Clos de Vougeot
Clos de Vougeot, sometimes also called Clos Vougeot, is the most unusual and distinctive vineyard of the Côte de Nuits. Although plenty of great wine is produced here, the immense size of the appellation makes quality remarkably inconsistent. Literally thousands of different wines are available from the Clos, many of them not worthy of the Grand Cru title, but this has the benefit of bringing down prices for those that are.
The gigantic flat vineyard stretches over about 125 acres, less than Corton's whopping 230 but besides that the largest in Burgundy. The number of owners continues to grow, having risen over 80 in the previous decade, which makes it a requirement to choose carefully. The best wines are rich and exotic given the right amount of age, with truly Burgundian depth and proportion.
It is estimated that around 7,000 cases of wine are produced each year by these owners, while reds that don't make the cut, and whites, are declassified into Premier Cru cuvées. The vineyard itself is a real clos, enclosed on all four sides by large walls, and for its history and unique wines, it is actually a major tourist attraction. Love it or hate it, the clos holds a special place in Burgundian wine culture.
Clos de Vougeot's long history is part of what makes it interesting. The Cîteaux Abbey, which played a part in the development of so many Burgundy vineyards, at one point owned the Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru. The monks came into possession of the vineyard in the 1100s, and over the next few centuries built it up to have a major reputation in the Côte de Nuits. During the Middle Ages it was considered better than many of Vosne's Grands Crus, and by some estimates second only to Romanée-Conti.
After the French Revolution, the vineyard was confiscated and sold. The purchasers would eventually split the vineyard and sell it to a handful of buyers, and only then, in the 1800s, did Clos de Vougeot lose its status as a monopole. All the land in the Clos was named Grand Cru in 1937, but by this time the vineyard was being divvied up further. By the 21st century, over 80 owners owned property in the vineyard, some of them making completely unworthy wines. Despite this, the great cuvées produced here show that the clos' land is still just as viable as it was 500 years ago.
Climate and Viticulture
Most of the clos is flat, with soil composed of mostly limestone and clay. The more sloped parts of the vineyard often have deeper soil, which is usually mostly limestone interspersed with small bits of clay, the opposite of neighboring Vosne-Romanée, which is mostly clay with some limestone. These parts of the vineyard almost always make for the most characterful wines, and those from higher up on the slope are easily capable of rivaling even the best Vosnes and Gevreys.
- Pinot Noir: Although some Chardonnay is grown here, it has to be declassified to Vougeot Premier Cru or village-level wine, so all wine labeled as Clos de Vougeot will be Pinot Noir, but for the rare optional blending of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. The great producers make very distinctive wines from the clos—often bright in color, they start out with minerally, spicy and vibrant flavors of red cherry fruit and currant, ripe spices, and freshening licorice. Rarely earthy at first, they become darker with age, turning rich with powerful, perfumed flavors of game and exotic herbs and earth adding to the complexity of the remaining spices and berry fruit. Despite the early approachability, it would hardly be fun to miss out on this one-of-a-kind aging process, which is the reverse of almost all other red Burgundies and most wines in general. Ten years in the cellar is usually enough to complete the evolution. Prices range widely, but due to the generally poor perception of the vineyard they can often be quite low. World-class wines from here have been known to sell for as little as $150, a bargain in Grand Cru terms.
Current estimates of the number of owners show that the vineyard is now subdivided among around 84 domaines, many of which are unreliable. This has led to a "guilt by association" that has driven the prices of even great wines to low levels (at least by Burgundy standards.)
Here is a list, with descriptions, of 13 great Clos producers.
- Bouchard Pere et Fils: Bouchard is a reliable producer, and their Clos de Vougeot is one of their flagship red cuvées. Actually labeled Clos Vougeot, the wine is outstanding in almost every single vintage, showing flavors of smoky, complex currant and berry fruit, plus licorice and powerful minerals to keep the wine fresh. In the best vintages there will be a powerful earthy edge of herbs and pepper, along with more exotic notes such as chocolate and sweet spice, that become more and more evident with age. Thus, these are wines to age for 10+ years as they gain depth and complexity. Prices are $125-$150 per vintage.
- Domaine de Eugenie: This newcomer domaine, which also has an outstanding Grands-Échezeaux bottling, has already caught up to much of the competition, with rich, earthy wines filled with spice, soil and silky red fruit flavors. These wines seem able to master the balance between fruit and earth so well recognized in the best of this vineyard's wines, and 10-20 years seem likely to improve them further. Unfortunately, due to their low production level they are still expensive at $250-$400.
- Faiveley: Elegant and stylish, this wine shows notes of red cherry and berry fruit, flowers and herbs mingling with remarkable, clearly defined spice notes. Vibrant due to a mineral tinge and energetic due to high but not intrusive acidity, this cuvée has just the right balance. The silkiness and balance will become even more eloquent with a few years in the cellar, but don't expect this to turn into a rich or exotic wine like the more mainstream-styled wines will. Still, at $90-$130 it provides great Grand Cru value and significant complexity of flavor.
- Domaine Jean Grivot: Domaine Jean Grivot is one of the top domaines of the Côte de Nuits, mainly known for their brilliant gems from vineyards such as Richebourg. Their Clos de Vougeot cuvée is somewhat inconsistent, but offers excellent value in good vintages. Ripe and round, the wines display a prominent berry and cherry flavor which balances well with the more intense notes of soil-driven licorice, herbs, and smoky game. Spice and minerals keep the wine fresh and energetic, but in the best vintages the wine is also excellently rich. Kept in check by powerful tannins, the wines need some aging, but should be delightfully mellow and complex after 10-15 years or so. Costing between $100 and $200, this is the least expensive of Grivot's Grands Crus.
- Domaine Anne Gros: Known for her Richebourg, Anne Gros also makes a great Clos de Vougeot. Previously labeled Anne et Francoise Gros, the wine comes from the lieu-dit of Le Grand Maupertui, one of the more prestigious parcels of the clos. Gros is one of the better producers, although her wine is rarely produced in a masculine or highly tannic style, and rather shows great balance and elegance. Pure flavors of berry and cherry, minerals, and herbs populate the wine, which shows great spicy richness as well as complexity. The perfumed flavors are the most powerful thing about this spicy wine, but nonetheless it will gain complexity with age. Usually under $200, this wine is also a decent value.
- Domaine Hudelot Noellat: In the past decade this wine has improved greatly; the domaine itself has come onto the map as a top Côte de Nuits producer. An extremely wild, earth-driven style, their Clos de Vougeot combines red fruit with smoky underbrush, plus fainter notes of chocolate, game, and exotic spice. Sweet and creamy due to its very evident oak influence, the wine nonetheless displays quite serious minerals and tannins, obviously designed to be aged for several years. Everything is in place to make a dark, rich, complex style; all that's required is a 10-15 year laydown. The prices of between $100 and $150 are reasonable for the appellation.
- Jadot: Jadot is obscure in some of the top villages such as Vosne-Romanée, where growing land and production is too expensive for their more mass-production-oriented négociant approach. However, they thrive in Clos de Vougeot, consistently making one of the best cuvées. Labeled Clos Vougeot, it is a liqueur of dense, incredibly concentrated, roasted-ripe flavors. Dark cherry combines with powerful, rich earth notes, such as coffee, herbs, and sweet chocolate. The rich and exotic taste that Clos de Vougeot promises with aging is even apparent in the young wines, but more precision and complexity will show through if they are given 5-15 years in the cellar. Prices are under $100.
- Domaine Leroy: The boutique wine of Clos de Vougeot is by far the most expensive wine here, so don't even think about buying it unless you have at least $700 to spare (perhaps as much as $1,500) and would rather not invest in a top Vosne-Romanée instead. With that said, the Leroy truly transcends its terroir, making wine of much more depth and complexity than almost all of its competitors. Wild flavors of dark fruit and chocolate are clearly soil-driven, but at first everything is masked by powerful tannins and acidic austerity. Still, the wines are so dense with flavor that almost all vintages age to a delicious maturity of exotic richness and harmonized intensity. Still, don't ever expect a gentle cuvée to come from here. All the vintages should be aged for at least 15 years, preferably more like 25.
- Domaine Méo-Camuzet: Méo-Camuzet is a small négociant with considerably improving wines in the Côte de Nuits; Clos de Vougeot is a good if not leading Grand Cru here. Deep and powerful, with a deep, dark color and flavors of dark berry, spice, and smoky game, this wine is comparable more to those of Gevrey-Chambertin than anything else. Although not an anonymous or overly heavy wine, it needs time to show its earthiness. A large-scaled wine, it could easily be aged for up to a quarter of a century. Expect to pay between $150 and $250.
- Lucien Le Moine: The noted négociant Lucien Le Moine has a reputation for reliable wines, and their Clos Vougeot is no exception. Highly perfumed aromas of red fruit and flowers combine with an additional layer of smoky game, dark fruit, herbs and minerals. From the few vintages produced so far here, it would appear that this cuvée is very promising, with the thick but ripe 2005 a particular highlight. Age these wines for 10 years if you age them at all, but don't expect a rich liqueur as this wine mainly possesses vibrancy and a powerful perfume. Prices range from $150 to $300.
- Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg: Mugneret-Gibourg, run by the widow and daughters of the late Georges Mugneret, makes feminine wines of unrivaled purity and perfume, even if they are not the last word in complexity. Silky and ripe, the Clos de Vougeot glides across the palate with flavors of smoky black berry fruit, firmed up by a powerful note of minerals. Amazingly energetic and vibrant, the wines have plenty of time to showcase more complex flavors with age, ranging from exotic spice, herbs and pepper to flowers, more berries, and an initially hidden earth component. After about five years this elegant wine should be pristine, and further aging is not necessary. This distinctive, great wine can be found in the $200 range.
- Nicolas Potel: Potel makes one of the most consistent négociant-bottled Clos de Vougeots. Especially starting with the 2004 vintage, the Potel cuvée has outperformed its rather insufficient terroir on the flat part of the vineyard. The wines have shown flavors of pure red fruit, powerful spice, and smoky game, combining elegance with earthy complexity in a way that only great Burgundy can do. Kept vibrant due to a powerful but not intimidating mineral core, the wines also boast good acidity and tannins. Probably 5-10 years would more help than hurt, but these could also be drunk sooner. They tend to cost $150-$200 but can be more costly in top vintages.
- Château de la Tour: Produced in one of the Clos's actual châteaux, this wine has a label more reminiscent of Bordeaux than Burgundy. The base cuvée is by no means insufficient, with remarkable soil-driven notes of powerful herbs and complex berry fruit, mixed together in a sweet and spicy but layered, structured wine. The old-vine example, however, is even more complex, with more vibrancy due to a more powerful mineral component, and more elegant red fruit and spice notions. Concentrated, ripe and sweet, this is almost a liqueur but rarely verges on heavy. Both should be aged, although a cold cellar will have notably different effects on each of them. At $125-$200 value is good.
There are no less than 18 lieux-dits within the Clos de Vougeot, which is unsurprising due to the wide variance of quality here and the large size of the vineyard. Some of the most common are the confusing Musigny, also spelled Musigni, and Les Grands Maupertuis, but unlike Corton, the subregions here are usually not mentioned on the label. Attempts to organize this vineyard by region have largely failed, and only reputation now governs price and sales numbers for these wines.