Toward the north of the Côte de Beaune, near Pommard, there is a village that has become famous for a red wine style dramatically different from Pommard, yet on the same prestigious level. The depth, intensity, and concentration of Pommard's wines lead the Côte de Beaune, and they are often more powerful than even Côte de Nuits Grands Crus, but Volnay makes an entirely different style. The soft, round wine is among the most elegant of Côte d'Or reds.
Not everyone is fond of this style, and many critics prefer concentration to elegance, but there's no doubt that for what it is, Volnay is the primary village in the Côte de Beaune. Often, the elegance factor is understated in the Côte de Nuits as well, with the wines concentrating on raw power and intensity. As a result, Volnay has gained a reputation as perhaps the best place in the Côte d'Or to find feminine red Burgundy.
Only red wine is legally produced in Volnay; white wine must be labeled under some other appellation. It is made almost entirely in the commune of Volnay, a village whose roughly three square miles yield about 511 acres of vineyards. This is much less than Pommard, but still quite a large number, especially considering that about 328 of these acres are designated as Premier Cru. There are also five Premier Cru vineyards in Meursault that label their red Volnay-Santenots.
The scenic village of Volnay was recognized as an AOC in 1937, along with Pommard and the other original Côte de Beaune appellations. It was then that the white wine of the village, which up until then had been undistinguished, was actually outlawed. Since then, red wine only has been produced in Volnay. Alcohol regulations were also set: the French government required 10.5 percent minimum alcohol for village-level wine and 11 percent minimum for any Premier Cru offerings. The separate Volnay-Santenots appellation was also created in 1937.
Unlike the white wine appellations of the Côte de Beaune, Volnay wine was not affected by the groundbreaking 1976 Judgement of Paris, as no Pinot Noirs were judged in that competition. (At the time, and still today, there was no doubting Burgundy's Pinot Noir superiority.) As a result, Volnay's progress has continued unimpeded, and a number of wines have gained reputations similar to those of the Grands Crus.
Climate and Viticulture
The Volnay climate is very similar to Pommard's, but apparently even better: in addition to the cool climate, almost perfect rain and wind conditions, and naturally low-yielding grapes, Volnay is on a slight slope, unlike the flat Pommard. In addition, the soil is made up of highly concentrated, ancient Bathonian limestone with excellent drainage. This leaves it a mystery as to why there are no Grands Crus in Volnay.
The reason could only be determined by a skilled viticulturist, but the likelihood is that at least a couple of Volnay's vineyards deserve the distinction. In lieu of this, though, over the years Volnay has built its reputation on the taste of its wines. It is considered a great place to find wine for much cheaper than the Côte de Nuits, an edge which might be lost if some vineyards got Grand Cru status.
- Pinot Noir: Like Pommard, Volnay makes red wine only, and except for a very few wines in which Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris are blended in, the great Pinot Noir makes up 100% of Volnay wines. As mentioned before, Pinot Noir makes wine of a very light, elegant style in Volnay, but unlike many elegant Pinot Noirs, Volnay wines also have the backbone of concentration and ageability that makes them worthy of all the hype. Also, they boast an advantage rare in the Côte de Beaune, which is approachability without sweetness. These are dry reds, and perfectly serious, but yet they have that classiness sometimes thought to be found only in red wines with some sweetness. The flavors are the usual Pinot Noir notes of earth and soil, wild and sometimes exotic plum, cherry, raspberry, and blackberry notes, along with less obvious tinges of smoke, leather and chocolate. Wines here tend to peak 5-8 years in, but can last for 10-15 easily.
Volnays are among the best values of Burgundy, especially considering their reasonable availability and consistency. Except for what comes from boutique producers, Volnay wines generally cost a maximum of $250 and range on down to the occasional $30 for a select few Premier Cru wines.
We consider 11 producers to have the Volnay market essentially locked up. Another good producer not listed here is the boutique Domaine Leroy; while these wines are on a par with all those in this list, they often cost five times as much, and are also not widely available. Here are the main 11.
Note: Boillot is a "fragmented" domaine, with many different wines coming from the various Boillot names. This scenario is confusing, but in the below subregions section we attempt to avoid ambiguosity when talking about them. For this list Boillot is counted as one producer.
- Bouchard Pere et Fils
- Domaine des Comtes Lafon
- Domaine Michel Lafarge
- Dominique Laurent
- Domaine Marquis d'Angerville
- Lucien Le Moine
- Domaine de Montille
- Nicolas Potel
- Domaine de la Pousse d'Or
- Domaine Jacques Prieur
As a village in which Grands Crus do not exist and no lieux-dits are tremendously important, Volnay is entirely driven by the reputation of the high-end Premiers Crus. There are 31 climats in total, one of which is the somewhat confusing Santenots appellation.
- Les Angles
- Les Brouillards: Domaine de Montille's offerings here are rather simple, but a decent value.
- Les Caillerets: This is an extremely common Premier Cru, and often an outstanding one. Flavors tend to be typical Volnay, although without the extra depth to bring them to the Grand Cru-like quality of Premiers Crus such as Taillepieds. Deep, exotic, yet elegant, the Jean Boillot is capable of aging, but the roasted-ripe, richly gamy Henri Boillot is on yet another level. Michel Lafarge's dark and minerally yet silky cuvée is remarkable. Subtle and approachable, the Lucien Le Moine is a simple style. Potel's example combines power and elegance well. Roundly complex, with dark earthy flavors, the Pousse d'Or is another leader here.
- Carelle sous la Chapelle: This Premier Cru is an important holding of Domaine Jean-Marc Boillot. While a round and balanced wine, Boillot's offering often is tinged with minerally notes unusual to Volnay.
- Champans: This is a very common and reputable Premier Cru, and many of our Major Producers have an offering here. Rich but closed, the Lafon offers only a hint of what's to come if you try to drink it in the first few years. From Marquis d'Angerville a balanced, smooth, fruity style can provide early-drinking pleasure. Extremely dense but rich, the Montille is also fun; Potel makes wine of a similar style. Prieur's wine may be better, with flavors of fresh, somewhat exotic spice and minerals. This is also good for aging.
- Chevrets: A fairly solid Premier Cru, with good wine coming from the Boillot dynasty. Jean Boillot's cuvée is complex and dry, but still with ripe flavors of liqueur and mineral. These should be aged; the Henri Boillots are equally complex, but can be drunk earlier on for their silkier texture and more rounded style.
- Clos des 60 Ouvrées: Domaine de la Pousse d'Or's offerings from this Premier Cru combine vibrant, mildly sweet earth aromas with ultra-powerful black fruit notes. In years such as 2005, these are some of the best Volnays, and in almost all vintages they are well above average.
- Clos de l'Audignac: This is another of Domaine de la Pousse d'Or's Premiers Crus. While not as remarkable as the Clos des 60 Ouvrées, these wines are rich and fresh with bitter chocolate, coffee, and black fruit flavors hopefully harmonizing to become more sweet and approachable with a few years of aging.
- Clos de la Barre: Jadot, which otherwise does not have as competitive a Volnay lineup as it does in other villages, has Clos de la Barre as its Premier Cru monopole. While not a Volnay leader, the wine is above average with earthy, somewhat backward notes at first. It is redeemed by good aging potential, solid structure, and prices that sometimes go below $30!
- Clos de la Bousse d'Or: Rhymingly, this vineyard is a monopole of Domaine de la Pousse d'Or. The wines' dark flavors of black cherry and plum are supplemented by slightly spicy earth tones and a mineral structure. Despite more seriousness than the majority of Volnays, the wine never gets too intense. It often costs around $100.
- Clos de la Cave des Ducs
- Clos du Château des Ducs: The top wine here comes from Lafarge. Bitter and liqueur-like, it shows its black cherry and chocolate flavors very strongly at first, but eventually becomes more round and approachable. In the best vintages these wines can brush the Grand Cru levels of complexity and structure, but also charge Grand Cru-like prices of $150+.
- Clos de la Chapelle
- Clos des Chênes: This is one of the leading vineyards in Volnay and it shows: many producers are trying their hand here, and a few that have pulled ahead of the field are now really producing Grand Cru-level wine. In general, this vineyard produces somewhat more intense, concentrated wine than typical Volnay; as a result, the wines are often compared to Pommard. With the requisite 7-10 years' aging, four wines especially can be on the level of many Grands Crus. These come from, in ascending order of expected price, Dominique Laurent, Lucien Le Moine, Lafon, and Lafarge. Ripe, supple and chocolaty, the Laurent is less firm than the intense but ripely fruited Lucien Le Moine. Lafon's is even more rich and deep, with age a must, but yet the leader here, Lafarge, can outdo everything in concentration and chocolaty richness.
- Clos des Ducs: This monopole is thoroughly owned by the greatly devoted Volnay producer, Domaine Marquis d'Angerville. This is such a complex and pure wine, with so many flavors, that predicting its flavors at the adequate time for drinking (10-15 years in) is a difficult task even for leading wine experts. Unfortunately, this Grand Cru level wine also has Grand Cru level price: $250+ for top vintages.
- Clos de la Rougeotte: Both Jean Boillot and Henri Boillot make soft but earthy wine here.
- Clos du Verseuil
- Frémiets: The Boillot producers are notable here. Juicy and sweet, the Jean Boillot is pleasantly simple, even for Volnay, while the spicy, serious Henri Boillot is quite the opposite.
- Frémiets-Clos de la Rougeotte
- La Gigotte
- Les Lurets
- Mitans: Although there is competition from Lafarge and others, the leader of this Premier Cru is Domaine de Montille's sweet, flowery, lively wine. It has a lot of energy and sweetness, but is intense on the palate with a number of well-concentrated fruit and earth flavors. There have been several off vintages, but at high points such as 2007, they can reach Grand Cru level in breadth and complexity.
- Pitures-Dessus: This Premier Cru vineyard is usually abbreviated as Pitures. Potel's examples are concentrated and very serious with an edge of mineral firmness that is rarely found in Volnay. This is a very unusual wine, and as such is sometimes underrated by critics, making it a good value for less conventional Pinot Noir lovers. The Jean-Marc Boillot is much lighter, with pure red fruit flavors and spicy earth tinges. It offers more traditionally Volnay structure with an additional layer or two.
- Le Ronceret: Jean-Marc Boillot's wine is the leader here: it is consistently ripe and deep with a good amount of complexity.
- Santenots: The strange story of the Volnay-Santenots appellation began in 1937, when Volnay was given the privilege to use five Meursault Premier Cru vineyards for a new designation, to be entitled Volnay-Santenots. This unconventional idea has led to what is essentially an independent red wine appellation within Meursault that carries Volnay's name. To make matters somewhat less confusing, it usually is of a style fairly similar to Volnay. Since there are five vineyards, generalization of the style is nonetheless fairly difficult. Dominique Laurent, Lucien Le Moine, Marquis d'Angerville, and almost every other négociant make good wines here, but the smaller producers tend to do better. These are well-flavored, ageable wines, and with few exceptions, can be had for a good price. Prieur's Clos des Santenots has more ambition, with a great spicy complexity. The consistent leader is the Lafon, which is truly of a Grand Cru status. Labeled as Volnay Santenots du Milieu, the wine is outstandingly elegant with as much complexity as any Grand Cru, along with darker, more earthy flavors to add to the subtle richness. This is a classically dry wine with substantial tannins, and is appreciable for its elegance early on but can easily age for 20 years.
- Taillepieds: This is a good Premier Cru in general quality, although one of the less common and available Volnay designations. The general style here is usually fairly closed and backward at first, although these are always ripe wines. Usually they need 7-12 years to show Volnay's trademark elegance and roundness. Bouchard and Potel make typically closed but promising styles. The Taillepieds is Marquis d'Angerville's best wine, with stony notes added to the usual fruit flavors, great energy, and promise for increasing complexity with age. Domaine de Montille's Taillepieds is also excellent: in the best years, it is structured and intense but at the same time subtle, and eligible to take on a magnificent raspberry and earth maturity.
- Le Village