Domaine Borgeot Santenay 1er Cru 'Les Gravieres' 2016
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 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 2016 VINTAGE
If that first taste of the 2016 Burgundy vintage really grabs your attention, count yourself lucky. Lucky in the same way that wine makers in Burgundy consider themselves lucky.
The excellent 2016 vintage was a nightmare for them, running a gamut of emotions from depression to despair, then out the other side towards hope and something resembling jubilation. It’s no exaggeration to say that 2016 took its toll on the collective psyche of the region.
After a very mild winter, April was frigid, with early hail in Macon and (yet again) Chablis. Then, on the night of the 26th, a freak frost descended on much of the Cotes de Nuits and almost all of the Cote de Beaune. I say ‘freak’ because it was a winter frost, not an April frost; meaning that it hit higher up the slopes than a spring frost would, touching vineyards that almost never freeze, notably Musigny and Montrachet.
It got worse. May was cool and depressingly wet, with storms when it wasn’t drizzling. It’s then that the first corridors of mildew appeared. It hailed again in Chablis. The mood was like the weather: chilly and grey. And it continued like this until the solstice, by which time the estimates were for an overall 50% crop loss across the region. It was hard to coax a smile from even the most seasoned winemakers.
Flowering took place in mid-June and was a bit protracted. It forecast a late September harvest, 100 days away. And given what had come before, the small crop looked incredibly vulnerable.
But with the solstice came summer. A magnificent July and August, with heat enough to curb the mildew, brought exceptional conditions for grapes. Talk in the cellars turned from tales of woe to the benefits of low-yield vintages.
As always in Burgundy, September makes the wine. In 2016, the perfect amount of rain fell on September 14th, at the perfect time to counter the heat stress that the vines were starting to show. And the fruit then ripened quickly in impeccable dry and sunny conditions.
What in mid-June seemed like a doomed crop was suddenly being touted as the equivalent of 2015, and maybe even better! Low yield years give intensity and concentration. Cool vintages give good acidity and balance. 2016 was both. Not a lot of fruit; but from serious ‘vignerons’, what there was was beautiful.
The wines, both red and white, are fresh, chiseled, with balanced acidity and concentration. The whites are definitely better than the 2015s, which lacked a touch of acidity. They are cool and energetic. Maybe not to the level of the fabulous 14s, but there are many similarities.
As to the comparisons between 2015 and 2016, many commentators cite 1990 and 1991. Both 1990 and 2015 are considered among the finest red vintages in living memory. And the vintages that followed them were both low-yield vintages that suffered early frost damage. Both 1990 and 2015 were hot years; both 1991 and 2016 were relatively cool. Both 1990 and 2015 were media darlings, and still are. 1991 got lost in the blare; maybe 2016 as well. But both 1991 and 2016 are arguably much more typically Burgundian than their world-stage predecessors. Classy and classic, ‘typical’ (in the best sense of the word), the greatest fault of the 2016 vintage could be its irregularity.
Remember, this was a tough one for Burgundy. For some producers, it was the fourth consecutive year that their vineyards were damaged and their yields were low. There had not been a ‘normal’ crop since 2009, so their cellars were empty. And when we talk of 50% crop loss, that’s an average across the region. Some areas had zero crop.
So when we get excited about the quality of the 2016s, we need a little restraint as well. Not everyone did the meticulous vineyard work that was necessary to get through the horrible start. As always, if you want to find the best wines, you need to know the best producers. Another important consideration in a low-yield vintage is the shortage of grapes, which means that the big negociant houses can have trouble sourcing fruit. Be careful with negociant wines in 2016. Buy from tried-and-true producers.
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