The Côte de Nuits is the northern half of the escarpment of the Côte d'Or, named after its principal town of Nuits-St-Georges. This northern sector of the Côte d'Or produces the greatest red wines of Burgundy, from the Pinot Noir grape, and very occasional white wines. Côte d'Or is usually translated as 'golden slope', but in fact the name of Burgundy's glamorous heartland is an abbreviation of Côte d'Orient or 'eastern slope'. Both here in the Côte de Nuits and in its southern counterpart the Côte de Beaune, the best vineyards lie along a narrow band of limestone facing south-east to maximise exposure to the sun. Lower-lying vineyards with more clay drain less well and tend to produce less exciting wine.
The most basic wines, produced mainly from grapes grown on the lower slopes of the Côte de Nuits, are labeled with a generic appellation such as Bourgogne Passtoutgrains (in which Pinot's purity is customarily smudged by blending with the Gamay grape of Beaujolais) or Bourgogne Rouge or Blanc (often supplementarily labelled Pinot Noir or Chardonnay in a nod to New World practice). The regional appellation of Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Nuits produces marginally superior reds from, as the name suggests, the higher slopes above the escarpment of the Côte de Nuits.
A notch above these are the communal wines labeled Côtes de Nuits-Villages (which are usually red, produced in the smaller villages of Fixin, Brochon, Prémeaux, Comblanchien, and Corgoloin) and the more prestigious village wines, carrying as their appellation the name of the village in which they were made (eg simply Morey-St-Denis or Gevrey-Chambertin). They can provide some of Burgundy's most delicious drinking for the first three or four years after the harvest (especially in softer vintages) but should not be kept for much longer than this. The principal villages of the Côte de Nuits, from north to south, are Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St-Denis, Chambolle-Musigny, Vougeot, Vosne-Romanée, Flagey-Échézeaux, and Nuits-St-Georges.
In each village, sites with the potential to make distinctly superior wine (those with particularly favourable exposure and good drainage) were classified in the last century as premiers crus (Burgundy's answer to the Bordeaux 1855 classification) so that wines made from them inevitably carry a price premium which is sometimes, but not invariably, justified.
The best sites, accounting for less than 1% of Burgundy’s total production, are acknowledged grands crus and, in the right hands, make quite sumptuously concentrated wines which can benefit from many years' ageing in bottle. The reds can exhibit Pinot Noir's extraordinary range of textures as well as flavours. Some wines are weighty, others intensely elegant, but all should have concentration. Style depends in part on the character of the village: Gevrey-Chambertin, Vougeot and Nuits-St-Georges tend to produce robust, long-lived wines; Chambolle-Musigny and Vosne-Romanée epitomise finesse and elegance. Within each village, different vineyards display their individual characteristics according to the exact soil structure, elevation, and topography.