Myglands Monopole Premier Cru.
Aromatic and Fruity
Givry’s Pinot Noir, around 85% of the nearly 700 acres planted in the appellation, have a style somewhere between soft Rully and dense Mercurey, with aromas in abundance, plump berry sensations and ripe tannins. There are also some rich, tropical fruit-flavored whites.
The village of Givry is dominated by the domed church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, which gives a shock of Baroque exoticism, to this quiet market town with red-shingled roofs. Just to the west of the town, the vineyards rise up the hillside, in a classic Burgundian way, to wooded summits.
Domaine François Lumpp has a formidable reputation as one of the most exciting Givry producers. Founded in 1991, the Lumpp family estate encompasses 25 acres and seven red premier crus. Lumpp is proud of his small range of whites, which includes small-production Premier Cru bottlings like a tightly wrought Petit Marole and a richer Crausot.
However, it’s red wines like the Clos Jus Premier Cru, with its firm interior surrounded by opulent red fruits, and the structured and powerful Clos du Cras Long Premier Cru that have established the winery’s reputation.
The oldest winery in Givry, Domaine du Cellier aux Moines, also has some of the newest proprietors. Philippe Pascal, fresh from Champagne, bought this ancient Cistercian monastic estate in 2004 and began converting it to biodynamic viticulture. It now produces a powerful, ripe and aromatic red wine from the estate’s own-walled vineyard, Clos du Cellier aux Moines.
Unfortunately, there are still relatively few Givrys available in the U.S.
Stéphane Aladame 2016 Les Vignes Derrière Premier Cru (Montagny); $42, 93 points. This small premier cru in the south of the appellation gives this wine its taut texture and minerality. It has a tight structure that is crisp in a citrus fruit flavor. The wine needs time, and should not be opened before 2021. Becky Wasserman Selections. Cellar Selection.
Château de Chamilly 2016 Les Burnins Premier Cru (Montagny); $45, 93 points. From one of Montagny’s top premier cru vineyards, this is dense and textured as well as richly fruity. The fermentation followed by aging in wood have enhanced the wine’s complexity, offering pear flavors, a tight texture and a flinty edge. Drink from 2021. T. Elenteny Imports.
Chanson Père et Fils 2016 Givry; $24, 91 points. The tannins and density of this wine are serious, dominating the fruit at this stage. Later, they will serve to support the ripe berry flavors and acidity. This wine should develop well and be ready to drink from 2022. Vintus LLC.
Michel Sarrazin et Fils 2016 Clos de la Putin (Givry); $30, 91 points. A rich, full wine that’s packed with both tannins and generous black fruits, this has great potential. Its density is balanced by ample acidity and a crisp texture at the end that adds mineral complexity. Drink from 2022. North Berkeley Imports.
Vignerons de Buxy 2016 Domaine Laborbe Juillot Clos Marceaux Premier Cru (Givry); $40, 91 points. Bright fruits in this crisp, red berry-flavored wine. It comes from Domain Laborbe Juillot’s wholly owned clos. With tannins and smoky flavors to add complexity, the wine is just beginning to develop. Drink this rich wine from 2023. Ruby Wines Inc.
Laurent Cognard 2016 Les Bassets Premier Cru (Montagny); $46, 91 points. A full, ripe wine, this is rich in white fruits, but balanced by bright acidity. Produced in a vineyard close to Buxy, it has a taut edge, plenty of honey and lemon flavors, and a touch of toast. It’s developing well, and it should be ready from 2020. Craft + Estate–The Winebow Group. Cellar Selection.
Realm of Whites
Montagny is entirely devoted to Chardonnay and white wine production. It’s the style that varies throughout the appellation, although the hallmark of a fine Montagny is a tightrope balance between richness and freshness, with ripe yellow fruits that contrast taut crispness.
The appellation is located at the southern end of the Côte Chalonnaise, just before the long slope that starts 50 miles north ends and terrain tumbles into the Mâconnais. Of the appellation’s approximately 800 acres of vines, nearly 500 are planted in premier crus.
The principal village in the appellation is Buxy. Montagny is a hamlet to the west, officially called Montagny-lès-Buxy.
The Vignerons de Buxy cooperative dominates Montagny’s wine production, offering a range of wines.
Alain Pierre, the co-op’s winemaker, says that the appellation’s concentration on Chardonnay is “historical, and the tradition has remained.”
“There is no reason other than that,” he says. “The appellation is hardly unified, and Pinot Noir could grow well in some parcels.”
The cooperative’s premier cru wines are made to be enjoyed young, generally within 18 months of release. Its Montagny Premier Cru bottling is a blend of parcels that varies in each vintage, but it normally brings together the taut, mineral-laden profile from north-facing vineyards with the richer, fruit-driven character of south-facing vines.
Les Chaniots Premier Cru is the top Montagny from the cooperative, and is partially aged in new wood. The 2017 vintage release is full of ripe, spicy fruit cut by the cool, crisp acidity that seems common in Montagny.
Cognard’s is reached by a door in the massive wall under the castle, which reveals a chaotic cluster of barrels that produce a pure stream of beautiful wines like the honey, toast and citrus-laced Les Bassets Premier Cru bottling. Aladame’s taut yet yellow-fruit-forward Sélection Vieilles Vignes Premier Cru is a blend of old vines across his vineyards.