By Catherine Down
Aloxe-Corton was the smallest of the villages that I visited on this road trip, with only a mayor’s office, a post office, a church, and a cooperative of winemakers’ tasting cave to its name. When I say tiny... we are talking approximately 134 residents tiny*. The winemaking reputation of this tranquil hamlet looms large and belies the small size of the village, however.
Our journey began in prime Pinot Noir territory in Gevrey-Chambertin and Nuits-Saint-Georges, and will finish with world-class whites in Meursault, but Aloxe-Corton is the only village in Burgundy known equally for both white and red Grand Crus wines. This is the place for equal opportunity drinkers as its unique geographic location straddling the area between the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits regions offers excellent Chardonnay and Pinot Noir alike.
The white Grand Cru, Corton-Charlemagne, is named after the Emperor Charlemagne. Legend has it that the first vines in the commune were red wine grapes planted by the Gauls on their return from Italy where they were first introduced to vinification, and that, in the late 8th century, Emperor Charlemagne was responsible for replanting his hills there with white wine grapes in order to avoid staining his flowing, white beard when drinking. Who would’ve imagined that his vanity would have such a long-lasting impact on the region?
Corton is the largest Grand Cru in Burgundy overall and encompasses vines from Aloxe-Corton and neighboring communes Pernand-Vergelesses et Ladoix-Serrigny. The famous, round Montagne de Corton hill is worth driving up for a stunning panorama looking out over the valley. Our spring visit was perfectly timed for when the pink magnolia trees blossomed. The sight of the blooming trees, fringed with delicate flowers, couldn’t have been more beautiful. As we wound our way through Pernand-Vergelesses, there’s a small church that’s worth a short pit stop before continuing further up the mountain for the view. You truly appreciate the terroir of the area from the top of the heavily forested limestone hill where you can gaze out upon the slopes of vineyards lower down and the villages below.
You can see pretty much all of Aloxe-Corton in a matter of minutes so you don’t need tons of time, but architecturally speaking, the village does not disappoint with three different charming châteaus: Château de Corton Grancey (Maison Louis Latour), Château Corton André, and Château de Corton (a private residence). The Château Corton André is particularly iconic in the region as an example of distinct Burgundian architecture with a vibrant multicolored roof. The colorful roof tiles in diamond shapes, aka the tuile vernissée de Bourgogne, are traditional throughout the region, most famously seen at the Hospices de Beaune. The tiles are made of terracotta, then covered in a ceramic glaze usually made of lead or tin. The amazing turreted building leaves a lasting image for visitors as it is visible from a distance along the Route des Grand Crus, its intricate rooftop peeping out across the vines.
* As of 2017