Today we touch on a region known for the production of the epitome of wines made from the Chardonnay grape, a region winemakers the world over covet, and a style of wine they attempt to imitate. The village was originally called just Puligny until 1879, when the Montrachet section was added in homage to its iconic Grand Cru vineyard, ‘Le Montrachet’. The origin of these names is the scrubby Mont-Rachet hillside above the village; mont meaning “hill” and rache translating rather less glamorously to either “scab” or “rash”. The glamour of the wines however is not in the name, but the wine.
Simply put, Chardonnay from Puligny is the global standard. Puligny is where all elements required for world-class wine come together; perfect soils with a high percent of limestone give the wine its trademark minerality whilst curbing the vigour of the energetic Chardonnay grape. The weather is never too hot of cold, and a constant breeze keeps air flowing through the vines, preventing the onset of diseases. The hill upon which all the vineyard sits is a perfect east-south-east-facing slope, which drains away excess rain water (again curbing vigour), and catches the full morning sun, which burns away morning mists, again reducing disease risk. What growers are left with are ripe, perfectly formed grapes, which in turn are made into the mineral, searingly acidic and hauntingly powerful masterpieces from the best sites. The wines from Puligny are set apart from their contemporaries in next-door neighbours Chassagne-Montrachet to the south and Meursault to the north by their firm structure- they tend to be tighter, leaner and less approachable when very young, but open and soften with age, and are some of the longest-living examples of Chardonnay on earth. (click map to enlarge)
This is estimated to be the case due to the high water table in the village at the bottom of the hill, which is where all the wine is made and aged. This water in the soil means that deep cellars cannot be dug out, and barrels full of Grand Cru Chardonnay cannot sit and age in oak for years underground before release, due to next vintage needing space.
As a result, the wines have less oak character upon release and taste bracingly tight, then after years in bottle soften and round out- which happens to the wines of other sites while still in barrel. Interestingly, there is still a tiny amount of Pinot Noir grown, and none of it regarded very highly- you think they would take a hint and switch to Chardonnay!
In global wine terms- and even in Burgundian terms, this region is tiny; 235 hectares of vines. To put this into perspective, the smallest and most highly-lauded vineyard area in the Napa Valley, Stags Leap AVA, is more than double the size at 485ha! It is however the quality, not the quantity that has put this scrap of land on the map; within its boundaries sit 4 Grand Cru vineyards, although 2 of them are shared with the region on the other side of the hill, Chassagne-Montrachet. Chevalier-Montrachet (7.59ha) and Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet (3.69ha) are wholly inside Puligny, whereas Bâtard Montrachet (6.02ha) and the most famous of them all, Montrachet (just shy of 4ha) sit in between the two regions. In addition to this, there are 17 Premier Cru sites that can produce some of the best Chardonnay in Burgundy. Many would know the names of famous 1er Cru sites such as Les Pucelles, Les Perrieres, Les Combettes, Les Folatieres and Champ Canet. Some of the best-known names in Burgundy own land here, including the Leflaive families, Carillon and Etienne Sauzet to name a few.
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