There is a saying in Burgundy, that ‘the habit does not make the monk.’ This won’t surprise anyone who knows the history of the wine-loving monks of Burgundy’s many abbeys. But it applies particularly in the case of one of the jewels in the crown of Burgundy wine – that of Chassagne-Montrachet, in the Côte de Beaune.
Its rough, rocky slopes may not be the most visually appealing part of this region, but there is no doubt of the universal appeal of the wines grown on them. The rocks here change quickly as height is gained, as do the soils. It’s true to say that the vineyards to the north of the village of Chassagne-Montrachet suit Chardonnay grapes better, with their finer, softer limestone. To the south of the village, Pinot Noir flourishes in the higher concentration of red gravel and marl. The habit may not make the monk, but the terroir sure does make the wine.
The Village appellation of Chassagne-Montrachet has, since its creation in 1937, been producing both red and white wines (mostly whites though). These include 55 Premiers Crus plots, and 3 Grands Crus: these are Montrachet, Batard-Montrachet and Criotsbatard-Montrachet. The white wines of this appellation are, to many minds, the best in the world (a title which should probably be shared with nearby Puligny). There are many names and many producers, and a little local knowledge goes a long way here. Elden Selections offers an impressive range of Montrachet wines, from the producers they’ve known and worked with for years.
Gilles Bouton took the reins of his maternal grandfather’s 9.6 acre domain in 1977 and has been producing wine such as his Voillenots Dessus Rouge (elegant, lively and bright), and the Voillenots Dessus Blanc (complex citrus notes and fresh, ripe peach) ever since, from his vineyard in the heart of Chassagne-Montrachet. He also makes his red 'Concis du Champs', whose firm acidity holds all its elements in a fine balance.
The Borgeot brothers, Pascal and Laurent, offer a great Champs de Morgeot which is lush and spicy, with a totally different spin on the Pinot Noir from further north in Volnay and Pommard. Then there are three fantastic white Premiers Crus – the 'Clos St Jean' (bright gold with sublime minerality); 'Chenevottes' (extremely bright with citric acidity and floral aromas); and finally their 'Morgeot' (dense, intense; verging on spicy with a silky finish - one of the great white Burgundies).
Agnes Paquet also makes a great single-vineyard 'Les Battaudes' Chassagne, from a vineyard just below the Premier Cru ‘Morgeot’, which is at the same time earthy in texture but also airy and elegant.
But it isn’t just wines from this region that are exported – the rock itself is too. The marble quarries here produced the well-known beige-pink stone used in the construction of the Trocadero in Paris, and also the famous pyramid of the Louvre art gallery. Nature gives in many ways.
The name Montrachet comes from the literal description of the hill, first used in the middle ages – Mont Rachaz – meaning ‘bald or bare mountain’. It seems that not a lot grew here at first other than thorns and weeds. How times change! And how much we owe to the foresight of the monks and lords who first saw the potential. The great writer Alexandre Dumas was a fan too, advising visitors to enjoy the land ‘on your knees with head uncovered’. An uncovered head would be fine here in summer, where the weather is typically continental, warm and dry. But the winters are a different story, and may be long and cold, with the risk of frost damage to the grapes.
Better, when the weather is adverse, to head to a local establishment and wash down some lunch with a bottle of something. With white wines as opulently powerful as these, you can enjoy them with curries, stir-fries or fish with cous-cous. Indeed, any shellfish or white meat will work. Reds are also powerful – choose grilled lamb, pork or spiced meats – and game is a great match, too.
We have many more fascinating articles and How To guides on our blog – including an exploration of the perfect Burgundy wine glass, and a look at the Pommard appellation. And don’t forget our Burgundy Wine Club, open for membership now!