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Corton Grand Cru

Corton is the grand cru appellation covering the slopes of the Montagne de Corton hill in the Côte de Beaune district of Burgundy. The appellation was introduced in 1937 and covers land in the three communes of Aloxe-Corton, Ladoix-Serrigny and Pernand-Vergelesses, which surround the hill.

Although it is generally thought of as an appellation for red wines made from Pinot Noir, about 5% of Corton wines are pure Chardonnay, sold as Corton Blanc. Corton-Charlemagne is an entirely separate appellation, reserved uniquely for white wines from the western side of the hill.

The prestige of Corton wines is both historical and widespread, spanning the centuries from the reign of Emperor Charlemagne (768–814AD) to worldwide fame today. Charlemagne is reputed to have ordered the first white grape plantings on the western side of the hill – the idea being that the wines would not unattractively stain his white beard. Today, Corton (both red and white) ranks among the world's more expensive wines, although it does not reach the prices commanded by its Montrachet and Romanée counterparts.

Corton is the largest grand cru in Burgundy, in terms of both surface area (360 acres/145ha) and volume of wine produced; only Chablis Grand Cru approaches its scale. As with Chablis, the acreage covered by the appellation means that the Corton title is almost always followed by the name of the specific climat where the wine originated. With the variation in terroir around the Corton hill, the differences between these climats are noticeable. Perrières is known for its fine reds, Les Vergennes for its flinty whites and Clos du Roi for its balance of power and elegance. Rather appropriately, Les Renardes ("The Foxes") is known for its animal, gamey qualities.

The hill of Corton itself is a large outcrop of limestone, set slightly apart from the main Côte d'Or escarpment. It marks the northern end of the Côte de Beaune and the finish of the vineyard-strewn plain which flows north from Beaune. The top of the lozenge-shaped hill is covered in dense woodland, changing to vineyards at about 1,130ft (345m). Vines occupy the slopes of the hill for almost its entire circumference, although the grand cru rating covers only the southern half, sweeping majestically around from due east to due west. On the western side, the limestone soils are closer to the surface and this is reflected in the (mostly white) wines made from these vineyards. The eastern side is a touch warmer – being more exposed to the morning sunshine – and richer in the marlstone which is so well suited to Pinot Noir.

The classic Corton red wine is rich and relatively tannic, meaning that it is quite austere in its youth but develops well with age. Corton tasting notes often refer to flavours of violets, forest berries, leather and earthy notes. Corton Blanc is considered to be amongst the finest of Burgundy's whites and is famous for its combination of fruit flavours (figs and baked pears) and mineral character (flint) – the latter being particularly prevalent in wines from the cooler western slopes.

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