Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Nuits-Saint-Georges: Some Questions

Speaking of the search for value in red Burgundy wines...

If you take the train from Paris to Dijon and drive south to Burgundy, you go through Marsannay (an up-and-coming appellation), then Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-Saint-Denis, Chambolle-Musigny, Vougeot, Flagey-Echezeaux, and Vosne-Romanee, the powerhouses of red wine production in Burgundy. Some of the most famous and expensive, some of the most sought after red wines in the world come from the Grand Cru vineyards of these appellations. A single bottle of wine from the Grand Cru vineyard of Musigny, or Bonnes Mares, or Clos de Tart, or Clos Vougeot, never mind Richebourg, can set you back hundreds of dollars. Many hundreds in better vintages (good luck saving up for the 2005's).

Keep driving south and you hit Nuits-Saint-Georges, the southernmost major appellation of the Cotes de Nuits. Nuits-Saint-Georges is alone among the powerhouses of the Cotes de Nuits, in that it has no Grand Cru vineyards to call its own. And because of its close proximity to the Cotes de Beaune with its glorious whites from Montrachet and Mersault, but less stellar, more uneven reds, the wines of Nuits-Saint-Georges can be overlooked when thinking about great reds of Burgundy. Maybe, just maybe, these wines can offer some of the best values in top notch red Burgundy.

But Nuits-Saint-George is really big - where do you start? There are many vineyards to the north and also to the south of town, village and 1er Cru vineyards. Shouldn't those vineyards to the north of town, those that border on or near the hallowed grounds of Vosne-Romanee produce wines of great quality? You would think so, and they probably do in fact, but I've been looking around and I've noticed that the southernmost 1er Cru vineyards seem to command higher prices. Click here to see a map of the vineyards of Nuits-Saint-George - kind of hard to read, but worth looking.

Just today, for example, I was looking at the 2004 crop from Domaine Robert Chevillon, a noted producer from Nuits-Saint-George. His 1er Crus from south of town, Les Saint-Georges, Les Cailles (the most expensive at about $85), Les Vaucrains, Les Chenes Carteaux, Les Perrieres, and Les Pruliers, to name many of them, were all pretty pricey, the cheapest at around $65.

1er Crus from the northern part of the appellation, the part that borders on Vosne-Romanee, were actually less expensive in every case except for one - Les Chaignots (which was still less than either Les Cailles or Les Saint-Georges). Wines from Les Vigne Rondes and Les Damodes, were comparably reasonably priced.

Why is this? Shouldn't it be the other way around? This just doesn't make sense to me. Maybe Les Saint-Georges is exceptional terroir, but how could all of those southern vineyards produce better grapes than the vineyards adjacent to Vosne-Romanee? Is this a marketing thing? I know that 50 meters can make a huge difference in the character and quality of wine in Burgundy, but this is just so strange. If anyone knows something about this, please chime in now!

If I had lots more cash I would blind taste wines from the same vintage, same producer, wines from both the north and south of Nuits-Saint-Georges, and see what's up. But I don't have the cash to do that big and bad of a blind tasting (blind tasting of young Loire reds coming soon though). So instead I will taste whatever I can get my hands on. Here are two wines tasted recently, and one actually doesn't fits into either category. But it's a start...

2000 Dominique Laurent Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru Les Pruliers (price unknown).
Tasted at Deetrane's place the other night, with his chewy butterscotch oatmeal cookies. This is a large negociant house with no fewer than 50 Cotes de Nuits wines produced each year. Dark translucent purple color, with a rich, musky nose, full of dark fruit and barnyard elements. Intense perfume, actually. Dark fruit, some pine and herbs, and earth on the palate. Very nice indeed, a "brooding" wine that commanded our attention, and called out for roast game, chicken with truffles, or some other such fare (although the cookies Deetrane made were delish).

2001 Domaine Confuron-Contetidot Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru, $62
I bought this bottle at Burgundy Wine Company, and I mention this because I have since learned that although the store has a great selection, they routinely charge at least 10% more than other local shops for their wines. So think of this bottle as a $55 wine. Anyway...the label "1er Cru," with no specific vineyard mentioned means that the grapes come from various 1er cru parcels, as opposed ot only one. To me this is a step down from a single vineyard 1er Cru, but I could be wrong about that. We enjoyed it with Porcini mushroom ravioli in brown butter. Some signs of bricking near the rims, oddly enough - the wine is only 6 years old. Sweet cooked cherry smells, some light and high toned herbs and spices too. Bright raspberry and strawberry palate with somewhat astringent tannins, and a kind of hollow mid-palate. Sweet cooked cherries on the finish. We opened this at least an hour before eating, and at the end of dinner, opened for at least two hours, the wine was not improved. Not an exciting bottle? So-so vintage, so save the good grapes for better bottlings? Whatever the case, disappointing for the money.

More Nuits-Saint-Georges to come. I can't seek out value in the $25 and under group, and only in that group now, can I?

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