Chambertin-Clos de Bèze
Chambertin-Clos de Bèze is a Grand Cru vineyard adjacent to Chambertin itself (and similar to it in many ways.) Although the wines are allowed to be labeled Chambertin, Chambertin-Clos de Bèze has built up a strong enough reputation for its own wines that this is rarely necessary. Clos de Bèze is 36.3 acres, about 3.6 acres larger than Chambertin itself, and produces roughly 5,700 cases each year, in comparison to Chambertin's 5,000.
And yet Chambertin-Clos de Bèze has fewer owners, and this potentially explains the difference in quality. Also, some prefer Chambertin-Clos de Bèze's slightly lighter style better, and its more approachable nature has caused a number of négociants to select it as their main Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru. For those who prefer the richer, firmer Chambertins, there are still plenty of great wines, but Clos de Bèze's lighter style has apparently overtaken.
Chambertin-Clos de Bèze was the first vineyard in Gevrey-Chambertin, developed in the 7th century by the Abbey of Bèze. The abbey, which was home to Cistercian nuns, was one of many that played a huge part in the development of Burgundy as a wine area, in conjunction with the French monarchy.
This historic head start made Clos de Bèze's wines very popular very early, and there was little competition for hundreds of years. Around 200 B.C., the adjacent field of Chambertin began developing wine. Since then, the vineyards have long been erstwhile rivals, despite having been owned by the same person for a brief stint in the 18th century. Right now, Clos de Bèze has the upper hand in the long-running rivalry between the two Grands Crus, but with a new crop of great producers concentrating on their potent Chambertins, it will be a struggle to maintain that position.
Climate and Viticulture
The flat vineyard of Chambertin-Clos de Bèze, which lies to the north of Chambertin, makes wine of similar flavor and longevity. But the wines are generally lighter, and the difference is noticeable if the producer and vintage are the same for the two. The reason for the greater depth of Chambertin's wines is that Clos de Bèze's soil is physically shallower, so the vines cannot reach as deep into the limestone embankment. The difference this makes is stylistic; Clos de Bèze wines are more rich, aromatic, and approachable than those of Chambertin, though less deep and layered.
- Pinot Noir: Pinot Noir is almost always 100% varietal in Chambertin-Clos de Bèze, just like all but one Côte de Nuits Grand Cru vineyard. Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris can be blended in, but this is very rare. The typical Chambertin-Clos de Bèze style is slightly lighter than Chambertin's itself, with less firm tannins. Usually, the wines are less overwhelmingly rich, and more vibrant. Showing lighter fruit and cooked game instead of dark fruit and smoked game, they generally will be less deep and complex as well, which is the reason that Chambertin is still thought of as the vineyard attaining the most complexity. But since these wines can be downright unpleasant early on for their closedness, Clos de Bèze provides much more versatility. Still, most wines should be aged for 10 years, and the best can continue evolving for 25.
Chambertin-Clos de Bèze has a number of producers, only slightly less than Chambertin, and it is easy to find poor-quality wine here. Still, there is a better proportion of reliable wine, even if the best examples aren't better, in the Clos de Bèze vineyard than in Chambertin itself. The prices here will tend to be a little higher than Chambertins', but relative values for under $200 can be found.
Here are 11 producers that we consider to be Chambertin-Clos de Bèze leaders.
- Bouchard Pere et Fils: This blockbuster is full of flavor, easily superseding most Grands Crus in terms of thickness and complexity. Flowers, salty minerals, stone, and red berries are the mainstay flavors of this wine, but exotic notes of orange, apricot, earth, smoke, and just about every imaginable Pinot flavor come in between. Although there's a boatload of tannins that guarantees to preserve the wine for 30 years or more, this is essentially a delicate style, with a silky texture and great sweetness to the flavors.
- Domaine Bruno Clair: A complex, sharp wine, which clearly differentiates from Chambertin by its unabashed sweetness and ripeness. Typical Chambertin notes of dark berries and game are spiced up by notes of mint and flowers, which assist the wine's precision and impression of great energy. A silky, somewhat rich wine; the emphasis will be on minerals early on in some vintages, but most wines will mellow and develop into something entirely different. Expect to pay $200-$250 for this cuvée.
- Drouhin: A reliable Chambertin-Clos de Bèze cuvée, Drouhin's offering is an essence of the appellation. Pleasantly complex, the wines concentrate on red fruit and flowers but are made more interesting by a note of spicy herbs, which could be pepper, clove, or mint. These rich wines are powerful despite their ripeness, and should be allowed to age for 10-20 years. Prices are between $250 and $350 usually.
- Faiveley: Wild red fruit, spice and flowers are the more approachable of this wine's flavors, combining with the silky texture to show perfect energy. But pure notes of minerals and smoke complicate this seemingly feminine bouquet, and there's a lot more that will emerge if the wine is given the right amount of aging. This cuvée costs between $150 and $250, although the 2005 has very 2005 prices.
- Domaine Robert Groffier Pere et Fils: An extraordinarily complex wine, with an abundance of flavor. Berries and currants, flowers, and a suggestion of mint is the general flavor set, but there are plenty more classy notes of spice, earth, and minerals that open up as the wines go on. A classic Clos de Bèze, with plenty of power and structure but enough flavor to make the wine forthcoming even at an early age. But best results will take 10-20 years in bottle. This cuvée costs between $200 and $250.
- Jadot: Unusually for a négociant, Jadot makes perhaps the best wine in this appellation. The abundance of flavor can't cover up the explosive power of this wine, which soars through the palate and into the finish at a young age. A huge wine, perhaps one of the most powerful Pinots ever, it nevertheless displays refinement with its classy but never understated or feminine flavors of raspberry, cherry, smoke, earth, spice, and a minerally tinge. The wine has the capacity to age for 30 years. Best of all, prices are between $150 and $250.
- Dominique Laurent: Both young and old vine cuvées are produced here, of a roughly equal quality. The young-vine bottling is very dense, with a huge amount of concentration and intensity but overall a good amount of finesse, with red fruit, game, smoke, and an intriguing floral note coming through on the palate. The old-vine example is more sweet and straightforward. Both tend to cost in the neighborhood of $250, but it's hard to find this cuvée.
- Maison Frederic Magnien: Pure and silky, this feminine wine successfully concentrates its efforts on refinement, with spicy, smoky notes of red fruit, earth, and flowers. But there's an underlying core of intensity which makes aging a must, and will preserve the wine for 10-20 years.
- Domaine Perrot Minot: Like Dominique Laurent, this domaine makes two cuvées here, from young and old vines. The young-vine example here, though, seems entirely overshadowed by the outstanding old-vine wine, which competes with the best Chambertin-Clos de Bèzes. A wild wine in nature, this deep, dense cuvée shows notes of dark fruit, a distinct bitter coffee tinge, plus an intense underlying mineral aroma. A very tough wine that will require a lot of patience, perhaps 20 years, but by then the purity will have gotten the best of the power and the wine should be nothing short of world-class. Expect to pay $150-$300.
- Lucien Le Moine: This seamless, almost sweet style seems silky and refined, but there's plenty of underlying power here. The general flavor set is red fruit, especially cherry, plus various notes of spice, smoke, exotic white flowers, and minerals. A completely noble wine, and yet this style is so full of flavors that it is likely to go on aging for 15 years or more.
- Domaine Armand Rousseau: This wine is intriguing to compare to the same domaine's Chambertin, which has almost Bordeaux-like texture and power to go along with its Pinot fruit set. This wine is the opposite, feminine and fruity. Flavors include rose and licorice, and are surrounded by a ripe minerality. Although it can't match the Chambertin for sheer power and extract, which makes that wine almost anti-Burgundy in style, the wine certainly has a huge reserve of power to back up its wild, exotic flavors. And so the structure needs 10-15 years to get in place, although even 20 wouldn't be a problem for this superconcentrated cuvée.
Among the 9 Gevrey-Chambertin Grands Crus, Chambertin-Clos de Bèze is most closely tied to Chambertin itself. As for the labeling practices, most Clos de Bèze labeling is straightforward, with the Chambertin-Clos de Bèze name clearly printed on the label. Some of these wines label themselves as Chambertin, but obviously, those are listed on the Chambertin page!