Corton is the grand cru appellation covering the slopes of the Montagne de Corton hill in the Côte de Beaune district of Burgundy. It is the largest grand cru vineyard in Burgundy, and is one of only two where wines are made from both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (the other is the Musigny vineyard). Corton's wines were a favourite of the Emperor Charlemagne, who lends his name to the white wines made on the western side of the hill.
The vineyard covers 145 hectares (360 acres) of land across the communes of Aloxe-Corton, Ladoix-Serrigny and Pernand-Vergelesses, which surround the hill. As in Chablis' grand cru vineyards, any mention of the Corton title on a label 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. The Perrières vineyard is known for its fine reds, Les Vergennes for its flinty whites and the reds of Clos du Roi for their balance of power and elegance.
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 that flows north from Beaune. The top of the lozenge-shaped hill is covered in dense woodland, known as the Bois de Corton. Recently rumours have surfaced that the woodland was to be sold for the planting of further vineyards, alarming many producers who feel this could radically alter the mesoclimate on the hill.
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 that 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-Charlemagne is considered to be one of the finest of Burgundy's white wines 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. The wines from Corton are highly respected and can achieve high prices, although are not quite so prestigious as the wines from Montrachet or Romanée-Conti.
Corton was given its grand cru status in 1937, around the same time as most of Burgundy's other famous grand cru sites. However, Corton's reputation goes back much further – wines were first made here during Charlemagne's rule, which ended in AD814. 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.
Corton's vines were tended by the monasteries in the area from the Middle Ages, and much of the vineyard was confiscated during the French Revolution and sold. Today, the vineyard is owned by a number of famous producers including Louis Latour, the largest landholder, as well as Bonneau du Martray, Bouchard Père et Fils and the Hospices de Beaune.