Chambertin, often known as "King of Wines", is Gevrey-Chambertin's most famous Grand Cru and one of the best in Burgundy. Historically, the vineyard has been shared by a number of owners, so consistency has never approached that of monopoles such as Romanée-Conti. However, most producers are good, and for those who love the style it can't be rivaled anywhere else in the world.
There are actually 9 Chambertin vineyards, including Chambertin-Clos de Bèze, which is allowed to label its wines as Chambertin. The main Chambertin vineyard is about 37 acres, which yielded about 5,000 cases of wine in 2008. Except for Charmes-Chambertin, Chambertin itself is the most productive and largest of all Chambertin vineyards.
In recent years the reputation of the satellite vineyards has caught up with Chambertin itself, and a slight slump in quality has reduced the reputation the Chambertin appellation. But from the great producers, a style of wine is produced that is rarely replicated even in other Grand Cru vineyards, and certainly nowhere outside the Côte d'Or. Rich, powerful and concentrated, the best wines have decades of aging potential and after the right term, show a distinctively Burgundian game flavor.
All the Chambertin Grand Cru AOCs were officially recognized in 1937, but the area's history stretches back long before then. It is alleged that the Clos de Bèze vineyard actually has a longer history, but when a competitor started up the Chambertin vineyard, his offerings quickly superseded those of Clos de Bèze. The turbulence continued when a vigneron acquired both vineyards in 1702.
Eventually, Chambertin was set up to be the main vineyard and the other 8 as essentially satellites. Then, however, a number of new owners bought into Chambertin and quality became lower than that of the Clos de Bèze vineyard again. This has remained true for decades now, but a number of new offerings are spicing up Chambertin and it is possible that the vineyard may return to the top spot.
Climate and Viticulture
Unlike many other Grands Crus, the Chambertin vineyard is not set on a hill. In fact, the land of the vineyard is essentially flat, but it contains a high enough concentration of limestone and clay to compensate for this possible disadvantage. The depth and layered nature of the soil makes for deep, layered wines, in a generally similar firm and intense style. This goes for many of the other Chambertin vineyards as well.
- Pinot Noir: Except for the allowed but obscure blending of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir from Chambertin will be 100% varietal. There is no white Chambertin, as indeed no white wine can be legally labeled under any name containing "Chambertin". Pinot Noir itself takes on various characteristics; "modern" wines that usually don't reach to Grand Cru level don't follow the classic characteristics. The classic, definitive Chambertin has flavors of black cherry, black raspberry, olive, and other very dark fruits, combined with the famous smoked meat essence present in many Gevrey-Chambertins as well. The best Chambertins, though, offer an additional layer of perfume, which usually offers up herbs, smoke and flowers. It's hard to find a more complex Pinot Noir anywhere in the world, even if Chambertin's weak point is refinement. The right time to drink the best of these is really 15 or more years in, as it is only then that the flavors will have harmonized. Certainly, some of these wines are capable of aging 20-25 years.
Chambertin has a huge number of producers, and all of them make pricey wine due to the presence of the Grand Cru label. Some of it, however, doesn't measure up to Grand Cru level. This is unfortunate, but there are still enough good producers here to make the appellation very much a worthwhile one.
We found exactly 10 producers that we consider to be Chambertin leaders.
- Domaine Dugat Py: This enviably consistent wine is praised by critics in almost all vintages. The wine has the traditional Chambertin flavors of smoked game, dark berries, and subtle licorice, to go along with the more delicate notes of flowers and herbs. It also boasts an amazing velvety texture, which adds to the wine's incredible purity. This cuvée is too intense and concentrated to drink young, but after 15 years should be a perfectly rounded wine.
- Domaine Dujac: Another amazing Grand Cru wine, this wine is very honest to its Chambertin origins. The black fruits and game are initially almost lost under thudding tannins. An ultra-rich wine with tinges of minerals and earth under the first layer of Chambertin-like flavors. The underlying ripeness will come out with age, though; lay down these monstrous wines for 15 years or more. Apparently this cuvée starts at $550 when it is available.
- Dominique Laurent: This cuvée is often superseded by the even better Chambertin-Clos de Bèze, but the standard Chambertin offering is quite worthy in itself. A somewhat silky, aromatic style of Chambertin, which contrasts nicely with the darker and more intense wines that come from most domaines. Flavors are more floral, but the tannins here are just as rough as from any other Chambertin, and the wines should often be aged for 10 or more years. Though the aging is not as necessary as it is for some other cuvées, the harmony of the wine will undoubtedly benefit.
- Domaine Leroy: A truly great boutique wine, and possibly the best Chambertin. Few vintages will be anything but world-class after the right amount of aging. The best thing about this wine is its absolute seamlessness, which seems out of place due to the wine's roaring flavors and tannins. The smoked meat, minerals and earth almost supersede fruit in many of these vintages, although sometimes those trademark dark fruit flavors break in. The right time for drinking would probably be after about 20 years, but this might have the concentration to go on for 30. This truly exceptional cuvée has cost more than $4,000 for the 2005.
- Domaine Perrot Minot: Chocolatey and dark-fruited, the very concentrated young-vine offerings often have peppery or herbal flavors, but usually most flavor is lost under a boatload of tannins. Somehow they still manage to be rich and aromatic, but it would be a mistake not to let this one lie for 15-20 years. The old-vine example is more minerally and less intense, with more precision to the flavors of dark fruit and minty nuances. This one will also need 10-20 years. As for prices, expect to pay at least $400 for one of these knockout Grands Crus.
- Domaine Denis Mortet: It may not follow the traditional Chambertin style to the letter, but that doesn't make Mortet's cuvée any less of a leader. From time to time sweet and silky, this one can be expected to have more Musigny-like red fruit and flower notes. But the power of the tannins is unmistakable in this concentrated but aromatic cuvée. As such, this strong cuvée would benefit from 10 years of aging. Flavors have ranged from $400-$700, but for the 2005 they are much higher.
- Nicolas Potel: Despite a few off vintages, this has remained one of the absolute best Chambertin cuvées, and due to its négociant-produced status is also one of the least expensive. There are a number of layers here, some of which include subtle notes of herbs, flowers, and a wild and exotic earth characteristic. An amazingly fresh wine with no apparent heaviness despite its concentration of typically Chambertin flavors. Aging of 5-10 years is recommended, though perhaps not required. Some vintages can be found as low as $250, a value in only a very relative sense, but a value nonetheless.
- Domaine Armand Rousseau: This incredibly silky, precise cuvée is apparently at its best in recent years, taking its place as one of the best Côte de Nuits offerings. An unmistakably Chambertin nose and palate combine flavors of dark fruits, dried flowers, metallic minerals, and an amazingly wild earth note to go along. In terms of complexity, this is almost Bordeaux-like; in fact, few if any Côte de Nuits wines could challenge this in terms of depth and layering. And yet the tannins manage to be somewhat fine, which is an amazing surprise considering the heaviness and broadness of this stunning cuvée. A pristine wine even early on, but this one will need 10-20 years of aging to show its best. At its price of $400-$600, this wine seems well-valued compared to Vosne-Romanée's most pricey cuvées, which it is more and more often being compared to.
- Domaine Jean & Jean-Louis Trapet: This domaine, which produces good Gevrey-Chambertin as well, makes a reliable if not outstanding Chambertin cuvée. Sweeter and more supple in most vintages than the more concentrated Chambertins, the wines have notes of red Pinot fruit, spice and smoky herbs to go along with the usual smoked meat. But intense tannins on the finish make 10-15 years of aging a must. Most pleasantly, this cuvée sometimes costs under $200, a bargain for Grand Cru wine.
- Domaine Trapet Pere et Fils: Similarly to Jean & Jean-Louis Trapet's cuvée, this one will be a relative bargain for its $200-odd price. This cuvée has improved in recent vintages, but pleasantly for consumers, the price has not yet caught up. Flavors will be classically Chambertin, with smoked game and usually redder fruit on the nose and palate. But an additional depth of smoke, herbs and earth make this complex. To see the concentration turn into pure complexity, let this one sit for 10-12 years.
Refer to the Gevrey-Chambertin Grands Crus section in order to see the list of the village's Grands Crus. Chambertin is most closely linked to Chambertin-Clos de Bèze, but all of these 9 make wine of a similar style. Within Chambertin, though, labeling is fairly straightforward, with producers labeling their wine as Chambertin or Le Chambertin. In some rare cases, Chambertin-labeled wine may come from the adjacent Chambertin-Clos de Bèze vineyard, but this is not a problem, as that vineyard has equal or higher quality to Chambertin itself.