Although Burgundy is a relatively small wine region, its wines are treasured worldwide. Burgundy has five wine growing areas. From north to south you have Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais. Chablis is known for its white wines, while you will find mainly red wines in Côte de Nuits. This last region is a paradise for Pinoir Noir lovers.
Côte de Nuits is located between Dijon and Corgoloin. The wines grow along a narrow strip that is 20 kilometres long and at some places only 200 metres wide. For this reason and because of its exceptional character, people call this region ‘the Champs-Elysées of Burgundy’.
The history of Côte de Nuits
During the third century A.D., the Romans were the first to plant vines in Côte de Nuits. Instead of planting the vines near rivers, which was a very typical Roman style, they planted the vines on the narrow strip of land that was located to the east of their settlement at Augustodunum. Back then, the quality of the wines produced in this region already became the envy of many.
By the Middle Ages, the Benedictines and Cistercians would dominate the vineyards that gained reputations apart from the greater Burgundy region. It’s then the concept of ‘terroir’ developed among wine lovers and winemakers. The terroir is not just the soil. It’s the combination of grapes, soil, climate, location and human intervention. During the 17th century, the church began selling their vineyards to the wealthy.
A century later King Louis XIV was recommended to only drink wines from Côte de Nuits Saint Georges because of their health benefits. This advice became a great marketing asset for the overall region of Burgundy and the regions Champagne and Bordeaux had to watch their steps.
The climate and soil of Côte de Nuits
Côte de Nuits is one of the northernmost regions to produce high-quality wines. Mostly, the vineyards are planted on east and southeast facing slopes so they can opportune from the sun. While the winters are very cold, the summers are just perfectly warm. Because of its location the region knows many different weather fronts coming from the Baltic sea from the north, the Atlantic ocean from the west and the Mediterranean ocean from the south. This also means the quality of each vintage can be highly variable.
The vineyard soils in all Burgundy are varied and can even be different on the same hillside. Yet most vineyards in Côte de Nuits have a base soil of limestone with marl that is if often mixed with gravel and sand.
Soils located near the Saône river are often too fertile and poorly drained. But as you move upwards the land becomes less fertile and better drained, which is perfect for growing high-quality wines.
The Burgundy classification
Following the success of the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, Lavalle published his ‘Plan Topographique of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or’. The map not only listed every vineyard from Santeny to Dijon but also their classification: Tête de Cuvée, Première, Deuxième or Troisième Cuvée. The map served as the foundation for the appellation contrôlée system, which was introduced in 1936.
The history of making wine from a single vineyard estate was more established in the Côte de Nuits than Côte de Beaune. This was reflected in Lavalle's map: he defined over 20 vineyards in the Côte de Nuits worthy of cru for red wines while the Côte de Beaune had only one exceptional vineyard.
The Grand Cru’s of Côte de Nuits
Today there are 24 Grand Cru vineyards in the Côte de Nuits and more than 100 premier cru vineyards throughout the region. We take a closer look at three exquisite appellations: Nuits-Saint-Georges, Clos des Lambrays and Clos de Vougeot.
Wines from the Nuits-Saint-Georges appellation are produced in the communes Nuits-Saint-Georges and Premeaux-Prissey. ‘Nuits’ in the name does not refer to ‘night’ but comes from the Latin for walnuts ‘Nutium’.
The appellation is used for red and white wines. Pinot Noir (for red) and Chardonnay (for white) must be the main grape variety. There are no Grand Cru vineyards in Nuits-Saint-Georges, but there are 41 climates within the Nuits-Saint-Georges AOC classified as Premier Cru vineyards.
One of those vineyards is Georges Mugneret-Gibourg. The family settled in Vosne-Romanée in 1930 and is now managed by the third generation. The wines are known for their gentle and classical style and fruity and fresh taste. The vines are cultivated with great respect for terroir and handpicked. After a vatting time of 15 to 20 days, the wine is being poured into oak barrels to age for 18 months.
Clos des Lambrays
The vineyards of the Clos des Lambrays appellation are located in the commune of Morey-Saint-Denis. ‘Clos’ in the name refers to a wall-enclosed vineyard.
In 1981 the appellation was elevated from Premier Cru to Grand Cru and was used for red wines with Pinot Noir as the main grape. Clos de Lambrays is 8.84 hectares large, and most of its climates are owned by Domaine des Lambrays.
Clos de Vougeot
Clos de Vougeot is a wall-enclosed vineyard and appellation for Pinot Noir wines. It was named after the river Vouge, which separates the village Vougeot from Chambolle Musigny.
It’s the largest single vineyard in Côte de Nuits that is entitled to call their wines Grand Cru. The history of the vineyard dates back to the 12th century when Cistercian monks built a wall around the completed vineyard.
Every plot is entitled to call their wines Grand Cru, but wineries from the lower part of the vineyard are unlikely to produce the same quality as the wineries located on the top and middle parts.
One winery genuinely worth the Grand Cru class is Domaine Tortochot. It is one of the more famous estates and has been in the Tortochot family for four generations. Their Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru is a sturdy and firm wine with aromas of roasted coffee. Because of their tight tannins, most of these wines require ageing for minimum 12 years.
The taste of Côte de Nuits at home
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