The Musigny vineyard, which lies completely within the grandiose village of Chambolle-Musigny, is among the best places for Pinot Noir in the world, along with the most exclusive and expensive vineyards of Vosne-Romanée, such as Romanée-Conti and La Tâche. Most people will never be able to afford a great Musigny, and so the luxurious wine is reserved almost entirely for the wealthy or those privileged enough to be in the wine industry.
Those who favor Musigny's flavors know that the wines' character is generally compared to "an iron fist in a velvet glove." This metaphor, which has also been applied to Margaux, portrays the immense, overwhelming power and depth of the wines, and how this character is absorbed by a velvety, soft texture to give the wine no impression of heaviness. This is no easy feat, and only a few vineyards in the world are able to achieve it.
The vineyard, which is about 25.5 acres, is high on a hillside above the Chambolle-Musigny village. Strangely, white wine is also allowed there, but very little is produced. The total figures are about 3,500 cases of wine per year, slightly less than 300 of which are white. Just for comparison purposes, this entire vineyard, with all its producers, produces only about half of what an average vintage of Château Cheval Blanc might yield. Château Cheval Blanc is considered one of the most exclusive wines in the world.
In 1936, Musigny was officially recognized as a Grand Cru vineyard and therefore AOC within the Côte de Nuits. However, its history had begun long before that. In the 1880s, the vineyard was famous enough already for its Pinot Noirs so that the village Chambolle which contained the vineyard took on its name in a hyphenated form. And in 1929, prior to the application of AOC, the vineyard's boundaries were officially delineated and rules were specified for the wines grown there. Since then, Musigny has maintained its fame and cult status as one of the best vineyards for Pinot Noir in the world.
Climate and Viticulture
The Musigny vineyard, located above the Chambolle village, doesn't have any apparent advantage. At first sight, it seems like just another vineyard. Of course, weather conditions like rainfall patterns and temperature are perfect, but aren't they in the neighboring Premier Cru vineyards as well?
Musigny's advantage is derived through the soil. There's some extremely rich iron in the soil here, giving the wine much of its ripeness and richness. But the soil is very calcareous, meaning that the calcium carbonate levels in the soil are extraordinarily concentrated. The calcium generally takes the form of limestone, making for wine of exceptional concentration and power. These two, iron and limestone, ideally combine to create a fabulous combination of weight and weightlessness--in short, the perfect Pinot Noir.
- Pinot Noir: While it is tempting to compare some of the great Musignys to other Pinot Noirs from other parts of the world, the great likelihood is that the best simply don't compare to anything else outside of Burgundy. During their first few years of life, the best Musignys showcase aromas of raspberry, blackberry, minerals (likely from the high degree of iron and calcium in the soil), light flowers, and stone. But there are also notorious tinges of blood orange, rose, flint, and violet. Spicy and earthy flavors are less present here than in many other Burgundy Pinots. Although solidly built, the best Musignys negate it all with their silky-smooth texture--the velvet glove. Aging will benefit Musignys too, although perhaps not as much as it will other Côte de Nuits wines. Ideally, 10-20 years should impart the wine with even more ripeness and balance. When the combination of power and elegance is mastered--and there are an abundance of producers that are able to do this--the result is one of the best wines in the world. Unfortunately, these are also some of the most expensive, running about $300 for an apparent bare minimum, $500 for a leading bottle, and $3,000 for boutiquery wines.
- Chardonnay: Strangely, Chardonnay was never banned in the AOC regulations. As long as it has a minimum of 12 percent alcohol, Chardonnay can be produced here under the label Musigny Blanc. The only known example is produced by Comte Georges de Voguë. Although excellent, it's also quite pricey.
There are very few producers in Musigny, as even some of the best négociants cannot afford the exclusive, rarely sold land here. As a result, the wines here are very expensive, even by Grand Cru standards, with $300 seemingly a bargain here and $700 being about par.
Although almost all Musignys produced, from whatever domaine, are outstanding, we have singled out seven that are generally considered the best here.
- Drouhin: The Musigny here is honest to Drouhin's general style: completely approachable, but very complex with a core of fruit that does not wither over the years. Ripe, silky and full of flavor, it is said that, running counter to the general aging process, the wine becomes much more deep and structured with time in the cellar. Prices start at $300 but are usually much more.
- Faiveley: This négociant's Musigny has always been world-class, but the domaine has recently upped the ante in the Côte de Nuits and recent Musigny vintages have been practically perfect, competing with much more expensive bottles from Leroy and even Voguë. There is a clear silky texture, to go along with flavors of mineral, smoke, spice, oak tinges, and of course the usual core of Pinot red fruit. After the necessary aging period, this should also have the elegance that great Musignys are noted for.
- Domaine Leroy: This boutique producer probably makes its best wines in Musigny, and although the few available cost well in excess of $2,000, the aura of exclusivity and perfect finesse surrounding them makes the price palatable for those consumers wealthy enough to consider such a wine. Flavors experience a long and unpredictable evolution, starting out with ripe notes of earth, coffee, spice, minerals, flowers, and Pinot fruit, and shifting throughout the wine's lifetime to reach even more exotic notes. Throughout this, the trademark velvet texture will continue to occupy the wine, becoming more pronounced toward the end of its term.
- Domaine Jacques-Frederic Mugnier: Mugnier, whose Chambolle "Les Amoureuses" is Grand Cru level, is not to be outdone in the Musigny vineyard either. Some of the most pure and broad Musignys are produced here, although their depth is usually a bit more intimidating than some other domaines'. Black fruit and coffee flavors make for a slightly more bitter wine, but the ripeness of the mineral and spice flavors help to balance it out. Either way, this is a wine for 10-20 years of aging. Prices range from $450 all the way up to over $1,000 for the most desirable vintages.
- Domaine Jacques Prieur: Jacques Prieur's Musigny offering has appreciated significantly in pedigree over the last 10-20 years. The style is controversial; rather than elegance, these Musignys focus on dense flavors and significant power, with a classically dry tinge that makes them even austere at first. Still, the strength is supplemented by classic Musigny notes of smoke, spicy herbs, various flowers, and the usual Pinot fruit core. Expect to pay at least $350.
- Domaine Roumier: Domaine Roumier is one of the leading estates in the Côte de Nuits, and one of their flagship offerings, if not the flagship, is the outstanding Musigny. The 2005 has been called one of the best wines in history, with its amazing intensity, concentration, and pure power somehow supplemented by a velvet texture and a weightless impression. Concentrated fruit and mineral flavors can turn exotic over 15-20 years' aging, which is strongly recommended here. Prices are exorbitant, apparently ranging up over $2,000 for the 2005.
- Domaine Comte Georges de Voguë: Voguë owns about 75% of the Musigny vineyard, and with that land advantage it's not surprising that their wine has the best reputation here. From a few acres they also produce a somewhat boutique white Chardonnay as mentioned above. The standard wines start out with pure and lively notes of red fruit, blood orange, flowers and spice. The old-vine examples are usually slightly more powerful and concentrated and should be aged for a few years longer. The trademark velvet texture is present in both these great reds. The "basic" wine will cost $300 and up, the old-vine at least $500, and in great vintages such as 2005 both can exceed $1,000.
Although Musigny has certain technical subregions, there are no lieux-dits and any wine here will be labeled Musigny or Le Musigny only.