The Cotes de Nuits Villages, and Frederic Esmonin’s 2012 “La Belle-Vue”


The village of Comblanchien at the far South of the Cote de Nuits.
The village of Comblanchien at the far South of the Cote de Nuits.

Many Burgundy experts believe the place were the wine is made has almost as much influence on the style of the final wine as the winemaker or the appellation it is from.  They contend that producers that make a Nuits-St-Georges in their Vosne cellars taste more of Vosne than Nuits. This certainly would seem the case here: where the Gevrey-Chambertin domaine of Frederic Esmonin has produced a wine from Comblanchien (near the Beaune border,) that is quite like their excellent wines from Gevrey.

Frederic Esmonin

Frederic Esmonin is a very traditional producer, whose defining hallmark is that they make wines with exceptional freshness. Andre Esmonin, who makes the wine,  does not typically strive to make a wine of weight, but rather

Winemaker, Andre Esmonin used to sell the wine he made to the negociants LeRoy and Louis Jadot, now he bottles under his son's name, Frederic Esmonin
Winemaker, Andre Esmonin used to sell the wine he made to the negociants LeRoy and Louis Jadot, now he bottles under his son’s name, Frederic Esmonin

of balance and freshness. He doesn’t push for ripeness, nor does he instruct their vineyard crew to cut yields for greater concentration. But the small, ripe vintage of 2012 made that adjustment for them. The vintage is one of concentration, and this marries well with Esmonin’s slightly grapey/stem-included style. The 2012s from Esmonin were extremely successful, and although most of the Cotes de Nuits Villages may be difficult to find, all of the Esmonins are worth the search and all are quite well priced for their appellations.

A couple quick notes about the producer before moving on.  The vineyards are farmed Lutte Raisonnee. The grapes are brought to near freezing for one-week cold maceration to help set the color and fruit, before fermenting the whole cluster which tends to strip the color but adds freshness, not to mention structure and spice.  Andre bottles earlier than many producers of Red Burgundy, either to keep the fresh fruit aspect of the wines or because of space restrictions. Their holdings include the Grand Crus Mazy-Chambertin and Ruchottes Chambertin, the Premier Crus Estournelles St-Jacques, Lavaux St-Jacques, and Champonnets, as well as several Villages level vineyards including Clos Prieur (Bas) and some old vines in the Les Jouises lieu-dits.

2012 Cotes de Nuits Villages “La Belle-Vue” 


Often confused with the Hautes-Cotes de Nuits, the Cote de Nuits Village appellation sits directly on the highway RN74.
Often confused with the Hautes-Cotes de Nuits, the Cote de Nuits Village appellation sits directly on the highway RN74.

The nose is dusty, like smelling a gravelly road on a warm summer’s day. But beneath, struggling to emerge, is the super-black cherry liquor that paints the entire backdrop for the palate. This is a starkly dry wine that hits you first with a tart bitterness, but then unfolds into an entry that is fine, and the body is long and lean, without thickness or tremendous weight.  There, in that quickest of moments, you see the wine’s breadth. This Pinot Noir becomes a nightfall of fresh, amazingly black-cherry, darkened with black plum, licorice, soy, and herb-tinged stem notes, all wrapped by fleeting moments of tannin and power. The wine is not at anytime heavy, and the tannins are fine and suavely balanced. And so typical of the Esmonin style, the wine is very fresh, very clean, with excellent black fruits, but this time with more concentration and ripeness.  This wine really struck me as remarkable at the $30 price point, with just enough complexity to grab my attention and keep me engaged.  For me, this is an easy 91 points.

Where is the Cotes de Nuits, and why should I Care?

Cotes de Nuits Villages labeled wines are often confused with the larger, and more widely spread Hautes-Cotes de Nuits appellation that lies to the West of the string of hillside villages that anchor the Cote d’Or. Too many Cotes are not confusing?  I’m with you on that. Add a Villages or an Hautes, and you have different appellation!

Think of it this way: The Cote de Nuits refers to the backbone of famous villages that run the length of the Nuits. At the center of the Cote de Nuits are the famed villages such as  Vosne Romanee, Gevrey-Chambertin, and Nuits-Saint-George. But on either end of these villages are five villages that almost no one has heard of.  With the exception of Fixin (which can be labeled as its own village name,) Brochon, Premeaux-Pressey, Comblanchien, and Corgoloin), must bear the most generic name Cote de Nuits Villages.  Wines from Fixin may be labeled either Fixin or Cote de Nuits Villages.

73808454The Village of Combanchien

Frederic Esmonin draws this wine from the Belle-Vue plot in the village of Comblanchien, one of the three villages South of Nuits-St-Georges (about 3 miles away.)  Comblanchien, sits upon the same middle-Jurassic limestone,  has similar mid-slope vineyards, and similar exposition as the most famous villages to the North. When St-Veran and Maranges can label under their own names,  will these Cotes de Nuits Villages be allowed to make their own name?

Not surprisingly, Comblanchien is far more famed for its production of limestone than for its wine production.  Historically, the excavation of Comblanchien limestone been the main production of the village, with four quarries that have been in operation for several hundred years. Stone from this small village has been used for some of Frances most important buildings, including the Paris Opera House and the Orly airport.  The limestone that is quarried there, is notable for its variety of colors, and looks similar to marble with its veining, is very fine-grained and polishes well, not to mention it is resistant to frost damage.


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Diary of a Winebuyer

About Me: Thirty years ago, I graduated with a degree in political science from the College of Letters and Science at the University of California at Berkeley. Having grown up at the height of the Cold War, I still have vivid remembrances of being instructed to hide under our elementary school desk, covering our heads. The young, white, female teacher, training us without explanation, to face away from the windows. I suppose it is not all that surprising that I had a particular interest in the realpolitik of international relations. My fascination grew with the discovery that certain conditions almost uniformly exist where all revolutions ferment. Did this mean that the revolutions which had occurred in the first half century were revolutions which had been usurped by Marxists who were in the right place at the right time? Probably. A favorite professor was A. J. Gregor. This was a man who, while rakishly wearing a Gestapo-styled black leather motorcycle jacket, exuded expertise on fascism (which he looked the part) and Marxism. Improbably, he did it with a significant swagger. Then in my last semester, I had the blind luck to take a class on Asian Marxist revolution, and the professor, who just happened to be visiting that year while he worked on some unnamed project, was Chalmers Johnson. In retrospect, I should have known his name, as he was a luminary in the political science community but at that time, I did not. It was a remarkable opportunity to experience the ivory tower, but I seem to remember being anxious to get on with life. After college, I drifted through a few of jobs that were of interest to me. One of my former high school teachers said to me. "If I were in your shoes, I'd get a job as a flight attendant." So in order to be young while I could still afford to, I accepted a job serving chicken or beef at Pan American. With that airline losing money faster than it could sell its routes, I got a job doing cellar work at David Bruce Winery. This was the beginning of my wine career. All during this period, I wrote a still unpublished novel about homegrown terrorists the U.C. Berkeley campus, attempting to use some of what I learned in school, weaving in the Vietnamese political and military strategies of Dau Tranh as professor Johnson had lectured years before. Since the early 1990's, I have been involved in the wine industry, selling fine wine in both the retail and wholesale arenas. I have approached learning about wine, by always challenging myself to question how I know what I think I know? And in an effort to try to find answers I've turned, with varying degrees of success to wine books. Overall, I've not been happy with the quality of most wine writing, finding the authors either to lack any deep knowledge, or unable to move much past what I consider to be superficial information. I recognize that wine writers have to monetize their work, but I believe this has dramatically held back our knowledge and understanding of wine. I have set out to add to our industry's base of knowledge where I can. My first series, 'The Terroir of Burgundy' (which I should probably re-edit and complete some kind of conclusion, but I got involved in this project), can be viewed here. I currently work as a sales and marketing manager for a Burgundy and Bordeaux importer based in Atherton, California.

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