One of the first wine areas in the Côte de Nuits region south of Dijon, Gevrey-Chambertin is where Pinot Noir gets very serious. With 9 Grand Cru sites and 26 Premier Cru sites (41% of the total area under vine!), it’s immediately apparent that you’re in serious winemaking territory here- but only Pinot Noir, as that is the only grape legally allowed in wines labelled Gevrey Chambertin. The wines themselves, especially from the two best Grand Cru sites of Chambertin-Clos de Bèze and Chambertin (fabled to be Emperor Napoleon’s favourite), are amongst the most highly sought after Pinot Noir wines in the world at the moment, especially from spectacular producers such as Armand Rousseau, Dugat-Py and Harmand-Geoffroy. These 2 Grand Cru sites consist of only 28.3 hectares of growing area- no wonder they are so hard to come by! But why are they so good?
Well firstly there’s the experience, because wine has been produced here for quite a while; Archaeological digs have uncovered vines cultivated in Gevrey-Chambertin dating back to the 1st Century BC. The Gallo-Romans would have been the people first planting these vines, however as Christianity spread throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, this region became very important to the church (specifically the monks of Cluny in Gevrey-Chambertin), who had a close affinity with grape-growing and wine, and who would have established many of today’s regions as they discovered their potential.
The Gevrey-Chambertin style is amongst the deepest in colour and flavour in the Cote d’Or. In their youth their colour is a bright ruby, turning to deep carmine or dark cerise with age. Strawberry, mulberry, violet, mignonette and rose all help to make up their bouquet. More maturity brings out liquorices, leather and fur, with gamey notes and hints of underbrush. On the palate, they impress with firm structure, velvety tannins and delicate texture. These wines are everything a great Bourgogne should be: full-bodied, powerful, rich, and meaty. Pleasant when drunk young, they are nevertheless first and foremost wines for aging; they can take the longest to evolve, but can become some of the most complete and ethereal wines of all Pinot Noir made.
These wines walk the incredibly fine line of being both muscular and powerful but at the same time fine and restrained. This comes from their perfect position- tailor-made for Pinot Noir of the highest quality and meant for ageing. Vineyards are all based around the foothills of the famous hill of Lavaux, on the east-facing slope. This attributes to their power and structure, despite them being one of the most northerly regions of the Côte de Nuits; by being on the eastern slope, they are hit by the morning sun, which disperses any fog and warms the vineyard all day into the late afternoon, giving them more exposure than a west-facing vineyard such as in the Hautes-Côte de Nuits, or south-facing slopes such as Aloxe-Corton. The soils also play an important role in the flavour composition of these wines; the vines in the Premier and Grand Cru sites are grown on shallow brown limestone with sections of clay, which the vines struggle in, which forces them to put their energy to creating the best-tasting grapes (so they will be eaten by birds and taken away!!). This limestone, broken up by marl rocks, holds onto the heat of the day, warming the vines overnight and further increasing their ripeness and power.
Gevrey-Chambertin then, is a classic example of centuries of trial and error to find the right plot of land to grow the perfect wine. All aspects of the region; slope, topography, soils, orientation, climate, rainfall have been perfectly matched to the specific Pinot Noir vines that grow well here and are capable of producing some of the longest-lived and powerful Pinot Noirs in the Bourgogne region. This is not to say that this system is perfect however- in some vintages the very famous Premier Cru vineyard ‘Clos St-Jacques’ can achieve prices the same as (and sometimes higher) than some Grand Cru vineyards, and some areas technically classified as Grand Cru are no longer living up to their rating (some argue due to their proximity to the busy D974 freeway, such as the Mazoyeres-Chambertin Grand Cru vineyard), so it seems the only thing to do is keep trying more Gevrey-Chambertin wines!
Wine Sales Manager