I recently did a small tasting with some friends of some Corton red wines so I thought that I would write a bit about it to help cement some of the things I learned. Corton is a grand cru appellation in Burgundy that is essentially in the middle of the Cote d’Or, between Nuits St George and Beaune. Probably better known for its white grand cru Corton Charlemagne, the reds of Corton can be somewhat of a mixed bag. That said, there is some truly grand cru terroir here and it is worth exploring. I’ll point you to the lieux-dits of Corton that I think are truly the cream of the crop and mention some of the better producers from each along the way.
Corton is the largest grand cru in Burgundy. Sadly, what this often means is that there has been some terroir included in the appellation that may be of questionable grand cru quality. That certainly holds true in Corton. I remember when I was relatively new to Burgundy, I found a Corton grand cru for less than the price of a typical 1er cru in a shop and I was pumped! It was one of the first grand crus I had ever bought and I blindly assumed since it said grand cru, that’s what I was getting. You can probably tell where this is going. The bottle was opened several years later and was not impressive. It was a huge disappointment to me at the time and for a time I didn’t purchase grand cru wines because I wasn’t sure they were worth it. If you’ve had a similar experience with Corton or other grand crus I can commiserate. What I have learned over the years is that there are grand cru level wines in Corton, you just have to be selective; and if you find a grand cru on the cheaper end of the spectrum, it is often not as good as the best 1er crus. In other words, the market is pretty good (certainly not perfect) at pointing you towards the best quality. Enough about that, let’s move on to exploring the sectors of Corton and where you are most likely to get the best wines!
A brief word about the general “style” of Corton. Classically this appellation has produced wines of significant structure and power. Many wines produced here take decades, not years to come around into a good drinking window. With warming climate and changing wine making I think this is less prevalent today, but Corton is still a bigger, riper, and more powerful grand cru than many. Also many Corton wines have a hint of game or sauvage on the nose that adds complexity. The fruit tends to be darker and riper and not quite as much minerality. That said, given the size of the appellation, obviously there are going to be significant variations throughout. I typically try to avoid drinking Corton, especially from the best areas for at least a decade and ideally longer for the best vintages.
Corton is divided into multiple different individual climats, in fact there are 26 different sections that can be named and a wine from Corton can simply be called Corton. A “generic” Corton may be a blend from different sections or simply one that the producer elected not to append the climat name. I’m going to focus on what I believe to be the highest quality climats: Corton le Clos du Roi, Corton les Bressandes, Corton Rognets, Corton Clos des Cortons-Faiveley, and Corton les Renardes. From my tasting experience and reading well known Burgundy authors, these are the areas that are most likely to provide a true grand cru experience. Many of the other areas of Corton certainly produce very good wines, but are often more comparable to solid or very good 1er crus. Luckily many of them are priced fairly so they are still worth finding and drinking, but your expectations should be slightly adjusted to prevent disappointment. I will also note that there are stellar wines simply labeled Corton, so don’t overlook these. However, I would probably do a bit of research to determine if possible what areas the wine came from before diving in.
Corton le Clos du Roi is regarded by many as the best section of Corton. If you look at a map it is high enough on the hill to provided good drainage and has underlying Bathonian limestone. The wines produced here are of grand cru density and power and often need a couple decades to come around. There are many high quality producers here which helps! I’ve had very good examples from Domaine de la Pousse d’Or and Chandon de Briailles. DRC also owns a portion of this which gives me confidence that the terroir is worthy of being a grand cru. These are generally the most expensive Corton’s on the market, but still reasonably priced for grand cru. So if you want to go straight to the best, this is probably where you want to start. Additional good producers here include Domaine de Montille, Domaine d’Ardhuy, and Comte Senard, the latter two often offering lower prices.
Corton les Bressandes also produces excellent wines that certainly warrant being grand cru. It is just below Clos du Roi with very good exposure. The wines here are a bit more elegant compared to Clos du Roi, but still with plenty of power and the ability to age many years. It is a large area at almost 42 acres, so it is not too difficult to find. Good producers to look for here include Chandon de Briailles, Comte Senard, Pousse d’Or, Joseph Drouhin, Tollot-Beaut, and Comte Senard. Franck Follin-Arbelet also makes a lovely Bressandes. Lastly, DRC owns a section of Bressandes which contributes to its blended Corton grand cru.
Corton le Rognet is one section I have no personal experience with other than Faiveley’s Clos des Corton-Faiveley which is within the upper section of Rognet. It is in the Ladoix area so is a bit further north along the hill, but similar slope position to Bressandes and Renardes. Based on my experience with Faiveley’s wine, if the rest of the vineyard is anywhere close, it definitely merits grand cru status and I would love to try some more! There are several excellent producers here including Meo-Camuzet, Michel Mallard, Taupenot-Merme, Bruno Clavelier, and Pierre Guillemot. I hope to try one soon.
Corton Clos des Cortons-Faiveley is a monopole of Domaine Faiveley, hence the name. It is a justifiably famous wine that can provide thrilling drinking. I had a bottle of the 2009 vintage in 2020 and it was simply stellar. Easily the best Corton I’ve ever had and in the top 10 red Burgundies I’ve had. Powerful and massive, yet still managing to feel elegant. These have become more expensive recently, but are probably worth a splurge at some point!
Corton Les Renardes sits above Bressandes and just north of Clos du Roi. Renardes is an excellent area and produces wines that I have always noticed a bit more sanguine and game meat on the nose. I personally enjoy that sauvage type of smell and taste so it s a bonus for me rather than off putting. If you do not enjoy that note, keep that in mind before buying a bottle of Renardes. The wines otherwise have lovely dark fruit and plenty of the classic Corton structure. I’ve had several good examples including wines from Domaine Maillard, Thibault Liger-Belair, and d’Ardhuy. The Maillard examples were particularly good and I tried the ’11 twice and the ’10. Several other excellent producers here including Michel Gaunoux, Capitain-Gagnerot, Parent, Bruno Colin, and Michel Mallard. Finally, both DRC and Domaine Leroy have parcels here. Leroy makes a Renardes bottling, while DRC blends it with the Clos du Roi and Bressandes to make their Corton. It certainly speaks well that arguably the two best producers in all of Burgundy have plots here!
As a brief honorable mention, I will also just say that Corton Perrieres, which is just to the south of Clos du Roi also produces some excellent wine. I recently drank a Meo-Camuzet Corton Perrieres that impressed me. So keep that one in your back pocket as well.
I have mentioned several producers in the sections above, but just to reiterate, here are some of my personal favorite Corton producers. Keep in mind obviously that I have not tried anywhere near all of the domaines that make Corton so there are likely stellar domaines that are not on this list.
Chandon de Briailles
Domaine de la Pousse d’Or
Domaine de Montille
As you can see there are several under the radar domaines on that list that can provide wonderful wines at pretty solid value. It has been interesting over the last 10 or so years to see domaines of renown from the Cotes de Nuits have begun to invest in Corton. I expect that this will improve the reputation of Corton over time, however at the end of the day, you will still have to be selective here! I hope you get the chance to try a few bottles of Corton and see what you think.
J. Newman, CSW