A couple of weeks ago I spoke with Peter Wasserman, the National Sales Manager for Le Serbet/Becky Wasserman Selections. Peter, the son of Becky Wasserman, one of the most revered importers of Burgundy wines to the United States, very quietly and assuredly told me where he feels there has been a tremendous shift in the quality of wine.
"Nuits-Saint-Georges," he said, and I waited to hear why, of all villages, he would say Nuits-Saint-Georges. Nuits-Saint-Georges has always been a challenging appellation to find either great value or profound polished wines. At their best, they are known as a rustic wine, without the prestige of neighbors in Morey St.-Denis or Vosne-Romanee. There are no Grand Crus in Nuits St.-Georges., only Premier Crus.
Peter said that he did a four day symposium on Nuits-Saint Georges, where the shift became very apparent. He said,
"Nuits St.-Georges suffered from three things in my opinion over the last 20 years. The notion that Pinot Noir should not be overly tannic even though we accept this from other varietals around the world. A traditional approach of vinification which was the accepted way to do things within the village...and old wineries that needed upgrading , but given that Nuits St.-Georges was not a huge draw, investment came at a snail's pace."
"Gevrey, Pommard, Chassagne, the mountain of Corton can offer up very structured wines that can be considered as tannic within the realm of Pinot Noir. Over the last ten years, we have seen Burgundy at large, learn how to cope with tannin in a very different way than before. A whole berry and sometimes a whole cluster infusion fermentation rather than a extraction process has definitely changed the way tannin is extracted and subsequently perceived in the finished wine. So, with the generational changeover happening in Nuits St. Georges we are now seeing this approach used more and more.(e.g. Erwan Faiveley and Gregoire Gouges)."
"Refitting the wineries is also a key factor. When the layout or equipment of your winery does not permit you to handle the grapes without bruising them or crushing the pips, there is little chance no matter what you do to counteract the harsh tannins that will come forward. There are several wineries in Nuits St.-Georges that have been able to re-fit or outfit with equipment that permit them minimal handling hence they have a much better chance to control what is extracted from the berries and more importantly, what is not. Whole berry fermentation is now very widely used in Burgundy. There is a big swing to minimal intervention during vinification. The equipment and physical layout of the winery helps achieve this."
Dividing the Terroir into Three Parts
"The natural structure of Nuits St.-Georges; we love to generalize, but in Burgundy it is quasi-impossible to do because of how rapidly the terroir changes over a few hundred meters. For me, there are three distinct terroirs in Nuits St.-Georges; the southern part situated in Premaux, which are floral, elegant, and lighter than the two other parts. The heart of the appellation (St. Georges, Vaucrains, Cailles, Pruliers) is the part of Nuits St. Georges which shows the most tannic structure. These are wines that also have extraordinary richness on the mid-palate that absolutely reminds me of Barolo. There is no other appellation in the Cote d'Or that gives me that sense of richness. It needs the structure to be balanced. Finally, the northern part of Nuits St.-Georges as you get closer to Vosne. Here the wine loses that structure and becomes more supple, the closer to Vosne, the more supple they are. Also, the fruit goes from red to dark and the spice gets more complex as you approach Vosne."
" Last, but not least, over the last 15 or so years, some very talented winemakers from outside Nuits St.-Georges have been able to purchase land there. So, we are seeing a good deal of Nuits St.-Georges made by wineries that are not situated in Nuits St.-Georges. I am absolutely convinced the indigenous yeast in those wineries are a contributing factor to making a different Nuits St. Georges than the ones made in Nuits St. Georges."
Top Producers Inside & Outside Nuits St.-Georges
"Grivot, Mugneret Gibourg, Gerard Mugneret, Dominique Mugneret, Meo Camuzet, Cathiard, De Montille, Comte Liger Belair (In Nuits) Axelle Machard de Gramont (In Nuits) all of these represent either major talent, or in the case of Thibault and Faiveley and Gouges; the new leaders of Nuits.
The business is sort of stuck on a 20 to 30 year old perception about Nuits being 'rustic' but the fact is you could line up blind an example from each of those and the industry would conclude these are all outstanding examples of Burgundy and probably not be the able to place them as to the village. The styles range from new school (infusion) to slightly modern (lighter extraction). Of course there are known superstars like Chevillon and some totally unknown ones like Philippe Gavignet. They both produce wines of such grace and delicateness they warrant, in my opinion, to be considered the very top tier of Nuits based producers."
"Bottom line, throw out whatever prejudices you have from the past, and taste all the Nuits St.-Georges you can, because you are in for a marvelous journey of rediscovery of one of the most historically important appellations of Burgundy."