Clos St-Denis is the Grand Cru whose name the village of Morey took on, in kind with Chambolle's usage of the Musigny name, Gevrey's usage of the Chambertin name, Flagey's usage of the Échezeaux name, Vosne's usage of the Romanée name, and other instances across the Côte de Beaune. The vineyard is much smaller than Clos de la Roche and Bonnes-Mares, and at only 14.8 acres is even smaller than the near-monopole Clos des Lambrays. The small area and many owners means that each owner owns only a small share, making individual production lower and expense greater. The results of these majestic vineyards? About 2,000 cases each year.
The competition between Clos St-Denis, its neighboring Clos de la Roche, and the much smaller, single-owner Clos des Lambrays and Clos de Tart is quite beneficial to Burgundy hounds due to the reduction of prices and the increase in quality. Due to their proximity these vineyards would seem to rival each other for market share. In reality, though, the expression of terroir among the Grands Crus is different enough so that the choice is easy for those who know what styles they like.
Clos St-Denis took its name from the Chapter of St-Denis--another tie-in between early French religion and wine. When it was named in the 13th century by the church, the Clos really was surrounded by walls. Initially small and exclusive, it grew over the years to become a vineyard divided between a number of owners.
In 1936, the Clos absorbed parts of several Morey Premiers Crus, which increased the size of the vineyard greatly. When the AOCs were created in 1936, Clos St-Denis was considered indubitably better than Clos de la Roche and thus the best Morey Grand Cru, as Clos de Tart, the former leader, had fallen into obscurity at that time.
Nowadays, consumers are far more excited about Clos de la Roche's wild, earthy wines than they are about Clos St-Denis' more understated, silky Pinots. Fans of the style still rely on Clos St-Denis, but the general trend toward bolder wines has unfavorably affected this vineyard.
Climate and Viticulture
The Clos St-Denis vineyard is lower on the slope from Clos de la Roche. While the slopes are not nearly as acute as those of Clos des Lambrays, they are fairly sharp, and this may make up a large part in the significant difference between these apparently similar vineyards.
Clos de la Roche is named after its rock content, and Clos St-Denis has similar small stones, but the soil is less chalky and darker, with mostly clay at the top but underlined by a solid, concentrated limestone bank. It's true Grand Cru stuff, and the best wines declare their terroir without ambiguity to those who know how to detect it.
- Pinot Noir: The quality of this vineyard makes it likely that all wines here are 100% Pinot Noir, although it is certainly legal to blend in Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris. The number of wines is relatively small, but some cuvées are of surprisingly low quality in a number of vintages. The best wines are all about the aroma and perfume, rather than tannic or acidic power. Pure red fruit, sweet minerals, and more elusive notes of old flowers and sweet spice are all overhung by a silky texture. The more masculine wines show earthy undertones, and flavors of herbs, darker fruits and smoke, but are still very open and ripe at any time you choose to drink them. This is one of few Grands Crus that doesn't demand to be drunk early, except for the most powerful examples, but of course aging for 10-15 years is a possibility.
Clos St-Denis has many producers, and quality is not always guaranteed. Six producers are listed with the additional considerations of price and availability that, we think, represent the appellation well.
- Domaine Bertagna: This domaine isn't always worthy of Grand Cru level, but has been at least so in recent vintages such as 2005, 2004, and 2002. These top vintages are some of the most feminine wines of Clos St-Denis, but reflect the terroir well, with a distinctive perfume of wild fruit, sweet spice, flowers, minerals, and a smoky-silky texture perhaps brought on by oak aging. Even the top vintages cost less than $100.
- Domaine Dujac: In competition with the same domaine's Clos de la Roche, this cuvée probably loses most of the time, but that doesn't mean it's not outstanding. Although reminiscent of its brother for its soil notes of pure earth, spice, and wild fruits, this is the same story told in a different voice. Instead of being powerful and explosive, the fruits are subtly layered, and the earth is sweet rather than intense. This delicate wine is seamless upon release, and might be good to drink early on. Expect to pay $200-$400, but for the great but expensive 2005.
- Domaine Michel Magnien: This silky-creamy cuvée once again competes with the same domaine's Clos de la Roche, but only on technical merits as to the drinker, the style is completely different. Much redder fruits, including raspberry and strawberry, dominate the St-Denis, but the undertones of smoke, minerals, flowers, and various spices add complexity. Powerful but accessible, this one can be aged for five years. Prices are in the $150 range; the more powerful 2005 isn't necessarily better for twice the price.
- Lucien Le Moine: This definitive Clos St-Denis shows great class if not the complexity of some of its competitors. Red fruit, flowers and minerals are in an extremely elegant, silky style; darker notes of game and chocolate lie in the background. The flavors are so ripe, this cuvée is almost liqueurish, but its smokiness keeps the wine fresh. Young drinking is fine but aging would be interesting to see what develops. Prices should be under $200.
- Domaine Ponsot: Ponsot's Roche is better, but there have been some landmark vintages of the Clos St-Denis, especially the 2005. Dark fruits, flowers and spices are immensely concentrated in this wine, which seems a bit more earth-driven than its competitors, but it remains elegant despite its density. Age the 2005 for several years; other bottles can be drunk early. For under $200 this cuvée is competitive.
- Nicolas Potel: A very solid négociant-bottled cuvée, which has improved to an amazing degree in the 2007 vintage and is on track to become one of the top wines here. Formerly, the wines were ripe and sweet but not the last word in complexity; the 2007 has much more but keeps the same elegance. Flavors of red fruit, flowers and spice are an essence of Clos St-Denis, as is the silky texture. This top bottle can still be found in the $150 range.
There are probably some old administrative lieu-dits left over from the 1936 merging of a few Morey Premiers Crus into the Clos St-Denis appellation, but they are seldom seen on actual wine labels.