By and large, this 17 mile stretch of land is Pinot Noir’s holy grail. (I insert here a quick plug for the Côte de Beaune, whose top reds easily rival those of the Côte de Nuits but often aren’t as lauded. This may be because they favor restraint to power. If Burgundy isn’t about subtlety, haven’t we missed the point? I digress….)
From south to north, here are my notations on the Côte de Nuits’ major villages.
Photo courtesy of Megan Mallen via Flickr/cc
Nuits-St.-Georges is cleanly broken into sides, the south and the north. In the language of those intimate with Burgundy, plots lying south of Nuits (referencing the town, not the entire AOC area) are referred to as “Nuits-Premeaux” while those north of town are denoted “Nuits-Vosne”. The differences between the two sides are undeniable yet equally delightful for their own reasons.
The southern, Premeaux side yields wines that tend to be more rambunctious yet more age-worthy. The northern, Vosne side produces wines that are refined and elegant, like the adjoining village of Vosne-Romanée. It is worth taking the time to pick out a top producer from Nuits-St.-Georges as the success of many vignerons in the village has led to too much lackluster wine tagging onto the tails of the best – or even better – producers. Wines from this well-recognized appellation can be characterized as being filled with black fruits, light animal notes and – for Pinot Noir – brusque tannins. A bad boy, if you will.
Once again, here’s a wine appellation that quasi-encompasses two villages. The village level appellation covers territory in its eponymous town as well as the next-door Flagey-Echézeaux. Villages aside, the critical vineyards here sit on the mid-slope where the Grand Crus reside, all eight of them, with two in Flagey-Echézeaux.
Here, the minutiae of terroir and microclimate parade their full colors: the wee ditch between vines or the 3 percent difference in slope grade radically change the resulting wines. Even amongst the Premier Crus, there are clear variations between the qualities of different rows and parcels of vines. Regardless, Vosne-Romanée is home to some of the most graceful and simultaneously powerful Pinot Noir in the world, abounding with red fruits and truffles.
Vougeot is one of the more confusing appellations of Burgundy. The village is dominated by its huge clos (a walled-in vineyard) that is blessed as a Grand Cru (Clos de Vougeot is listed on the label). However, village level wines bear almost the same name (with a simple Vougeot indication). Then, there is the fact that only about 1/3 of the Grand Cru clos is arguably grand, sitting on the highest portion of the site. Yet again, it pays to go with a trusted producer versus the fame of the appellation. Taste-wise, Vougeot shares characteristics with Nuits-St.-Georges, just double the power and with a pinch of finesse.
The chalk-ridden soils of Chambolle-Musigny make “pretty” wines, always dressed up with red cherry “rouge” and rosy “lip-stick.” While not always the longest-lived Grands Crus (and mind you they do live quite long anyway), these are surely where we find the most aching heartthrobs. The slope of the marvelous Musigny Grand Cru is impressively steep, requiring the replacement of downward-directed soil deposits from time to time. Both Grand Cru are splendidly scented with Musigny leaning to the ethereal and Bonnes Mares to the muscled. Cross-comparing village levels from Nuits and Beaune, Chambolle-Musigny and Volany bear many resemblances.
If there is a “sidelined” appellation of these Côte de Nuits heavy-hitters, it is Morey-St.-Denis. Morey offers five Grand Cru (one shared, surely not surprisingly by now, with Chambolle-Musigny). Unusually, two of these are monopoles, or entirely owned by one producer. However, the Morey-St.-Denis character is caught somewhere between Chambolle and Gevrey, making it less uniquely distinctive. Its figurative position “on the bench” can make its wines marginally more attractive in price, depending on the producer. Generally, the wines favor Chambolle in their structure and Gevrey in their flavors.
Gevrey-Chambertin is a powerhouse. It not only has the most Grands Crus of all communes in Burgundy, but also the largest red Premier Cru production. It also has, as you might be guessing, a lot of cross-over in terms of naming (ex. Charmes-Chambertin can be Mazoyères-Chambertin). Gevrey’s wines tend to be deep in color, rich in flavor and sturdy with tannin.