Domaine De Suremain Monthelie 1er Cru 'Sur la Velle' 2020
With four different strains of Pinot Noir planted in the same parcel, this south-facing low-yielding premier cru has-- year in, year out-- incredible diversity and breeding. Here we find that black cherry Pinot, with rich extraction, soft tannins and great balance. Great aging potential too.
DOMAINE ERIC DE SUREMAIN
Eric De Suremain talks a lot about synergy. Synergy between where you come from and who you are. He inherited much more from his father than just the chateau in the center of Monthelie. He got a passion for the land, the rudiments of viticulture, a love of the vine and the culture of wine. And when he talks about synergy between who you are and respect of that heritage, the discussion turns to biodynamics.
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
Monthélie is situated between Volnay and Meursault, with one of the prettiest views in the Côte de Beaune. The vineyards form a horseshoe shape around the village, from the slopes leading down from Volnay and continuing into the Auxey-Duresses valley. For a small village with a population of fewer than 200, Monthélie produces a lot of wine: 65,000 bottles per year. And many of the village inhabitants are directly involved in that production.
Produced only in the commune of Monthélie appellation Monthélie includes 15 premiers crus.
Monthélie is nearly all red, and that red should be brilliant ruby. Cherry and blackcurrant fruit, and, in certain vineyards, a similar floral arrangement to Volnay (violets!) highlight the bouquet. As the wines evolve, they take on the typical Pinot Noir secondary aromas of undergrowth, leather and mushroom. Monthélie, on the Volnay side of the village, is fine and delicate like Volnay. And on the Auxey-Duresses side, the wines can be firmer with more obvious tannic structure.
As with nearly every village in this zone, the plantation of Chardonnay is on the rise in Monthélie, though it accounts for only 10% of the production today. These whites are often described as being similar to the wines of neighboring Meursault. That is true, though in terms of finesse, slightly exaggerated. You get lemony acidity, white flowers, sweet apple and nuttiness which when in balance make for a great value Chardonnay.
There are two distinct vineyards zones in appellation Monthélie. Some of the vines are on the Volnay side of the village facing south and south-east and planted on pebbly bathonien limestone with a top layer of red clay and marl. And some of the vines are on the Auxey-Duresses side where the rock is argovien limestone and exposures are easterly or westerly, depending on course of the Auxey valley. Altitudes are between 270-320 meters.
Nearly all reds - Pinot Noir
Whites - Chardonnay
Production surface area
1 hectare (ha) = 2.4 acres
Reds : 106.38 ha (including 34.31 ha premier cru)
Whites : 12.96 ha (including 1.69 ha premier cru)
The reds of Monthélie can be velvety but quite firm, with tannins that need roasted meats with a crunchiness: roast fowl (dark or white meat), roast lamb, or rabbit. These wines also go well with country pâtés. For cheese, go for creaminess Brillat-Savarin, Brie or Reblochon.
On the label, the appellations 'Monthélie' and 'Monthélie 1er Cru' may be followed by the name of a specific vineyard, known as a climat.
The followin climats are classified as premier cru: