A small yet mighty appellation boasting 5 Grand Cru and 20 Premier Cru vineyards, Morey-Saint-Denis (MSD for short) is often overlooked by collectors who know neighbouring regions Gevrey-Chambertin to the north and Chambolle-Musigny to the south better. Those who have tried wines from this appellation (especially bottles of Grand Cru quality!) will attest that this relative obscurity is not due to the quality of the wines, which have their own individual charm and character. So let’s get into the nitty-gritty of what makes MSD so unique.
Now first things first, MSD is well and truly Pinot Noir territory. Located right in the heart of the Cote de Nuits, pretty much exactly half-way between Dijon and Beaune, 95.5% of vines in MSD are Pinot Noir. A few small enclaves of Chardonnay dot the landscape, most on the very top of the hills where it is cooler such as the tiny Monts Luisants Premier Cru, which lies on the hillside above the Clos de la Roche Grand Cru vineyard. Even rarer still are plots of Pinot Blanc, which is a natural white mutation of the ‘genetically unstable’ Pinot Noir. Apart from these tiny plots however, this whole appellation is Pinot Noir heaven with thin and poor-in-nutrition brown clay topsoils with a subsoil of limestone running across the whole region. The whole appellation is located on the perfect east-south-east facing slopes which catch all the gentle rays of the morning sun and drains away any rainfall, forcing the grapes to dig deep into the limestone for moisture and nutrients.
As mentioned previously, a high percentage of land in MSD is top-quality land for growing grapes- in fact it is one of the very few appellations where there is more land rated ‘Grand Cru’ than Premier Cru or Village rated vineyards! Of the total 111.5 hectares of land, 30 hectares (27%) is classified as Village, 39.5 (35%) hectares are rated Premier Cru while a whopping 42 hectares (38%) is classified Grand Cru! Now the producers in MSD say they have 5 Grands Crus, however officially speaking they only have 4; the Bonnes Mares Grand Cru belongs to Chambolle-Musigny, it’s just the 3.5 hectares of it is in another appellation. Why they decided to draw the border between the 2 towns through one of the most highly respected and expensive plots of land on earth I’m not quite sure, however it is always interesting to note which side of the fence your Bonnes Mares comes from! The 4 Grands Crus wholly within the borders of MSD are, from north to south;
Clos de la Roche; often considered the finest vineyard in the whole appellation, Clos de la Roche can create the deepest and most broodingly intense examples of Pinot Noir MSD has to offer. This is due to the soils of this Grand Cru being rich in marl (a fancy name for lime-rich mud), which gives these wines greater depth, body and ability to age. Located in the very north of the appellation, abutting northern neighbour Gevrey-Chambertin, the wines from this Grand Cru share this regions muscular and firm tannin profile, as well as power and a touch higher alcohol than the other Grands Crus. Clos de la Roche is one of the oldest vineyards in Burgundy, and the name refers to a large rock (roche) at the top of the hill which was apparently a meeting place for Gallic druids before the introduction of Christianity into the region. This is one of the largest Grands Crus in Burgundy at 17 hectares.
Clos Saint Denis; is the Grand Cru this whole Morey region took the name of back in 1927, just like neighbours Chambolle (Musigny) and Gevrey (Chambertin). When compared to neighbour Clos de la Roche, St Denis is a tiny little site on the mid-slope of MSD, covering only 6 hectares. It is located on the very outskirts of the village of Morey (probably why it is so small!) and is well-sheltered due to its proximity to the houses, producing more restrained and elegant Pinot Noirs. Many famous producers, including Domaines Louis Jadot, Ponsot and Dujac (who has his cellar here in MSD) make wines from this tiny, sheltered Grand Cru, while the largest land holder is Georges Lignier, who owns about 1.5 hectares.
Clos des Lambrays; is another tiny vineyard weighing in at only 8 hectares and stretches right up to the top of the hill that marks the western border of the appellation. This cooler, more exposed site produces wines that are the most elegant and light of the whole of MSD and are highly prized for this. This site was only raised to Grand Cru status in 1981 after years of consolidation and effort to achieve consistent quality. Today it is now almost entirely a monopole of the Domaine des Lambrays, however a small plot in the lower section of the site, less than one acre in total, is owned by Domaine Taupenot-Merme.
Clos de Tart; is unusual in that it has always been a Monopole vineyard- in a region where the land is constantly being split and re-joined generation to generation to the point where different rows within a vineyard have different owners, ‘The Clos’ has only ever had one owner. A totally walled-in vineyard of 7.5 hectares, the vineyard was originally planted by the sisters of the Notre Dame de Tart order in the 12th Century. The nuns remained in sole control of the site until the French Revolution at the end of the 18th Century, until it was bought by the Mommessin family in 1932. In 2017 it was sold to French billionaire François Pinault for a sum thought to exceed 225 million Euros (355.5 million AUD). I think it might take a few years until Monsieur Pinault sees any return on investment on that one! Interestingly, the vines within this Clos are the only ones in the whole appellation that run north to south rather than the usual east-west line up the slope of the vineyard.
So why are the wines of MSD often forgotten about? Well this is because they fall in between the wines of famous neighbours Gevrey-Chambertin and Chambolle-Musigny- and I don’t just mean geographically! When compared to the muscular, firm wines of Gevrey-Chambertin to the north they are a little too light, but when put side by side with the ethereal, elegant and perfumed Chambolle-Musigny to the south they are a little harder and coarser. That said, a region with such a large percentage of exceptional quality sites and winemaking know-how would be hard-pressed to ever be much below excellent. Indeed in Dr Jules Lavalle’s Histoire et Statistique de la Vignes des Grands Vins de la Côte d’Or, published in 1855, when speaking of Morey-Saint-Denis, he stated “it can be said that it lacks nothing.” Within MSD there are many incredible Premier Cru ‘climats’ alongside the Grands Crus, many of whom sit right on the borders of Grand Cru sites and are basically indistinguishable from them, except in price of course! The wines of Morey-Saint-Denis are the Goldilocks of the Cote de Nuits; not too light but not too heavy, and worth your time- if you can find them that is!
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