Edges of Burgundy: Santenay
This is part 3 of Edges of Burgundy, a series of posts exploring some of the under-valued villages of Burgundy. Last week we did St. Aubin. Now it's Santenay's turn.
For a while I felt that drinking Santenay was like visiting your family of wild cousins and marveling that they are related to you. Was that really Pinot Noir....or was that a Cotes du Rhone I was drinking? It seemed that there was simply too much coarseness and clunkiness for the wines to be from the Cote d'Or. But wine-making has really improved in Santenay over the last decade or so, and more and more I've been finding bottles of wine that truly satisfy my cravings for great Burgundy. Pay just a little bit of attention, and you can find those bottles too.
Where is it
Santenay is directly on the line of AOC villages that run North-South along the Cote d'Or. It used to be at the very southern tip of that line-up. But now Maranges, further south, is also an AOC village. On the other side of Santenay, to the north, lies Chassagne Montrachet.
The big picture
The Cote d'Or heads southwest as it works through the great Chardonnay villages of Meursault, Puligny Montrachet and Chardonnay Montrachet, with the slopes facing southeast. Then the Cote crosses into Santenay, and it starts to veer towards the west. Most vineyards -- certainly all the premier crus -- continue to face southeast, but it's more south-facing than east-facing in these parts.
There are actually two villages of Santenay: Santenay-le-Haut and Santenay-le-Bas. These two villages punctuate the vineyards, dividing them up into three distinct parcels, each of which has its share of premier crus. Check out the map here.
Together, these three parcels make a lot of wine. Only Gevrey Chambertin, Meursault and Beaune make more. While quite a bit of it is ordinary, there is plenty of good wine to be had.
Let's talk terroir
We're still in the Cote d'Or, so we're still very much in the land of limestone. The northern third is quite marly, making it look a lot like the famous Chardonnay villages further north, except that here there's a layer of gravel on top. In the middle third, the limestone changes from Argovian -- the kind that is most common in Cote de Beaune -- to Bajocian, which is what you find in the Cote de Nuit. In the southern third the limestone is still Bajocian, though here it is richer soil and browner in color.
With all that Cote-de-Nuit-like soil, you can see why the vineyards here are mostly planted to Pinot Noir. And the best whites, of course, come from the area bordering Chassagne Montrachet where the Argovian soil is supreme.
You might think that the trick to mastering Santenay is through soil type: get your reds from the Bajocian soils in the bottom two thirds and your whites from the Argovian soils in the top third. In fact, the rule of thumb for Santenay is easier than that. Basically, the best and most complete wines, whether red or white, come from the top third closest to Chassagne Montrachet. Here are the most famous climats that you find there:
Clos de Tavannes
If Santenay had a Grand Cru, this would be it. It borders directly on Chassagne Montrachet, but it produces red wine that is far more interesting -- and far more Cote-de-Nuit-like -- than the Pinot you get in Chassagne. Sometimes this is just called Gravieres.
This is right beside Clos de Tavannes, but it's 5 times as large and you're much more likely to find a bottle. This really is an excellent source of both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The name derives from the layer of gravel that sits on top of the limestone.
This is the "other" cru that touches Chassagne. Good stuff.
In the middle cluster, you find two premier crus, Beaurepaire and La Maladiere. They make wine more known for their fruit rather than their structure.
Finally, in the southern sector, bordering Maranges, you have another small cluster of premier crus, including the well-known Clos Rousseau (sometimes labelled with the more specific Petit Clos Rousseau or Grand Clos Rousseau). These are burly wines that can be quite good but a little rustic -- not nearly as fine as the wines from the northern group but certainly don't be shy about trying a bottle!
One reason Santenay is off the radar is that it has no producers that are particularly famous. But it does have producers that are good, and there are some famous producers from other villages that work there. First and foremost in that latter category would be Domaine de la Pousse d'Or from Volnay, who makes a beautiful Clos de Tavannes and a pretty good Gravieres. Another would be Jean-Marc Morey from neighboring Chassagne. He makes a delicious bottle of Grand Clos Rousseau that I consider a must-try every vintage.
From Santenay itself, a leading producer is Roger Belland, who works in a modern style, typically with a fair amount of new oak. Dear to our heart is Domaine Vincent, an organic producer who offers a delicious Gravieres at a terrific price. And then there is Paul Chapelle, a little producer who has consulted with some very big names. Chapelle releases his wines very late: the most recent release is 2002! He is always a go-to source for me when I need mature Burgundy that doesn't cost a lot of money.