Domaine des Hospices de Nuits Nuits St Georges 1er Cru 'Rues de Chaux' 2020
It was in the 13th century, around 1270, that the Hospices de Nuits was founded, at the end of the reign of Saint Louis and the accession of the Duke of Burgundy, Robert II. This Hospital was thus born two centuries before the foundation of its illustrious neighbor, the Hospices de Beaune, in 1443. Less known but just as prestigious, the Hospices de Nuits functions in exactly the same way, combining an activity medico-social and a wine estate.
Originally, the Hospices de Nuits-Saint-Georges was a leprosy hospital, opened in 1270 and completely destroyed during the civil and religious wars of the late 16th century. In 1689, the construction of the current hospital began. and despite early financial difficulties, the establishment survives to this day, thanks in particular to charitable donations and legacies which over the centuries have constituted the wine estate. Today, the hospital is a public health establishment which, since January 1, 2016, has been part of the Hospices Civils de Beaune.
From December 2016 to July 2018, work took place as part of the construction of a new infrastructure. The new Saint-Laurent hospital opened its doors in 2018 in premises offering all the comfort and safety of a modern care center.
The wine estate is an integral part of the hospital with its own operating budget. Four winegrowers are employed full time. A part-time team helps in certain seasonal work, as well as about forty people during the harvest. With more than 12 hectares, the Hospices de Nuits-Saint-Georges estate is essentially made up of crus from the Nuits-Saint-Georges, in particular eight plots of village appellations and nine premier crus, thus covering a large part hillsides and terroirs of the appellation. This prestigious vineyard makes it possible to produce 18 cuvées, including a Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er cru “Les Didiers”, wholly owned by the Hospices.
The entire year’s production is auctioned every second Sunday of March following the harvest. The profits from the sale of wines from the winery constitute a substantial aid for hospital investment.
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 NUITS
Nuits-Saint-Georges gives its name to the Cotes de Nuits, the northernmost part of the Cote d'Or and a rival to Beaune as a center of the business of wine in Burgundy. It is a lively wine sitting on either side of the base of the beautiful Vallerots combe and the Meuzin river. Its patron saint, Georges, gives his name to the most famous vineyard of the appellation, which in turn became part of the hyphenated town name in the 19th century. The Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, Burgundy's most famous wine-brotherhood, was founded here in 1934.
Produced in the communes of Nuits-Saint-Georges and Premeaux-Prissey, appellation Nuits-Saint Georges includes 41 premiers crus.
The appellation Nuits-Saint Georges is really two distinct zones, divided by the town itself on either side of the Meuzin valley. The northern part extends as far as the border of Vosne-Romanée, and the southern section lies partly in Nuits-Saint-Georges and partly in the commune of Premeaux. The wines from the vineyards of Premeaux are considered to be lighter than the rest in the southern section. The richest and most highly prized of the vineyards to the south of town are the premiers crus that come up to the village (including 'Les Saint Georges' itself) To the north, the premiers crus lie in a band that stretches to the borders with Vosne-Romanee, and show a lot of the finesse associated with the wines of Vosne. Color should be brilliant crimson with a bouquet of roses and liquorice. You get that Cotes de Nuits black cherry in youth with strawberry and blackcurrant in the mix, and the usual Pinot Noir secondary aromas with age. The southern wines are more muscular and full-bodied, while the wines on the Vosne side show more restraint and elegance. There are some rare whites which reputedly are dense, floral, biscuity and honeyed.
The soils in the northern sector derive from pebbly alluvium washed down from the slopes above, or, in the low-lying parts, silty deposits from the river Meuzin. In the southern sector the alluvia at the base of the slope originate in the combe of Vallerots where there are deep marly-limestone soils, while at the top of the slope, the rock is almost at the surface. Exposures are mostly to the east or south-east.
Almost all red wines - Pinot Noir
White wines - Chardonnay
Production surface area
1 hectare (ha) = 2.4 acres
Reds : 299.03 ha (including 141.62 ha Premier Cru)
Whites : 7.30 ha (including 4.30 ha Premier Cru)
Powerful and structures, this is the wine that gives the Côte de Nuits its reputation as full-bodied and sturdy. It goes with any full flavored meat. Game, especially, is often mentioned with mature wines from Nuits. Locals will serve it with river fish in red wine sauces. Soft-centered cheeses in the style of Époisses, Langres or Soumaintrain are the classic combo.
On the label, the appellations 'Nuits-Saint Georges' and 'Nuits-Saint Georges 1er Cru' may be followed by the name of a specific vineyard, known as a climat.
The following climats are classified as premier cru:
Aux Champs Perdrix
Clos de la Maréchale
Clos des Argillières
Clos des Corvées
Clos des Corvées Pagets
Clos des Forêts Saint-Georges
Clos des Grandes Vignes
Clos des Porrets-Saint-Georges
En la Perrière Noblot
Les Hauts Pruliers
Les Terres Blanches
Rue de Chaux
The following climats are village wines from a single vineyard, known as a lieu-dit.
Au Bas de Combe
Aux Croix Rouges
Aux Pertuis Maréchaux
En la Perrière Noblot
La Petite Charmotte
Le Coteau des Bois
Les Hauts Poirets
Les Hauts Pruliers
Plantes au Baron