This blog post is from our anniversary trip in September, 2017
Upon entering Burgundy wine region (Bourgogne) one of the worlds great wine regions you can’t help but be transported back in time while perusing some of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the world. The region is located southeast of Paris only a couple hours drive from the city of lights. It is a highlight of any trip to France, even if you are only heading to Paris for a few days. The majority of the region is located along a fault scarp, basically an eastern facing hill formed when an earthquake in the area pulled the earth apart, otherwise known as an extensional or normal fault, causing a large portion of the earth to drop.
This faulting event exposed the limestone typically buried beneath other sediments in the area and brought to bear prime soils for growing grapes. The most prized land is the Corton-Charlemagne located on a hill once owned by the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne and is where the exposed limestone is lighter in color and is composed of oolitic limestone mixed with marl that appears nearly white. This limestone is what gives the wines their complex flavors and is a big part of the terroir of the region. The hill is positioned on a south facing slope to maximize the sun. The wine produced on this hill has been designed as a Grand Cru, the highest French wine designation and presumed to be the best wine in the region. France has strict rules for growing grapes known as the Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC); these rules designate that only chardonnay may be grown on the upper slopes of the Corton-Charlemagne (the lower slopes are designated for Pinot Noir).
The reason that the upper slopes are designated for Chardonnay grapes is steeped in history. Charlemagne spent a fair amount of time in the area near the end of his reign and was known to enjoy wine. Using the native grapes from the area he ordered that red grapes (Pinot Noir) to be planted in the areas where the melt of snow and ice was first to occur, the assumption being that this was the warmest and best spot for his vineyard. Once the vineyard was established and Charlemagne began enjoying the wines there developed a problem, due to his advancing age, Charlemagne had developed a hand tremor which routinely caused spillage of the wine onto his beard. So as the story goes Charlemagne’s fourth wife didn’t want the king to be seen with red wine stains on his beard, so she ordered the red grapes to be removed and re-planted with another local grape the chardonnay grape. Making the stains on his beard far more presentable.
Whether you believe the story through the fog of history, it has an inescapable charm to it. Once we learned of the story Maddy and I sought out this hill and tasted wine at the Chateau de Corton Andre, one of the vinyards that still ferments the Corton-Charlemagne in the region. The hill is located just outside the city of Beaune. We parked our car and walked around the chateau gazing up the hill and then had a tasting of the white and red, so that we too could walk in the footsteps of the old king and sip wine from his hill.