Domaine Borgeot Santenay 1er Cru 'Les Gravieres' 2020
Not surprisingly, this Borgeot Santenay 1er Cru 'Gravieres' red comes from the same vineyard as their Santenay 1er 'Gravieres' white, just further down the slope where the soil becomes denser and red. ‘Gravieres’ is one vineyard with two different soil types, apt for two different wines. Sadly, many producers have succumbed to the temptation of the bottom line, and have replanted Chardonnay where there should be Pinot Noir. But not the Borgeots! Their 'Gravieres' red is their signature Pinot, with ripe dark fruits tinged with chocolate and coffee, rich, powerful and fat right through the lingering note of pure blackberry.
The Borgeot brothers, Pascal and Laurent, have great 'touch' with Chardonnay, producing classy and distinctive regional, village and 1er cru wines in Burgundy's 'golden triangle' of Puligny-Montrachet, Cassagne-Montrachet and Meursault.
In the nearby village of Bouzeron they produce quality Aligoté, which you will find along with Pinot Noir in their Crémant de Bourgogne.
But it would be a mistake to focus only on their white wines, Santenay AOC is home turf, with the winery based in Remigny.
In Santenay they produce single vineyard village and 1er Cru. They have also strongly defended their Pinot Noir vines in Chassagne-Montrachet again with impressive village and 1er cru selections.
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.
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 12 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 Santenay should be brilliant green tinted 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