Côte de Nuits PART 1

2020 was a fascinating vintage for many reasons - a year in which the rules seem to have been re-written, or at least heavily amended. Whilst the year was warm and there were some big heat spikes (inviting comparison to 2003), temperatures in June & July were actually 2 degrees lower than in 2019. Couple this with the fair rainfall in both April and May, then the above average amount in June, and it's perhaps easier to begin to understand why the PHs of a lot of the reds from the Côte de Nuits are lower than they've been across the past two vintages.

The time at which producers picked also re-opens the question as to whether this was a 'too hot' vintage, the simple answer being no, it was not. Although some vignerons began clipping grapes from vines as early as mid-August, it's important to realise that the growing season also began much earlier. It's difficult to recall an April in the UK which was so clement, and this extended to Burgundy, where it was not a surprise to see vines beginning their circa 100 day cycle at the start of the month

Whilst sweeping generalisations on particular communes are rarely helpful, it's worth singling out both Gevrey Chambertin and Clos Vougeot this year, Typically cooler terroirs in which the warm weather provided a boost.

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Domaine de la Douaix

Mark and Gilles Moustie are Belgians, huge fans of wine and in particular Burgundy. The family rented a gite for many years in the Hautes Côtes village of Arcenant, straight up the hill to the west of Nuits Saint Georges, and gently graduated from buying wines at domaines up and down the Côte to wanting to make the wine themselves. Eventually they bought some vines and a house with cellars, and set to.

Most of their wines are from vines they own, but they do make a little wine from bought-in fruit to supplement what is still a tiny domaine. It is Gilles who is hands-on on a daily basis and is really running the domaine now with ever-growing confidence and the wines seem to improve year on year. He is now working organically across the domaine.

The extra ripeness of 2018, 2019 and now 2020 has been particularly beneficial in these relatively cool terroirs, and the results are impressive. Gilles told us that they'd made a good volume of wine, and that there had been just enough rain, and little to do in the way of treatments as the vines remained healthy through the season. He has extended the élevage, and is now keeping all his wines in wood for two winters: " I really like how the wines stabilise in the last six months."

2020 CÔTE DE NUITS VILLAGES Vieilles Vignes Domaine de la Douaix
75cl bottles, case of 12

In Bond

2020 HAUTES CÔTES DE NUITS Clos des Fervelots Domaine de la Douaix
75cl bottles, case of 12

In Bond

2020 NUITS SAINT GEORGES Domaine de la Douaix
75cl bottles, case of 12

In Bond

2020 CÔTE DE NUITS VILLAGES Terres Nobles Domaine de la Douaix
75cl bottles, case of 12

In Bond

Domaine Huguenot

The Huguenots can trace their history in Marsannay and working in the vines back to 1789. Currently the domaine is run by Philippe. His father Jean-Louis expanded the domaine from five to twenty-two hectares (twelve in Marsannay, six in Fixin, and four in Gevrey) before handing over the reins. Philippe took the bold step of taking all twenty-two hectares into organic production (the conversion was completed in 2010), but immensely sadly he was forced to do a single non-organic treatment in 2016, because of the terrible conditions, so he was back to square one - three years to re-qualify for the organic label. Nevertheless Philippe, although initially unsure if he would try for the certification again was not planning to change the way he works - it is, he assures us, better for him and the environment and and his workers as well as for quality. So he fought his way back, and the wines have been certified organic again since 2019.

When we visited he'd only just finished putting the 21s into barrel, so the 20s had only just been racked. He described the 2020s as being like 2015, but with blacker fruit - a little more solid and firm. 'The balance is like that of a classic year, but super-concentrated.' Philippe is using around 20-25% new wood on his Premiers Crus and 50% on the Grand Cru.

Domaine Thierry Mortet

The domaine dates back to 1992, when Domaine Charles Mortet was split between Thierry and his brother Denis, and Thierry set up on his own with just 4 hectares of vines. Today he has 7.3 ha, of which 6 are red and 1.3 white. Only 4.36 hectares are Gevrey or Chambolle, the rest being a small parcel of Marsannay Blanc and regionals - Bourgogne Rouge and Blanc, Aligoté and Passetoutgrain.

Thierry continues to be praised in the French press without ever quite seeming to crack the influential American journalists. It may be simply because he is a bit short of fancy appellations - one little cuvée of Grand Cru would no doubt do his reputation a lot of good - but might also put his prices up, and these remain very modest.

In the vineyard, Thierry has been certified organic since 2007, but really this was just an official stamp on what had been the practices of the domaine since the beginning, and he is working towards biodynamic certification. In the cellar, the grapes are entirely de-stemmed, and given four or five days of cold maceration are followed by the fermentation, with just a touch of cooling to keep the temperature around 31-33C (below 35, at least), and two pigeages a day. The total time in vat can be as little as 17 days. The wines then go into barrel, all second use or older for the Bourgogne, with 30% new wood on the Gevrey, and 50% on the Clos Prieur, for a period of around sixteen months.

Thierry's wines are fine and precise, tangy and long, never massive, but not insubstantial all the same. The surprise this year was to find Thierry joined by his daughter Lise who has done her vinicultural training and is now working at the domaine.

Domaine Stéphane Magnien

Stéphane's is a small domaine, a mere 4.5 hectares, with one full hectare of that in regional wine - Passetoutgrains and Bourgogne - but it is blessed with two Grands Crus and also a long history of not messing with nature. No pesticides have ever been used on this land, and the plants are nearly all the old 'Pinot tordu' - twisted Pinot with its gnarly stems which are less vigorous than the modern clones and said by many to make wines with more finesse.

Stéphane chaptalizes only to extend fermentations - these are wines which his father Jean-Paul used to describe as 'sage en alcool' - from 12 to 13% - the old vines do not make much alcohol. Wood use is also discreet, even though Stéphane has increased the proportion, he does not exceed 50% new wood on the Grands Crus, 25% on the Premiers Crus and on the village appellations, 15% new wood for one year only, then all into older barrels.

Stéphane says that he aims to make wines with more richness than his father's, 'but not black angular wines which have less relief. Wines which leave your mouth clean and clear, refreshed and revived and, above all, wanting another glass'. He destems 100%, gives the grapes a six-day maceration, then a classical fermentation with just two pigeages, and a little remontage (pumping over) at the end.

2021 began with him turning his tractor over in Monts Luisants (top of the slope, and steep) which he escaped more or less unscathed, but a difficult start to a very difficult year. In 2020 Stéphane harvested starting on the 27th August. Only in 2003 have they ever started that early. Volumes are small, but he describes it as 'a vintage with everything', remarking on the depth and brightness of the colours as well as the depth and freshness. Comparing with other vintages, he picked out 2016, which was very much on little red berry fruit, very fine, and that 2020 is darker and deeper, less high-toned despite the freshness - there's more colour and more alcohol.

Domaine Christian Clerget

A domaine of 6 hectares, with 8 appellations, run by Christian, Isabelle and their daughter Justine Clerget from their house in the northern end of the little village of Vougeot, which is really in the commune of Chambolle. They have been organic (certified) since 2017, Justine having insisted on it when she joined them, but it sounds as though she was pushing at an open door, because Christian is entirely committed to this approach and clearly believes that good wine starts with the vines.

At harvest the grapes are picked into small cases for the short trip to the winery which really is right in the middle of their holdings. They adapt to the vintage conditions, so that they did 2 pigeages in total in 2019, whereas in 2017, they did one a day throughout the fermentation. In 2018 they did some whole bunch fermentation, but reverted to their normal complete destemming in 2019. At the end of the alcoholic fermentation Christian decants into tank, allows the wine to settle for ten days, then puts the wines into barrel where they stay without racking until bottling. They are using about 30% new wood on the villages and 40% on the Chambolle Charmes and the Échézeaux, and the wines say in barrel for a long élevage of 18-20 months.

2020, Justine told us, was in some ways more like 2017 than 2018 or 2019 - lots of sun but not the same heat.

Domaine Chicotot

A 7 hectare domaine in Nuits Saint Georges currently run by Pascale and Clément Chicotot, who describe themselves as 'vignerons...simplement'. They say that only natural methods have been used for several generations and the domaine is certified organic.

Vinification is traditional, the fermentation beginning after 5 to 6 days of cold maceration and lasting around 15 days, with remontage or pigeage as necessary and aged in barrel with a maximum of 25% new wood. SO2 levels are very low. The wines are well-coloured and well-defined and expressive - lots of personality here, with the village wines (which are all on the Vosne side of Nuits) near 1er Cru quality.

The picture shows Clément and Pascale with the graphic design they've used as the label for the old-vine cuvée 'Papillon de Nuys'.

Domaine Lignier-Michelot

A domaine of 11 hectares, 25% regionals, 50% Villages, 20% Premiers crus and 5% Grands Crus. Virgile Lignier worked at the domaine with his father Maurice from 1988, beginning to bottle some of the wine from 1992 (it had previously been sold to the négoce), taking over in 2000, which was the vintage when he first bottled all the domaine's production.

In the vineyard Virgile made significant changes, stopping the use of herbicides, and beginning to plough instead. Green harvesting to limits yields followed, along with greater attention to grape selection. The domaine works organically except in extremis.

The wines have a lovely combination of enough body and richness, combined with a lively clarity of expression. The old vines village cuvées are seriously good, and great value too. Going up the scale each site seems to speak very clearly of its source and there is a brightness and energy along with full, seamless fruit.

In 2020 Virgile started on the 28th of August and picked at between 12.8 and 13.9%. He did not want to leave it too late, having felt that he might have done in 2018. 'I think its a great vintage for long ageing', he says. He did not need to do much - a 'soft' vinification, not intervening but letting the wine make itself. The wines, as Jasper Morris wrote in a tweet after his tasting here, are 'thrilling'.

Domaine J. Confuron Cotetidot

Vignerons since the seventeenth century, the Confuron family has always selected and propagated vines to ensure that their plant material produces the highest quality, and they even have a clone of Pinot named after them - 'Pinot Confuron'.

The domaine has several Grands Cru vineyards as well as two hectares of the great Vosne Romanée Premier Cru 'Les Suchots'. There are around 12 hectares in all. The vines have never seen chemical weedkillers, and are ploughed and managed organically.

The Confurons have always used whole-bunch fermentation, picking very late, which really is a necessity if the stems are to be properly ripe and not give green flavours to the wine. A bit like the Thévenets with their whites in the Maconnais, they pick so much later that they can seem to have different vintages to everyone else. Yves thinks that 2007 was their great vintage of the first decade of this millennium, and he'd probably be the only grower in the Cote de Nuits who would say that. Yves also makes the wines at Domaine de Courcel in Pommard, in the same way.

'An exceptional vintage', says Yves. 'Not ripe but concentrated - like dried tomatoes.' They need extensive élevage to sort them out, but time in barrel will do that. But it is an extraordinary vintage, in which the fruit is supported not by acidity but by the tannins. As he says, the tannins are not elegant, but the carry the wine and bring freshness and balance. The vigour from the tannins is great in the concentration of 2020, but would be awful if alongside a vintage of more normal density. As for the 2020s from the other domaine that Yves manages, de Courcel on Pommard, these are exceptional, 'baroque' wines which some critics will struggle to understand, especially if they taste them alongside early-picked and infused wines which are ready for bottling already - as opposed to these which have another year in barrel to go. Yves defends his decision to pick when fully ripe - 'you miss the differentiation between vintages' if you don't - making 'cut-and-paste' wines which are the same every year. These wines are not heavy, but concentrated and rich. As Yves says 'if you pay for a seat at the opera, you don't want to hear a variety singer'.