Edges of Burgundy: Mercurey
This is the next installment in a series that explores sources of good value in Burgundy. We've already looked at the following villages: St. Aubin, Santenay and Savigny-les-Beaune. Today, we're going to look at Mercurey.
For the first time in this series, we are stepping outside of the Cote d'Or. Instantly, prices drop, way further than is justified by any drop off in quality. It's true that Mercurey does not produce any reds on the level of the Cote d'Or's greatest. Yet, compared to red wines from many other regions of the world -- including many others that produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay -- the quality is extremely high and the prices are unaccountably low. Let's get drinking!
Mercurey: Where it is
Mercurey is the main village of the Cote Chalonnaise. As you head south from Beaune on the highway, the next major town you'll arrive at is Chagny. The Cote Chalonnaise starts just beyond that town, immediately to the south of the Cote d'Or. The first AOC is Bouzeron, then Rully and then you get to Mercurey.
It used to be that wine from other nearby villages like Givry and Rully would also be called Mercurey. AOC rules eventually put an end to that. But what this tells us is that, among Cote Chalonnaise villages, Mercurey has long been regarded as the most important. It certainly produces the most wines. And, from the good producers, it also gives the best red wines (the white wines are fine too, but I tend to look to Rully or Montagny for better value in Chardonnay).
The great swathe of limestone that forms the bedrock of the Cote d'Or continues to the south through the Cote Chalonnaise. But here, there is no longer a "Cote" that consistently faces east or southeast. Instead, there is a series of different hills that give a variety of exposures to the vineyards. But the finest sites -- most of the premier crus -- lie on the southern slope of a 350 meter high hill that is just to the north of the village.
The hills mean that the vineyards rest at altitudes that are a little higher than the Cote d'Or. This contributes to a freshness in the wine. Indeed, Mercurey is cooler than the Cote d'Or, so this is definitely a village I prefer in warmer vintages, when there is good fruit to balance out the natural structure that you get in these wines.
Mercurey has a particular flavor. Some people call it "gamey". I think of it as "foresty". There is a wildness to the fruit, as if you were plucking berries deep within the heart of a forest. I like this. Of the famous Cote d'Or villages, it's closest in flavor to Nuits-St.Georges.
These are wines of structure, but you can certainly drink them young in most vintages. Cheaper and earlier drinking than wines from the Cote d'Or, these are very useful wines to have around.
A few wines, though, really are vins de garde -- wines you will want to stick in your cellar and then forget about. The most prominent examples of those wines are the premier crus from Domaine Faively: Clos des Myglands and, especially, the Clos de Roi. I have had 20-year old versions of these wines that were not yet ready to drink, although those were made in the era when Faiveley's wines were generally more backward.
The Crus of Mercurey
There are lots of premier crus in Mercurey. Probably too many. Some of the do not seem so familiar. Who's ever had a bottle of premier cru Jamproye? Here we focus on the permier crus most likely to be spotted on a Flatiron shelf:
Les Champs Martin - This is a name you see a fair bit, as at least two of the village's leading producers grow there (Lorenzon and Juillot). It's on that southern slope described above, although the less desirable pockets of the cru also face somewhat to the west. Red soils with small white stones. A great source of elegant Mecurey.
Le Clos d'Eveque - This is another terrific source, as it is is on the same hill as Champs Martin but with an excellent southeast exposure.
Clos des Myglands - This is just to the north of Clos d'Eveque and faces due east on the same hill. Domaine Faiveley is the largest owner in Mercurey and this is one of several monopoles that they hold (though the only one with premier cru status). I love the Myglands and cellar some every vintage. I start to drink them around 5 years old.
Clos de Chateau de Montaigu - Now we are in a different cluster of premier crus that is to the south of the village and that overlaps into the commune of St-Martin-sous-Montaigu, another village that is entitled to call its wines Mercurey. There are two very important vineyards that are Clos (i.e., surrounded by walls) in this sector. This first one is a monopole owned by the Domaine de Meix-Foulot. This is a relatively high altitude vineyard with lots of white marlstone and chalk. That may sound perfect for Chardonnay, but in fact the vineyard is planted to Pinot Noir and the wine produced is consistently one of the best from Mercurey -- spicy and full bodied.
Clos de Roi - This is the other clos in the Montaigu cluster. It's considered the best in Mercurey. It's good to be king!
Top Producers of Mercurey
Here's who matters most in Mercurey:
Faiveley - This large house from Nuits-St-George is by far the most important producer in Mercurey. They make a lot of wine down here, and what they make is very good. Every year I buy Clos des Myglands and Clos de Roi, as well as a village wine called "Framboiserie" -- named for its distinct raspberry scent. I drink the Framboiserie while I'm waiting for the Myglands to age (5 years). Then when I get through the Myglands I start on the Clos de Roi.
Michel Juillot - This domaine is often touted as the leading Mercurey specialist. They recently released magnums of older wine -- 2001 Champs Martin was sensational!
Meix-Foulot - Agnes de Launy makes lovely old-fashioned wines at this estate. No new oak for the red wines. If you have any interest in Mercurey, her bottling of Clos de Chateau de Montaigu is a must-try. She releases in the U.S. fairly late and we are eagerly awaiting the 2010s this Fall!