Exploring the Côte: Santenay

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been taking the online Master Burgundy course from the French Wine Society. It’s been a great opportunity to really cement this great region into my brain. So, I’d like to explore these areas through further research and tasting.  Today we will start with Santenay, one of the most southerly villages of the Côte d’Or.  Santenay is home to ancient health spas and a casino, in addition to the vineyard land.  Santenay is also notable as the home to a particular clone of Pinot Noir known as Pinot Fin de Santenay.  With the adoption of clonal selection over massal selection for vine propogation, it is less likely that Pinot Fin de Santenay is as prevalent as it once was.  However, certain old vine plots are likely to have some examples of this vine.  It is purported to be better adapted to the heavier, more marl-dense soils of the Santenay area and the southern Côte in general.  In Santenay they also practice cordon du royat training of the vines, as opposed to the more common method of Guyot training.  It is also worth noting that in Santenay the ridgeline of the Côte starts to change aspect, meaning that the vineyards that cover the slope also begin to change aspect.  In Santenay the vineyards are more likely to face south, while in the rest of the Côte d’Or, vineyards generally face east.

Santenay contains 11 climats that are classed as premier cru.  They are divided into two groupings: those that are in the more northerly section of the appellation, closer to Chassagne-Montrachet and those that are in the southern part of the appellation, closer to the village of Santenay-le-Haut.  Here is the breakdown of the premier cru locations:

Closer to Chassagne-Montrachet:

  • La Comme
  • Clos de Tavannes
  • Les Gravières
  • Beauregard
  • Clos Faubard (a section of Beauregard is also able to be labeled as Clos Faubard, as is a section of Clos des Mouches)
  • Passetemps
  • Beaurepaire
  •  La Maladière

Closer to Santenay-le-Haut

  • Clos Rousseau
  • Grand Clos Rousseau
  • Les Forneaux (while this is considered a separate climat, it is bottled as Clos Rousseau)

Santenay’s production is overwhelmingly red, though its whites are beginning to gain repute as well.  Generally speaking, the reds are considered more rustic and sturdy, though have the ability to age well and gracefully.  They are also noted for their deeper color, considered an important quality for lighter-hued Pinot Noir.

I recently had an opportunity to try a 1er Cru Santenay when I picked up two bottles during my recent trip to Chicago.  The availability of Burgundy here is very limited, so I wanted to make sure and pick some up when we were out of town.  For age-worthy wines, I also like to pick up at least two bottles: one for immediate enjoyment and one to hold on to if I feel that it will benefit from extra aging.  The excellent example that I tried was from Domaine Bachey-Legros, based in Santenay-le-Haut.  They own several old vine parcels in Clos Rousseau and also haveIMG_20140505_202606 holdings in Chassagne-Montrachet.    The wine that we picked up was the 1er Cru Clos Rousseau “Vieilles Vignes” 2008.  They own parcels in each of the three lieux-dits of Clos Rousseau, with the vines in Les Fourneaux being the oldest at about 80 years of age.  Each of the plots is vinified separately and the fruit is usually destemmed.

The 2008 vintage was characterized as a cool and wet vintage that was saved by a windy warm-up in September, allowing the grapes to fully ripen.  It was a small crop, but cool conditions maintained excellent acidity and will support aging in reds.  The domaine’s old vines also accounted for further concentration in the fruit.

This wine was the epitome of elegant and sexy red Burgundy.  A perfumed and aromatic nose was a great foretelling for a palate of dried cranberry and cherry flavors accented with just enough organic earth (dried leaves and rich humus) and floral notes.  The oak character was present in the form of subtle vanilla and older allspice notes, but it didn’t really impact the mouthfeel in the form of clunky tannins or anything like that.  Medium-bodied, with fresh acidity and mild tannins are just what I look for in a good Burgundy with a little bottle age.  I’m really glad that we have another to enjoy in a few years.  I even liked it so much (especially for the price point of $30 retail) that I recommended it to one of our local distributors who has been looking to expand their portfolio into some good value Burgundies.  I look forward to trying more from this domaine and REALLY hope to be able to share some with our customers locally.



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