Domaine Borgeot Santenay 1er Cru 'Gravieres' 2017
Santenay 1er Cru 'Les Gravieres' can be either red or white. 'Gravieres' implies gravel, loose stony soil. And the upper part of the vineyard is such. This is excellent soil for Chardonnay, with one of the best expositions in the southern Cote d'Or. Mineral and smoky, lemongrass acidity, dead-center structure, this is a Borgeot white par excellence.
The Borgeot brothers, Pascal and Laurent, have great 'touch' with Chardonnay, producing classy and distictive village and 1er cru wines in Burgundy's 'golden triangle' of Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet and Meursault. But Santenay is home turf, and their wines from there and the Cotes Chalonnaise just to the south are undiscovered gems and also well worth a look.
BURGUNDY 2017 VINTAGE
If 2016 tested the faith and resolve of wine makers in Burgundy, 2017 has to be seen as recompense, and as a miracle of sorts. While the rest of wine-growing Europe suffered crippling late-spring frosts in 2017, Burgundy for the most part (for once!) survived.
A mild winter and an accelerated spring left the Burgundy vineyards in a vulnerable position when, in the second half of April, temperatures across France barely rose above freezing for two weeks.
Three hard-frost nights pretty much did in Right Bank Chablis once again. But as the rest of Burgundy survived the first week, the growers found the will to fight back. And on the night of April 27th, a year and a day after the 2016 frost that took 80% of the 2016 harvest, a severe frost was forecast for the length of the Cote d’Or.
It’s now a part of local legend how, on the following morning, we awoke in a thick cloud of smoke. In the early hours, from north to south, the vignerons had mobilized to set alight dampened bales of hay, sending up a cloud cover to filter the first burning rays of dawn. And it worked.
The air was thick, and driving was tricky. A customer at the butcher shop in Meursault jokingly asked for a smoked chicken. And, of course, the authorities were up in arms over the pollution risks. But the crop was saved, and there has been ever since a spirit of cooperation and solidarity not often seen in farming communities.
After the freeze, May brought in an extended period of warm dry weather. No mildew or oidium to speak of, no thunderstorms or hail. Sunny periods, but no lack of rain. And the vines went in to flower at a very-normal first week of June. Pretty much ideal.
July had a couple of heat spikes, and a hailstorm hit the fancy vineyards in Morey St Denis on the 10th. But nothing worse. August was warm; the lead up to the harvest at the end of the month, hot and dry.
The first grapes were picked in the Cote de Beaune in the last few days of August. And most everyone was out picking in the first week of September.
There was (as there often is in Burgundy) serious disagreement in 2017 about when to pick. Do you pick early to preserve the acid-sugar balance and freshness? Or do you hang in there and wait for a little rain to kick-start a stalled photosynthesis, and thereby achieve the holy grail of phenolic maturity?
It’s hard to say who was right. There are very good wines coming from both camps. But there are iffy wines too. And that’s the key to understanding 2017.
Picked early, the best wines, both red and white, are fresh, fruit-driven and floral with long minerality. The iffy wines seem not have adjusted for the solid levels of tartaric acid which left them tart rather than bright, dry and tannic rather than juicy.
Picking late did not seem to have an effect on the balance between alcohol and acidity. But then, there was no ‘over maturity’ in 2017. The extra phenolic maturity seems to mean more density and riper tannins, with no sign of flabbiness.
The whites shine, particularly in hard-done Chablis (where there is better balance even than the marvelous 2014s). In the rest of Burgundy, the whites have the tension of 2014 but the open flattery of 2015.
The reds are juicy and crisp and open, and the regional appellations will be ready to drink soon. More serious appellations will be considered ‘typical’, in the best sense of the word: classic wines from a vintage that Burgundians will love. They are likely to be lost in the hub-bub that the 2018s will bring. But the yields were good in 2017, so you will be able to find them for a while. And you’ll do well to seek them out.
COTE DE BEAUNE
Santenay lies at the southern extremity of the Côte de Beaune. In days gone by it was a well-known spa town. Today there is still water around: the area is bordered by the Canal du Centre, and on the other side of the water is the department of Saone et Loire and the first vines of the Cote Chalonnaise'. The wines of Santenay and neighboring Remigny present discernible differences according to which part of the appellation they come from. If you use the windmill up the slope in premier cru Beauregard as a point of reference, the hills behind rise sharply, and the soil make-up and expositions become complex as the hillside spreads out. Seen from up there, the village of Santenay sits in a valley with hills rising on both sides.
Produced in the communes of Santenay and Remigny, appellation Santenay includes 11 premiers crus.
Santenay produces mainly red wine, though the whites, especially the premiers crus, can be remarkable. Color should be a dark brilliant black-cherry. The bouquet is floral up front, with red fruits and a hint of liquorice. The attack is deep and intense, with firm but discreet tannins and body that is supple and fine-textured. Old style Santenay was considered rustic, but the present generation has learned to deal with tannins. White Santenayshould be brilliant greeny gold, mineral and floral and fresh. It can be grassy and nutty, and has a minerality that carries freshness to a long finish.
Greyish limestone makes up the high ground up to a height of 500 meters. Lower down the slope, starting at the 300 meter line, is oolitic limestone, white oolite, marls, kidney-shaped limestone, and lower oolite on a layer of marl. The location of the vineyards is ideal with exposures between east and south.
Nearly all reds - Pinot Noir
White wines - Chardonnay
Production surface area
1 hectare (ha) = 2.4 acres
Reds : 282.35 ha (including 110.84 ha premier cru)
Whites : 46.96 ha (including 12.63 ha premier cru)
The supple and intense attack of Santenay red, and its aromatic register make it a match for slow-cooked dishes like braised veal or beef, to which its tannins will lend structure without being aggressive. Glazed or roasted poultry would also work, as would grilled or barbecued meats. As for cheese, Brie de Meaux, Pont-l'Evêque, Cîteaux, Reblochon, most any cheese really will work with the density and tannic structure.
White Santenay, with its lightness, vivacity and edge would be a good choice for fluid and melty dishes like fish couscous, or pasta or risotto with mushrooms. Poultry in cream sauce would be similarly successful. It works well with cheeses like Comté and Beaufort, as well as goat cheeses.
On the label, the appellations 'Santenay' and 'Santenay 1er Cru' may be followed by the name of a specific vineyard, known as a climat.
The following climats are classified as premier cru:
Clos de Tavannes
Clos des Mouches
Grand Clos Rousseau
Les Gravières-Clos de Tavannes
The following climats are village wines from a single vineyard, known as a lieu-dit:
Derrière les Crais
Le Haut Village
Les Champs Claudes
Les Charmes Dessous
Les Charmes Dessus
Les Vaux Dessus
Sous la Fée
Sous la Roche