The Monopoly Vineyards Of Nuits-Saint-Georges

The appellation of Nuits-Saint-Georges divides neatly into three parts. North of the town the vines continue up to Vosne-Romanée; Nuits' Boudots marches with Vosne's Malconsorts. South of the town lies the heart of Nuits-Saint-Georges, which includes the climats of Pruliers, Poirets (or Porrets), Cailles, Vaucrains and Les Saint-Georges itself, after which the commune takes its suffix. South of here, the commune comes to its end, but the wines of its neighbour, Prémeaux-Prissey, are entitled to be called Nuits-Saint-Georges. This is the third sector. Strangely, much of this area consists of monopoly vineyards. The wines neither have the finesse of those of the northern part of the appellation, nor the concentration of the middle section, but they have no shortage of depth. They also show the advantage of the individuality that comes from their being monopolies and made on a larger scale than some of their counterparts to the north.

Why there should be eight monopoly vineyards out of twelve in this part of Burgundy is not clear. The fact that most are Clos might suggest an ecclesiastical origin, in this case the Cistercians at their nearby monastery of Citeaux. But it would seem that their influence had evaporated well before the revolution. The vines may have been technically the property of the church, but the leading bourgeios families were firmly in charge.

In fact, according to local historians such as Jean-François Bazin, the 'clos' are 19th centuary inventions. Indeed, as a glance at books on Burgundy written in the middle 19th century will show, few can claim to have been monopolies since the outset. Most were divided then, and are only now monopolies because they have since been reconstituted under a single owner.

Immediately below Les Saint-Georges lies Les Didiers. This has been owned by the Hospices de Nuits since the 1920s. Like its larger Beaune equivalent the wines are made by the Hospices, but then sold at auction – in this case on the Sunday before Easter – to be eventually matured and bottled by the local merchants. Standards can vary therefore, depending on the competence of the négociant, and as with the Hospices de Beaune wines, the end product can be over oaked. But Didiers is usually fullish, rich and sturdy, and very good indeed. The purchaser has the option of three cuvées: from the old vines, planted in the 1950s, in which case there is a corresponding young vine blend (these date from 1981); or an assemblage of the entire vineyard.

We then come to the AXA-owned monopoly of Clos des Forêts-Saint-Georges. Their first vintage was 1987. This is one of the bigger vineyards in Prémeaux. The domaine is biodynamic. The wines are made by whole cluster vinification, macerated at quite a low temperature, and I often find the taste of the stems very obvious, especially as the wine is by no means a blockbuster. But it keeps well and becomes more sophisticated in bottle.

Forêts then gives way to Aux Perdix, another monopoly, in mid-slope, with Aux Corvées, part of which is a monopoly, below, and Les Terres Blanches, not a monopoly and a recent (1985) promotion to premier cru, above. Aux Perdrix has been owned by the Devillard family, large landowners in Mercurey in the Côte Chalonnaise, but with a fine domaine here in the Côte d'Or, since 1996. The fruit is destemmed entirely. There is treading down but no pumping over. I find it excellent. I have several vintages in my cellar. Since 2006, an old-vine bottling, from a third of a hectare of vines planted in 1922, has been declared.

Corvées means a thankless task (was ploughing here so much more arduous than next door?) and the vineyard is divided up between the Clos des Corvées, the monopoly responsibility of Henri Roch, of the Domaine Pieuré-Roch, since 1995, Corvées-Pagets (not a monopoly) and the Clos Saint-Marc, a monopoly made by Patrice Rion. In the past I have been unconvinced by Henri Roch's wines, but today his Clos des Corvées produces three different cuvées and that bottled under the Clos label is a better wine.

The Clos Saint-Marc is a recent acquisition by the Domaine Michèle et Patrice Rion. Their first vintage was 2006. The vineyard has recently gone biodynamic, the fruit is destemmed and the wine is not racked until it is time for the preparation for bottling. Very good wines here.

Incidentally, should you seek Les Corvées-Paget, the most inportant and reliable source is the Domaine Arnoux-Lacheux in Vosne-Romanée.

The Clos des Grandes Vignes lies below the bottom end of Corvées, and is the only premier cru on the east side of the main road. This used to be the monopoly of the Domaine Charles Thomas. Since 2006 it belongs to the Château de Puligny-Montrachet. Once again biodynamic, and since 2008 not destemmed. Another great success. A part of the vineyard has now been t-grafted with Chardonnay.

Adjacent to the premier cru is a little village Grandes Vignes. This is owned by the Domaine Daniel Rion.

The next vineyard is the non-monopolistic Les Argillières, beyond which is the Clos de l'Arlot. Here the Côte d'Or is at its steepest and narrowest, the distance east-west hardly 400 metres. Arlot belongs, like Fôrets, to the insurance group AXA (and has done so since 1986), and it is from this climat that their Côte d'Or estate takes its name. The red wine is similar to Fôrets, but lighter. There is also a by no means insignificant area under Chardonnay, which I find individual and delightful.

Incidentally, the Château de l'Arlot, which lies directly on the main road, is one of the few really fine pieces of architecture in the neighbourhood. It dates from the 18th century. A hundred years later a fantastic folly was creatcd out in the shady garden behind the château, full of weathered sculptures, box hedges and lovers' niches.

Last, but not least, lies the Clos de la Maréchale. For 50 years, up to 2003, this was the responsibility of merchants Faiveley, but then the lease came to its end and the Chambolle-Musigny-based Mugnier family took over the charge of this big vineyard. If anything goes to prove that however much the locals go in for a hands off approach, such hands do make a significant difference, the evidence is here. Big, beefy wines under Faiveley; lighter, more fragrant and elegant wines under Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier. There is now a little white wine. Incidentally we have no idea who the lady marshal, or indeed her husband, was. There are various conjectures, but according to sources more expert that I, these suggestions are all unfounded.

From the top of Les Didiers to the bottom of the Clos de la Maréchale, at which the appelltion of Nuits-Saint-Georges comes to its end, is a distance of just over two kilometres. The soils obviously vary. Up at Didiers the slope is quite flat. The soil is brown and chalky, with calcareous gravels from the Bathonian and red clay-like silts. A tittle further south the land becomes steeper and in mid-slope the earth is quite deep, brown or yellow-brown in colour, and mixed with sand and clay and stones of different origins, mainly oolitic. The base rock is very hard, as is evidenced by the marble quarries to the south, the so-called pink Comblanchien limestone. This essential character of the soil is interrupted by the Clos de l'Arlot, as is the slope itself, which is bent backwards and contains a significant proportion of sand. It then returns in the Clos de la Maréchale, but here the inclination is once again flatter.

I sampled the full set of the 2007 and 2006 vintages of the vineyards above in November 2009. The value judgements should be understood as within the context of the vintage.

Didiers

Owner: Hospices de Nuits. Winemaker: Jean-Marc Moron. Surface Area: 2.40 ha..

2007

Good colour. Nice and vigorous on the nose. Plenty of substance here. Ripe, good tannins, very good grip. This has lovely fruit and there is absolutely nothing weak about it. Very good indeed. From 2014.

2006

Very good colour. Rather more markedly oaky than the 2007 on the nose. Less so on the palate. Medium-full body. Attractive plump fruit. Good grip. Stylish and even concentrated. Plenty of wine here. Nice and round. Very good indeed. From 2015.

N.B. There was no indication of either the cuvée nor the bottler on the label.

Clos des Forêts

Owner: AXA Millésimes. Winemaker: Olivier Leriche. Surface Area: 7.20 ha..

2007

Medium colour. Soft nose. Ripe, not too stemmy. Medium to medium-full weight. A little tannin. Decent fruit on the palate, but with a touch of astringency on the finish. But the after-taste is positive. Good. From 2012.

2006

Good colour. Spicy nose, with a touch of the stems. Medium-full body. Ripe, ample, fat, even rich. Good grip. Plenty of depth and substance here. Long. Very good. From 2014.

Perdrix

Owners: Devillard family. Winemakers: Amaury Devillard/Robert Vernizeau. Surface Area: 3.45 ha..

2007

Medium colour. Fresh nose. But without the backbone and concentration of the wine below. Medium to medium-full body. Ripe and stylish, quite forward but fragrant and elegant. Nice balance. Good plus. From 2012.

2007, Les Huit Ouvrées

Good colour. Splendidly ripe, concentrated nose, with a touch of new oak. Fullish body. Good tannins. Very good grip. This is youthful and profound. Fine quality. From 2015.

2006

Good colour. Not a lot of personality on the nose at first. Better on the palate. But nevertheless a little lean and astringent. Medium to medium-full body. Lacks a bit of charm. Good at best. From 2014.

2006, Les Huit Ouvrées

Very good colour. Lovely concentrated nose. Pure, succulent. Very good tannins. Very good grip. A fullish wine, especially for 2006, with a lovely ample character and lots of depth. Fine plus. From 2016.

Clos des Corvées

Owner: Domaine Prieuré-Roch. Winemakers: Henri Roch/Patrick Jollet. Surface Area: 5.21 ha..

2007

Good colour. Soft, spicy, stemmy nose. Medium weight. Very ripe on the palate. A certain astringency, but not weak. Nor rustic. Decent balance and grip. Good. From 2012.

2006

Medium colour. Some development. Rather a weedy, stemmy nose. Was this bottled a bit late? Better on the attack, which shows fruit. But not much freshness or depth. Quite good at best. From 2012.

Clos Saint-Marc

Owner: Domaine Michèle et Patrice Rion. Winemaker: Patrice Rion. Surface Area: 0.93 ha..

2007

Medium colour. Light but fragrant nose. Medium body. Plump, attractive, fruity attack. But then it tails off a bit. Fresh and stylish at the end though. Decent length. Good plus. From 2012.

2006

Good colour. Fresh nose. Plump; succulent and most attractive. Medium-full body. Good tannins. Very stylish, complex and harmonious. Plenty of depth. Lovely fruit. Fine. From 2015.

Clos des Grandes Vignes

Owner: Chàteau de Puligny-Montrachet. Director: Etienne de Montille. Surface Area: 2.12 ha..

2007

Medium colour. Fresh, ripe, stylish, fragrant nose. Medium to medium-full body. Good grip and intensity. I would have liked a bit more concentration and weight. But this has plenty of depth and personality. Very good. From 2013.

2006

Medium-full colour. Not a lot on the nose at first. Medium-full body. Soft, round and fruity. Fresh, complex and stylish. Not brilliant – it lacks the concentration – but very good indeed. From 2014.

Clos de l'Arlot

Owners: AXA Millésimes. Winemaker: Olivier Leriche. Surface Area: 4 ha., roughly half Pinot, half Chardonnay.

2007

Medium colour. Fresh, charming, fruity and stylish on the nose. No undue stems. Medium body. Not much tannin. Decent fruit. Somewhat one-dimensional but a pleasant bottle. The finish is positive. Quite forward. Good. From 2012.

2006

Fresh colour, but only light-medium. Soft, ripe, fruity nose. No undue stems. A little more to it on the palate. Yet quite forward nevertheless. Attractive though. Good. From 2012.

Clos de la Maréchale

Owner and Winemaker: Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier. Surface Area: 9.76 ha..

2007

Medium colour. Lovely fragrant nose. Unexpectedly elegant. Chambolle-ish too. Medium body. Very intense. More concentrated than it seems at first. Lovely fruit. Long and complex. Very classy. Very good plus. From 2012.

2006

Good youthful colour. Only medium-full weight yet a lot of vigour, intensity and depth. Even concentration. Very classy fruit. Fullish on the palate. Good tannins. Harmonious, fresh and succulent. Lovely. From 2015.