THE MONOPOLY VINEYARDS OF NUITS-SAINT-GEORGES

2009 and 2008

In November 2010, the owners of the monopoly vineyards of Nuits-Saint-Georges organized a tasting at the time of the Hospices, to present their 2006 and 2007 vintages. I wrote up the tasting and my report was published in the World of Fine Wine in their issue no. 31. Two years on a subsequent tasting took place, to feature the 2008 and 2009 vintages. Here are my notes of this occasion, together with background information.

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 the ecclesiastical influence had evaporated well before the revolution. The vines may have been technically the property of the church, but the leading bourgeois 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 exclusively 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. These are Cuvées Cabet, Duret and Fagon.

We then come to the AXA-owned monopoly of Clos des Forêts-Saint-Georges. This vineyard, together with the Clos de l'Arlot (see below) was acquired by Pierre Belin in 1929, and his heirs sold out to AXA in 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, all but a monopoly (one ouvrée belongs to someone else, but I have never seen it offered), 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 1995. 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, called Les 8 Ouvrées, has been declared.

Corvées mean taxes paid on earned invome by the peasants to the lord of the land. The plot was split up between several owners until Francois and Adolphe Geisweiler began to consolidate things in the 19th century. This was finalized by General Denis-Joseph Gouachon in the first third of the 20th century. The vineyard is divided up between the Clos des Corvées, the monopoly responsibility of Henri Roch, of the Domaine Prieuré-Roch, since 1995, Corvées-Pagets (not a monopoly) and the Clos Saint-Marc, a monopoly owned 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. This is the smallest of the local monopolies, and is named both from a small stream which flows out of the centre of the vineyard and the local patron saint. 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 belonged to the Château de Puligny-Montrachet, but in 2012 it was sold again, to the Domaine du Vicomte Liger-Belair. 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, having belonged to Jean-Charles Vienot in 1791, and then to his heirs, (and subsequently to Belin, as stated above), belongs, like Fôrets, to the insurance group AXA (and has done so since 1987), 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. The name comes from that of a little stream, which springs up at the bottom of the vineyard and flows into the river Courtaveaux a little futher down.

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. The average age of the vines is 45 years. There is now a little (six percent) white wine, as some of the vines, up in the north-west corner, were t-grafted from pinot to chardonnay in 2004.

This plot was originally entitled Clos des Fourches (fourches are gallows, where criminals were hanged) and was set up as a walled vineyard by Louis Champy in the 1820s. The Maréchale was in fact a male maréchal, Guillaume Stanislaus Marey-Monge, brother-in-law of Delphine Lemire who inherited this vineyard in 1863. In 1902, following the bankruptcy of a subsequent owner, a M. Benoit, a victim of a financial swindle, it was sold at auction.

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 era and red clay-like silts. The Clos Saint Marc has a quite deep red-brown soil on a layer of yellow marl, while above in the Clos des Argillières you will find shallow brown soil on top of the famous hard, pink Premeaux rock. 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 in the neighbouring village, 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.

The Tasting

I sampled the following set of the 2009 and 2008 vintages of the vineyards above in November 2012.

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

2009. Medium-full colour. Fresh, quite concentrated, oaky-fruity nose. Classy and succulent. Fullish body. Profound and vigorous. Jucier than the 2008. Very lovely fruit at the end. Fine plus. From 2024.

2008. Good colour. Lovely nose. Breed, depth and harmony here, on an oaky base. Less lush than the 2009. A little less weight, but firmer at the moment. Medium-full body. Plenty of vigour. Good ripe tannins. Fine.

N.B. There was no indication of the cuvée of either wine on the label. The wines were bottled bt the Hospices. I assume this is the Cuvée Fagon, the general blend.

Clos des Forêts-Saint-Georges. Owner: AXA Millésimes. Winemaker: Jacques Devauges. Surface Area: 7.20 ha..

2009. Medium-full colour. Fuller, richer and less stemmy than the Arlot. Fresh and quite meaty. But on the palate a little astringent. On this occasion I prefer the Arlot. From 2019.

2008. Medium-full colour. The usual quite stemmy nose. Medium to medium-full body. Fruity but rather one-dimensional. And it lacks succulence. From 2017.

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

2009. Good colour. Quite a firm nose. Ripe and energetic. Medium-full body. Good grip. Good tannins. A touch of oak. Fresh and stylish. This has a good future. Fine quality. From 2022.

2009, Les Huit Ouvrées. Not offered.

2008. Good colour. Ripe nose. Juicy on the palate though with a slight lack of grip. Medium to medium-full body. Decent acidity. Soft and attractive. Could have done with a little more backbone, but best at the end. Very good indeed. From 2019.

2008, Les Huit Ouvrées. Good colour. Quite a firm nose. The oak just right. Full bodied, rich and concentated. Plenty of depth and energy. Very classy. Fine plus for the vintage. From 2021.

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

2009. Good colour. Spicy, slightly reduced nose. Underneath that the wine is quite full bodied, juicy and succulent. Good grip. Plenty of drive. Nice positive finish. Very good indeed. From 2022.

2008. Medium to medium-full colour. Soft, juicy, stemmy nose. Medium-full weight. Fruity on the attack, but rather astringent on the follow through. Decent acidity but not much finesse. Good plus. From 2017.

Clos Saint-Marc. Owner: Domaine Michèle et Patrice Rion. Winemaker: Patrice Rion. Surface Area: 0.93 ha..

2009. Good colour. Ripe and earthy on the nose. Typical Prémeaux. There is a little reduction and as a result a little astringency here. But medium-full body. Fresh on the palate. Just a little lack of succulence. Very good at best. From 2021.

2008. Medium colour. Soft nose. Not a great deal of strength. Rather too light and weedy and a little astringent. Decent acidity but forward and a bit one-dimensional. Good at best. From 2015.

Clos de Grandes Vignes. Owner: Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair. Winemaker Louis-Michel Liger-Belair. Surface Area: 2.12 ha..

Not offered.

Clos de l'Arlot. Owners: AXA Millésimes. Winemaker: Jacques Devauges. Surface Area: 4 ha., roughly half Pinot, half Chardonnay.

2009. Medium colour. Less stemmy-sweet on the nose than usual. Medium to medium-full body. Round and fruity. Succulent and balanced. More charm than it used to have. Fresher too. Positive at the end. Very good. From 2018

2008. Medium-full colour. More of the usual old-fashioned Arlot than the 2009. But less sweet than hitherto. Better on the palate. Medium-full body. Fresh. Plenty of balanced fruit. Long, positive and attractive. Very good indeed. From 2017.

Clos de la Maréchale. Owner and Winemaker: Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier. Surface Area: 9.76 ha..

2009. Medium colour. Soft nose. Ample and fruity. No hard edges. Elegant and medium bodied, with just a touch of astringency today. But fresh and agreable if with no great weight or energy. Will evolve soon. Very good. From 2018.

2008. Medium-full colour. Soft, fresh, fruity nose. Good style. Ripe and round. Pleasant attack but a slight lack of vigour behind it. Good fruit but lacks real grip. Good plus. From 2016.