The Côte de Nuit, along with its sister region Côte de Beaune, comprise the fabled Côte-d'Or (golden hills), a limestone escarpment which runs north to south for 45 kilometers (27 miles) from Dijon to Santennay. The climate for these two sub-regions is as has been described for traditional Burgundy. The soil is predominantly rendzina (a dark, grayish-brown, hummus-rich soil) and brown limestone with a covering of loose rock debris and instances of a gravel-red silt mix that has slipped down the slopes and on to marl or limestone bases. The arable land in the Côte is very shallow but the vine roots will exploit cracks in the limestone to travel to great depths in search of nutrients and water.
Within the Côte-d'Or, Côte de Nuit (named for its largest town, Nuit-Saint-Georges) occupies the narrow strip of slopes that are to be found between Dijon and Corgoloin. The area is 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) wide at its widest point and shrinks to between 200 and 300 meters in some places. Lying as it does along the 47th parallel (a similar latitude as Minnesota), the sub-region struggles to consistently reward viticulturists with adequately ripened Pinot Noir.
The wines from Côte de Nuit are classified according to the location of the vines from which they were sourced. The best vineyards in the region are situated mid-slope on the hills where the best soils, exposure, and drainage are to be found. These mid-slope regions are home to 24 of the Burgundy Grand Cru climats.
The plots which have the the most issues with drainage and ripening are located at the lowest elevation on the slopes and it is from those plots that we derive the wines that are assigned Bourgogne regional labels. In addition, wines can be produced in Côte de Nuit and be labeled Bourgogne Aligoté, Bourgogne Passe-tout-grains, and Crémant de Bourgogne. In addition, the elevated slopes of 4 communes have been assigned an appellation (Bourgogne Hautes-Côte de Nuit) for the production of reds, whites, and rosés which have been tested and certified as meeting stipulated requirements. In the case of the Côte de Nuit Village appellation, if the grapes are sourced from a single climat, the name of that climat is permitted to appear on the label.
Village and Premier Cru wines are sourced from grapes that are grown above and below the mid-slope position that is reserved for the Grand Crus. In the case of a Village appellation, the name of the origin village must appear on the label and if a Premier Cru, the name of the village must be followed by the words Premier Cru plus the name of the source climat. It should be noted that the amount of land devoted to the production of white wines decline as we move up the quality level with only one Grand Cru choosing to allocate precious land to the production of Chardonnay grapes.
Knowing Burgundy requires knowing much more than the AOCs: it also requires knowledge of the really good producers -- those who will produce at the top of the class year in and year out -- and knowledge of the vintages. And even then you are not guaranteed to have a great bottle of wine when you open it. When you do open a great bottle of Burgundy, however, it is a wine-drinking experience second to none. So here are the names of selected producers that should be a starting point for any journey into the wines of the Côte de Nuit:
- Meo Camuzet
- J. Grivet
- Henry Jayer
- Rene Engel
- Jean Gros
- J. Grivot
- Comte de Vogue
I will now shift my attention to reporting on the Stacole Burgundy tasting which I attended last week.
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