In the village of Flagey-Échezeaux, lying almost entirely within the Échezeaux Grand Cru itself, lies a much smaller, more exclusive Grand Cru that is made up of the best one of the 12 vineyards that are used to make up the two Grands Crus. The other 11 are merged together to create the Échezeaux Grand Cru, but the single grandest vineyard of them all, which is about 18.6 acres, is designated with the Grands title. Yields are also generally lower, and in fact usually only about 3,000 cases per year of wine are produced. The number of producers is a fraction of that of Échezeaux itself.
The Grands Échezeaux appellation was created in 1936, a year prior to the creation of the Échezeaux appellation. At some point, Grands Échezeaux wines were given the right to be labeled under the Échezeaux name, although it is unclear why they would want to. The same rules applied for AOC laws, but the size of the vineyard means that quality is less variable, and it didn't take long for Grands Échezeaux to assert itself as having more concentration and complexity than the plain Échezeaux version.
Climate and Viticulture
Unlike Échezeaux, Grands Échezeaux is made up of only a single vineyard, which has enormously better soil. Of course, rainfall patterns and temperatures are generally the same, and since it's not a walled vineyard it is not protected from wind or other unpleasant climatic conditions. Quite simply, Grands Échezeaux has great soil, with finer concentrated limestone and marl than in any particular Échezeaux vineyard.
- Pinot Noir: As usual for the Côte de Nuits, Pinot Noir is king in the Grands Échezeaux vineyard. The blending of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris into the red wines is probably not practiced at all among these outstanding wines, considering the fact that the producers here are much more competitive than in most other appellations of the world. As for the wines themselves, the typical Échezeaux flavors are present, ranging from red fruits like cherry and redcurrant to minerals to game, smoke, and spice. This is all typical Pinot Noir stuff, but in the Grands Échezeaux version the wines can take on a much more complex style than in the Échezeaux appellation, with structure and complexity that makes a wine clearly built for long aging. Typically, the silky texture is lifted by powerful but fine and rich tannins and a much longer finish. As a result, the wines are much more ageworthy than the plain old Échezeaux version, often lasting more than 20 years. The right time for drinking might be after about 12-15 years, although it really depends on the bottle.
In dramatic contrast to Échezeaux, there are so few producers and the wines from Grands Échezeaux are so exclusive that only a few fit the criteria of being both world-class and widely available. All wines here are considered excellent, but there are only seven that, to our knowledge, can be regularly found outside France:
- Drouhin: This négociant has one of their best wines in Grands Échezeaux, which greatly improves on their Échezeaux. The wine's flavors are darker than most, with the black fruits ranging from plum and olive to an almost Bordeaux-like blackcurrant. But the soft texture and spicy, flowery notes are clearly Burgundian. An even greater wine should emerge with 20 years of aging. Prices are about $300, but are over $400 for the 2005.
- Domaine d'Eugenie: A very good cuvée that seems to be well-priced, with its $250-$300 cost in the same range as its négociant competitors. Extraordinarily rich wines have scents of chocolate, liqueur, and spice, and their almost layered textures seem to be more Bordeaux-like than Burgundian. But this wine also is very lively, and needs aging both to mellow and to soften the tannic power.
- Domaine Gros Frere et Soeur: A great cuvée that, however, requires aging to show its true magic. Initially, the flavors of black fruit, violet, and minerals are silky and smoky, as well as structured. After 10+ years, the wine should gain in complexity and show truly world-class concentration and depth of flavor. Prices have seemed to hover around $300 for recent vintages, but as usual the 2005 is much more expensive.
- Jadot: Chocolate and dark, sometimes black, fruit, are the flavors that usually win out here, while undertones of flowers and minerals come out after more time. Not an exceptionally complex style, but there's enough power here to give this wine 20 years in the cellar, after which it could easily improve greatly. Prices are slightly lower than those of other négociants, usually under $300.
- Dominique Laurent: A simply outstanding style of Grands Échezeaux, complex enough to rival the DRC example, this négociant-bottled wine is made from very old vines in a small slice of the Grands Échezeaux vineyard. Incredibly intense but at the same time seamless and without hard edges, the wines add an additional layer of concentration and depth to the typical style that brings them to a legitimately outstanding level. They combine power and weightlessness like a good Musigny. A silky texture and incredible concentration combine to produce sharply delineated flavors of very dark fruit, minerals, flowers, and spicy meat. There is enough tannic reserve and natural flavor here to keep this evolving for 20+ years, but don't count on finding a bottle easily no matter how much you're willing to spend.
- Nicolas Potel: A wine that has improved greatly in recent years. These wines are extremely ripe and sweet, but at the same time highly complex. A deep but still forward bouquet of fruit includes spice, raspberry, and perhaps even a tinge of chocolate. A decade is probably about the right time to leave this bottle. Expect to pay $200-$300.
- Domaine de la Romanée-Conti: DRC's Grands Échezeaux far surpasses their Échezeaux and in some years even their more famous Vosne-Romanée offerings. It excels in almost every vintage, displaying a unique combination of DRC's own signature style with the Grands Échezeaux nature itself. The wines utilize the well-known DRC aromas of raspberry liqueur, ripe smoke, and dark flavors of coffee and chocolate. They are also more earthy than many wines utilizing the Échezeaux name, with flavors of sage and underbrush often dominating at an early stage. Incredibly pure flavors of fruit saturate the long finish, which is buffered by very firm tannins and generous acidity. In addition to being tannic, this wine is also often classically dry despite the ripeness of almost all its various flavors. A good aging period is 15 years, but even 25-30 would not hurt. These long-term investments will generally cost $600, but four-figure prices become common in vintages such as 2005.
Grands Échezeaux is not to be confused with Échezeaux. Other than that, there are no lieux-dits, subregions, or important labeling practices to be spoken of here.