Domaine Alain Vignot Bourgogne Cote Saint-Jacques Vin Gris 2020
This is a real Pinot Gris, a serious food wine which offers a complex aromatic palette due in large part to its flinty terroir. It is called ‘gray’ wine because of its incomparable color, likened to a ‘partridge eye’, (l’oeil de perdrix) found in some classic expressions of champagne.
Domaine Alain Vignot
Bourgogne Cote Saint Jacques
Don’t be surprised if you have not heard of the appellation Bourgogne Cote Saint Jacques.
There is very little of it, and there are very few producers. Alain Vignot essentially invented the appellation in 1975 after years of proving the worth of the distinct terroir of the hillside at Joigny, above the river Yonne in the furthest-northwest part of Burgundy.
We came across Alain Vignot’s wine, essentially his iconic Cote Saint Jacques Vin Gris, in our early days aboard our peniche-hotel Le Papillon. We often moored on the Yonne in the towns of Joigny and Auxerre, and Vignot wines were as local as you could get!
We were always deeply impressed by his Vin Gris, by the expression of Pinot Gris produced on the steep flint and limestone slopes overlooking the Yonne River valley. It’s a wine unique in Burgundy. And it was the only wine produced on the Cote Saint Jacques for much of the region’s history, dating back to phylloxera.
Then in 1980, Alain Vignot replanted Pinot Noir. And in 1992 Chardonnay reappeared. Alain Vignot became not only the locomotive of an appellation that he all but created, he became the benchmark of what these wines could be.
From fewer than 4 acres in 1970, he developed a domain that today extends over 29 acres. Work and perseverance. Risks, both commercial and professional. This is the profile of a visionary.
Domaine Vignot wines are a perfect fit with Elden Selections’ ethic: a great winemaker working in a lesser-known appellation, and producing Burgundy worthy of the region’s reputation and accolades.
With so many winemakers finishing their 2020 harvest before the end of August, everyone here in Burgundy expected that this hot, sunny vintage would produce atypical wines, overripe, fat and flabby. Why it did not is a mystery to this day.
In fact, 2020 Burgundy, both red and white, is being lauded by the Press and professionals alike as an exceptional vintage, brilliantly fresh, pure, elegant and focused. Yes, the wines are ripe and concentrated, but there is good acidity that more than brings things into balance. This, in fact, defines the Burgundy 2020 style: high acidity and high concentration.
So let’s look, as we do every year, at how the growing season developed, to try to get some idea of what shaped these unexpectedly energetic wines.
In a word, from start to finish, 2020 was precocious. After a mild and humid winter, the vegetative cycle started a month early under sunny skies, with bud burst in mid-April and the first Chardonnay flowers in early May. Then the weather deteriorated. Pinot Noir flowered in cool, damp conditions, and was less successful than Chardonnay, explaining the smaller Pinot crop.
From that point on, there is not much to report weatherwise. It was hot and dry from June through to the end, the driest year since 1945. The grapes started to change color in mid-July, and harvest in August seemed likely.
Now you may think that an August harvest lets everyone get their jobs done and go home early. But remember that there is a big difference between the heat and luminosity of an August afternoon and the cooler, shorter days of September. When maturity comes galloping at you in August, you have to react quickly; a day or two can mean considerable differences in acid and sugar levels.
Indeed, there may have been more stress on the winemakers than there was on the vines. 2020 was in fact an easy growing season, dry, with little risk of fungal problems. The tough part was deciding when to harvest. Do you put off harvesting to try to get to phenolic maturity, or do you pick sooner to keep acid levels up and to avoid higher alcohol levels?
Many opted to pick early. And for the most part, it proved to be the right decision…though we still do not understand why!
Many 2020 wines have alcohol levels of 13%-14%, but many are higher. Delaying picking increased the potential alcohol levels by as much as a degree a week.
At the same time, good levels of phenolic maturity gave ripe, but not overripe tannins. Some call the 2020s ‘crunchy’, which is a tannin level riper than ‘green’ but less than ‘fine’.
Total acidity was generally high, but most of that was tartaric acid. Malic acid, which would normally make up a big percentage of the total acidity, was low. In fact, the wines changed very little during malolactic fermentation, as there was little malic acid to transform into lactic acid.
So, again, we have a vintage that is characterized by high acidity and concentrated fruit. Some are saying that there has never before been a vintage where ripeness and acidity combined to give such brilliant wines with great aging potential. And this is true for both red and white. Freshness, balance, moderate alcohol.
The whites are rich and ripe, but with a crystalline, almost razor-sharp edge. That little touch of lactic acid makes them complex without adding weight.
The reds might bear a resemblance to past vintages. 2005, maybe. But they made wine differently in 2005. Back then, extraction was the goal: get as much out of the ripeness as you could. Today, Pinot is not so much ‘extracted’ as ‘infused’, like tea. This gives wines that are fresher and more energetic, with no less intensity and maybe more spice.
Drink them now, both red and white. There is astounding vitality in the youthful 2020s. But stick to the regional appellations for now because this is above all a vintage for aging, again both red and white. Keep the premier and grand crus for 10-15 years; longer for the best wines. They have the balance to age, and will reveal little by little the complexity that we just get hints of today. These are wines that may shut down for a few years in a few years, that’s to be expected. But be patient; you will be overjoyed to pull 2020 Burgundy from your cellar down the line.
But even just that little touch of lactic acid made the complexity of the whites.
BOURGOGNE COTE D’OR
REGIONAL APPELLATION OF BURGUNDY
In 2017, the producers of the Regional appellation "Bourgogne", located in Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits, obtained the additional mention "BOURGOGNE CÔTE D'OR", which thus becomes a Bourgogne with additional Geographical Denomination.
This name is reserved for red and white still wines produced within the 40 villages in Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits.
We welcomed this development as it strengthens our philosophy of what “Regional’ Burgundy wine should be. This strengthens our philosophy that simple Bourgogne has the potential to better express specific terroir and vintage.
With other producers, regional wines can be produced by blending wines sourced from across the region, the quality and specificity of this appellation can be questionable. On the other hand, with Elden producers, many Bourgogne wines are produced within a single commune and some even from a single vineyard.
So, the addition of this new AOC is good as it adds more specificity to the terroir. As with all Burgundy wine, you need to know its pedigree and who made it.
The appellation Bourgogne Côte d’Or is restricted to wines grown within the defined limits of the appellation:
Côte d’Or 91 communes