Morey-St-Denis is an overlooked area in the Côte de Nuits. The four Grand Cru vineyards, all of which are outstandingly consistent and uncontestably worthy of Grand Cru status, make wines of all different characteristics but undoubtedly outstanding character and depth. Although Morey's own village and Premier Cru-level wines rarely reach the level of these four vineyards, they are underrated and as such can offer good value in this prestigious appellation.
Morey-St-Denis, which combined its original name, Morey, with that of their most prominent Grand Cru, Clos-St-Denis, is the sole village from which the Morey-St-Denis appellation makes its wine. The quiet commune is about 3 square miles, and yields 238 acres of usable village and Premier Cru vineyards, in addition to about 80 for the Grands Crus. There are 20 Premiers Crus; although obscure, many of these are making a name for themselves.
The village and Premier Cru wines are hardly as good as those of the neighboring villages, such greats as Chambolle-Musigny, Gevrey-Chambertin, and Vosne-Romanée, but are nonetheless very good wines. They are generally solid but complex, with the best of the flavor emerging after a good amount of aging. These wines are also reasonably priced, making them a good pick for less aristocratic drinkers.
Morey-St-Denis' history seems to be much less lengthy than that of neighboring Gevrey-Chambertin, where exciting developments range all the way back to the 1st century B.C. At some point, the Clos St-Denis vineyard became well-known enough so that the Morey vineyard which contain it took on the name.
Morey-St-Denis was one of the first appellations to be created in 1936, preceding Clos de Tart and Clos des Lambrays. The surprising decision was made to allow white wine, in contrast with most of the other big wine villages of the Côte de Nuits. There is now a small amount of white wine made from Chardonnay; although rare, it seems to have a fair pedigree considering the fact that Chardonnay is hardly at its best here.
Climate and Viticulture
Perfect weather and rainfall conditions make Morey-St-Denis a great area for the production of Pinot Noir; in addition, the top four vineyards are situated at the top of a steep but not overly acute hillside. The Premier Cru and village vineyards are closer to the bottom of the hill, and have less of a slope. The soil is mostly characterized by red clay soil, often very rich in iron, which tends toward a browner tinge in the Grands Crus. In most good vineyard sites character is added by an underlying base of limestone. These are in the preferable vineyards, while some have too much rock and gravel to make good wine out of Pinot Noir.
- Pinot Noir: Pinot Noir is the primary grape in Morey-St-Denis; although Chardonnay is allowed, both as white wine and blended with the red (along with Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris), it is very rare here. A common explanation of the Morey style is that it is "halfway in between" the neighbors it is sandwiched between, Chambolle-Musigny and Gevrey-Chambertin. This is a shoddy and largely incomplete answer, as Morey from the best vineyards really has its own style. As Morey tries to build its own identity, many producers stray toward a completely different style, while others go more in the delicate, red-fruit and flowers notions of Chambolle, and a few yet make muscular, bold, dark-fruit-and-game Gevrey-style wines. Most of the wines are capable of at least 10 years' aging; some can be drunk early but almost all are better with at least some cellar time.
- Chardonnay: The most gravelled and iron-rich vineyards of Morey-St-Denis are used for the miniscule Chardonnay production. Known as Morey Blanc, these strange wines have a tiny cult following similar to Comte Georges de Voguë's Musigny Blanc. In all honesty, though, these firm, mineral-based wines rarely offer either better value or better quality than Côte de Beaune white.
There is something to be said for the prices in Morey-St-Denis. Considering that this is a Côte de Nuits village with 20 Premiers Crus and 4 Grands Crus, one would think that prices would be at least close to those of Chambolle or Gevrey. However, they are usually much lower, with few if any Premier Cru wines costing over $200 and many coming in at $75 or less. The difference between the villages is unclear, but for some reason boutique producers simply stay out of Morey-St-Denis, and a lack of hype about the village has prevented prices from reaching ridiculous levels.
Here are exactly 10 producers who can be counted on for competitively priced, available wine with a high quality pedigree. Reviews of their wines are under the subregions heading.
- Domaine Arlaud
- Domaine Dujac
- Domaine des Lambrays
- Domaine Lignier Michelot
- Lignier Pere et Fils
- Maison Frederic Magnien
- Domaine Michel Magnien
- Domaine Perrot Minot
- Domaine Ponsot
- Domaine Christian Serafin
Aside from the 4 Grands Crus, which are of course the most prestigious Morey-St-Denis vineyards, there are a number of great vineyards in Morey-St-Denis. Among village-level lieu-dits, the main one is En La Rue de Vergy. In addition to producing much of the Morey Blanc, it is the source of two very good reds: the one from Domaine Lignier Michelot and the even better Domaine Perrot Minot cuvée. This is a greatly reliable name for elegant but concentrated and well-built wines.
However, most good wines from Morey-St-Denis come from at least the Premier Cru designation (unlike other villages, plain old blended Premier Cru is often as good as specific Premier Cru vineyards.) It is strange, but none of these Premiers Crus really have their own name in the wine world, and Morey has no vineyards like Les Amoureuses in Chambolle or Clos St-Jacques in Gevrey. But several of the 20 following Premiers Crus have a steady reputation and make for wine of good value.
- Aux Charmes: This Premier Cru's best wines come from Domaine Lignier Michelot and Domaine Michel Magnien. Both are spicy and earthy with ripe flavors of red fruit. Round and elegant but complex, both can be consumed early or aged for several years.
- Aux Cheseaux: This vineyard is mainly used by Domaine Arlaud, and makes fairly complex wines.
- Les Blanchards
- La Bussière
- Les Chaffots: The complex but dry and austere, Gevrey-like wine from Lignier Pere et Fils needs aging to show its best flavors. Domaine Michel Magnien's cuvée shows similar dark fruit, but is much more energetic and approachable at first. Age either wine for several years.
- Les Charrières
- Les Chenevery: Lignier Michelot's ripe, accessible wine from here shows classic Burgundy notes of herbs, pepper, spice, and earth around its core of red fruit. Worthy of several years of age, it is often Lignier Michelot's best Morey.
- Clos Baulet
- Clos des Ormes
- Clos Sorbè: Smoky, earthy and complex, the Maison Frederic Magnien cuvée from here is generally the best.
- Côte Rôtie: Not to be confused with the legendary Rhône appellation.
- Les Faconnières: Domaine Lignier Michelot once again seems to produce the only cuvée here. Its excellent depth and intensity is unusual for Morey's Premiers Crus, but the flavors of black fruit, minerals and earth need time to balance out.
- Les Genevrières
- Les Gruenchers
- Les Millandes: One of the few extremely common Morey-St-Denis Premiers Crus, this has several very worthy cuvées. As a matter of fact, most wines here are of high quality and can be trusted. Domaine Arlaud's cuvée is quite accessible, but boasts interestingly unusual flavors as well as a rare (for Morey) silky texture. Domaine Michel Magnien's shows off more dark fruit and game, in a Gevrey-like style, but is plenty ripe to be approached early. Domaine Christian Serafin's, however, is the best. This domaine's sole Morey cuvée shows incredible flavors of dark fruit and herbs driven by a soil element, and can age for a long time.
- Monts Luisants: This vineyard is most known for its production of Morey Blanc.
- La Riotte: Two competing cuvées are tops here, and they are exactly opposite in style. Domaine Perrot Minot's Riotte has very dark, intense flavors of black fruit, chocolate, and earth spice, with a smoky element to make this wine complex and deep. Lignier Pere et Fils' has much more red fruit and vibrant spice, and rarely needs as much cellar time. Both these intriguing wines have a high pedigree and can age, but are expensive.
- Les Ruchots: Another of the more common Morey Premiers Crus, this vineyard's wine quality has improved greatly in recent years. Ripe and liqueur-like with flavors of dark fruits, Arlaud's offering is enjoyable at any time you choose to drink it. Domaine Frederic Magnien's is similarly earthy and spicy, but has more complexity and often will do well with 10 years of age.
- Les Sorbès
- Le Village
There are also 4 Grands Crus within Morey-St-Denis' walls.
- Clos des Lambrays: This vineyard, where all but a few bottles are produced by Domaine des Lambrays, brings Morey's earthy characteristic to a higher level, and since its promotion to Grand Cru in 1981 has established itself among the best Burgundian climats.
- Clos de la Roche: This large Grand Cru makes wine of varying quality, as most Grands Crus of that size do. But the best are fabulously scented with notions of wild fruit and herbs.
- Clos St-Denis: The Grand Cru from which Morey-St-Denis took its name, this one is actually the smallest Morey-St-Denis Grand Cru, but has a number of competing producers. As such, it is extraordinarily expensive, but for lovers of silky and aromatic but very complex wines, this is one of the top vineyards.
- Clos de Tart: The only monopole of Morey-St-Denis is often perceived to be overrated and overpriced. Indeed, the wines are often overpowerful and anonymous in their first years, but in their maturity an altogether unique flavor set of Asian spice and exotic fruit is promised to show up.
And Morey-St-Denis also has a share of the Côte de Nuits' only vineyard shared between villages.
- Bonnes-Mares: It is said that this vineyard combines Chambolle's elegance with Morey's earthy power, and the wines indeed are incredibly powerful and tannic but weightless in a specifically Grand Cru way. Morey indeed contributes a great amount of its soil character to these outstanding Burgundies.