The Hill of Corton is ancient royalty in winemaking. Situated just south of the division between the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune, the Hill of Corton produces some of the most exquisite and long-lived wines in the world. The Hill itself is topped by a bois or forest, like a crown on a royal hill.
The south edge of the Hill of Corton, with Pernand-Vergelesses beyond the slope
Most of the hill to the south, with some additions on the eastern side, is Grand Cru. Dominated on the south and west sides by Le Charlemagne and En Charlemagne, these two appellations ride out the gentle slope from the top, hemming in most of the valuable sloping land on the hill. They in turn are surrounded by the appellation 'Grand Cru Corton', and then a raft of Premier Cru appellations.
On the Hill of Corton, looking north-east with Le Clos du Roi immediately behind
Why is this hill so famous/important? The hill is steeped in history (both real and imagined) but it is also in one of the prettiest wine regions in the world. There is a tendency for Burgundy drinkers and Burgundy connoisseurs to be seen in a strange light, but with all the tradition of the region, it's hard not to be drawn into the beauty of it all.
The famed Hill of Corton from Aloxe-Corton
There are many idiosyncrasies to Burgundy wines that it would be hard to know where to start with explaining this hill. So many things combine - the aspect and exposure means grapes ripen at different times, sometimes weeks apart. They are all tied together through the rich vein of minerals that runs through the earth under the vines. Wines from this hill are different - they are often straight-up, but minerally, powerful, and the fruit lies on a beautiful bed of minerals.
Aloxe-Corton, at the south east foot of the hill.
There is a who's who of producers with land in, on or around this hill, and it produces some exquisite wines, and wines that frankly take some adapting to. Mostly (and rightly) white wine dominates in these two main appellations, mostly because the awesome minerality fits best with powerful chardonnay as opposed to pinot noir.
Five guidelines for buying and enjoying wines from the Hill of Corton:
1. If buying from the 'En Charlemagne' or 'Le Charlemagne' areas, you get what you pay for. In other words, power, precision, minerality - all at a cost, of course!
2. Do your research - even though some wines are classified 'Grand Cru' (top of the pops), there are some that deserve this status more than others. Those that are the next step down, Premier Cru, often fully deserve that ranking.
3. The whole area is full of rules - impress your friends by knowing the ins and outs of the wine you're serving, and do justice to it!
4. It's all in the name - sometimes the name denotes history ('Les Languettes - 'the little tongues') and sometimes quality ('Clos du Roi' - 'King's walled-garden'). Know the details, appreciate the wine.
5. DO YOUR RESEARCH! It's easy to be swept away in the 'French wine is good wine' wave, but consider what you want from a wine before you buy. Burgundian wines are unique and often surprise New World (USA, Australia, South America etc.) drinkers who are used to different styles of the same grapes.
If you want to read more about Burgundy, I highly suggest getting a hold of Jasper Morris's series of e-books on Burgundy - they are indispensable!
Good drinking to you!