The hill of Corton is the most dramatic looking set of vineyards in the Cote de Beaune, but almost as impressive are those found at the regions southern most tip. As the vineyards of Santenay roll southeast away from the main motorway into the appellation Maranges, the hill rises sharply and stretches into an intimidating slope. The vines loom over a quiet valley, which has the feel of a forgotten world. Nestled at the top of the hill where the vineyards give way to the forest, is the village of Dezize. Farther down at the base of the hill is the similarly sized Sampigny, and further east towards Santenay is Cheilly.
Abandoned mine shafts litter the hills surrounding the villages. At the center of Cheilly is a church whose capacity is three times that of the current congregation. An ancient chapel had stood at the same location, but it was torn down as the population swelled in the late 19th century. The mining industry had attracted workers to the village and the valley bustled with activity. However, the population dried up as the mines closed and viticulture became the main occupation. Negociants regularly descended on the area to buy its robust wine to beef up their regional blends, but the area lacked an identity. In 1988, the three villages joined together to increase their exposure and created the Maranges appellation. Each village also added the name of the appellation to their own. Although Maranges is better known today, it remains one of Burgundy’s overlooked gems.
Maranges borders the vineyards of Santenay as they curve to the east at the base of the Cote de Beaune. Officially, Maranges is located in the Saone-et-Loire and is not a part of the Cote d’Or. Despite this odd administrative classification, the appellation is considered to be in Cote de Beaune. Vineyards once covered the slopes to the south and east of the Cheilly, but, today, only scattered vines are visible amongst the trees. These vineyards are classified as Hautes-Cotes de Beaune or Bourgogne. The best sites in Maranges, which are classified as premier cru, extend from the top of the great hill to the base of the slope. La Fussiere is the largest and most well known vineyard of the appellation. A tiny parcel at the center of the hill within Fussiere is called Clos de la Fussiere. The soil in this area of the hill is mineral and produces full-bodied wines with good acid structures. Four premier vineyards lie at the base of the slope: Le Clos de Rois, Les Clos Roussots, Le Clos des Loyeres, and Clos de la Boutiere. These are rarely bottled individually.
The most prestigious site in Maranges is La Croix Moines (the cross of the monks), a tiny parcel located at the very top of the great hill’s southern end next to Dezize. Legend has it that La Croix Moines was the first vineyard planted on the slope. Flint and very fine limestone are found in the vineyard and this unique soil gives the wines a distinctive character. La Croix Moines produces wines of greater elegance than those from Fussiere and they avoid the rustic quality that is often found in the wines of the appellation. In top vintages, a wine from La Croix Moines can rival the best of the Cote du Beaune and the vineyard is treated like a grand cru by the few producers that make it.
Traditionally, the red wines from Maranges were rather rustic and, in a difficult year, slightly herbaceous. While these qualities made the wines difficult to sell on their own, the negociants prized their rich textures and dark color. The wines are ideal for blending with lighter ones from other Cote de Beaune villages. Because of this tradition of blending, Maranges used to be rarely seen on labels. In recent years, as the price for Burgundy has increased, ambitious young growers have put more effort into growing the best grapes possible and making more refined wines. The wines often still lack polish but the best can stand alone and are charmingly honest. Although Maranges is in many ways a bastard stepchild in Burgundy, its unique villages and wines are worth exploring.