Today we travel right to the heart of Burgundy’s Cote de Nuits to a region that, when speaking of quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, is legendary – a name synonymous with quality for several centuries; Vougeot. This appellation is unique for 2 main reasons; first, Vougeot has the highest percentage of Grand Cru vineyards of any Burgundian appellation. While not a particularly large appellation at 67.1 hectares, the region is dominated by the staggeringly large 50.6 hectare ‘Clos de Vouget’ Grand Cru vineyard, which accounts for a whopping 75.4% of land area, leaving only 11.7 hectares for Premier Cru production and a measly 4.8 hectares for Village production! This would be a big deal in many quality regions across the world, however is even more significant when you consider the neighbours of the appellation; Echezeaux to the west, Les Musigny to the north, and the world famous Vosne Romanee vineyards an easy walk to the south-west. Such a large percentage of coveted Grand Cru vineyards is unbelievably rare, and this is serious Pinot Noir territory, making it all the rarer. The second reason the appellation is unusual is because one third of its production is white wine. Whilst initially this doesn’t sound too interesting, it is significant when you consider that 95% of wine produced in the whole of the Cote de Nuits is red Pinot Noir; Vougeot alone is almost entirely responsible for the survival of Chardonnay in the northern half of the Cote d’Or!
As I mentioned before, the appellation of Vougeot has been an area known for the high quality of its wines for quite a while; the appellation has been planted to grapes for almost a thousand years! The Clos de Vougeot was the flagship vineyard of the Cistercian Monks back in the 12th Century, who made famous the varieties and wines of this region throughout that period. They walled off and tended the Clos de Vougeot with utmost care, and the wines they made from this site were legendary. As mentioned above, the Grand Cru Clos de Vougeot vineyard is huge at over 50 hectares, and there are distinct differences in terrior throughout a vineyard as large as this, especially in regards to soils; the western section, where it abuts both Musigny and Grands Echezeaux, is on a gently sloping hill and consists of light calcareous gravel on a well-drained bed of oolitic limestone. Mid-way down the slope, the soil turns to gravel mixed with clay on a softer, less porous limestone, and down at the base the vineyard flattens out and touches the D974 freeway, with poorly-drained soils of alluvial clay. Back when the monks were making the wine, they would blend wines from these different portions of the vineyard, each of which would bring something to the total wine, giving it a complexity that most other vineyards could only dream of. Today however, over 80 different producers own different parts of the vineyard, each producing a ‘Grand Cru’ wine from the small number of vines they own, and there are definitely some that are better than others due to some inadequate raw materials that should only be used to blend. This has severely weakened the image of Vougeot’s overall quality, however some producers such as Meo-Camuzet, Anne Gros and Chateau de la Tour (the largest landowner) produce world-class wines from this appellation. It should come as no surprise that they all own sections from all over the vineyard; seems they paid attention to the wisdom of the monks!
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Red Vougeot is classically one of the most powerful and muscular of all Pinot Noir from Burgundy, as well as one of the most unyielding in its youth, consisting mainly of hard, firm tannins and tight concentrated black fruits- more robust than elegant. With age however (minimum a decade), and from the right producer, the wines become some of the most complex, intense and complete of the whole region. The fruit spectrum consists of violets, with intense blue/black fruit notes such as Morello cherry and blackcurrant, then leading towards truffles and undergrowth in the middle palate, with a long, licorice-tinted finish. Tannin and structure are always common elements in Vougeot; usually coating and dusty compared to the usually firm but light tannins of other Cote de Nuits appellations. White Vougeot is also recognised by richness, and expresses more tropical elements (mango, acacia) when compared to other Burgundian Chardonnays, as well as deep, rich gingerbread and quince note.
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