One day, missing a cow, the people of Saint-Philibert came searching to Morey. Had anyone in Morey seen it? All of them said “no, not at all”. But when the people of Saint-Philibert again crossed the woods, they discovered the skeleton of their cow.
They came back to Morey and said “Are you sure you did not see our cow? Are you sure you did not eat it?” And the people in Morey answered “No, but there are those wolves in the area…”. The people of Saint-Philibert knew who the ‘wolves’ were, and for 1,000 years the people of Morey have been called the Wolves!
Now you know about the emblem of Morey St.Denis and why there are premier cru bottles and roads in Morey called ‘Loups’!
Morey St.Denis sits neatly between Gevrey-Chambertin and Chambolle-Musigny, yet has little of the renown of those villages. People too neatly suggest that a wine from Morey is a hypothetical cross between Gevrey and Chambolle – even growers often fall into this ‘easy’ answer approach – but which Gevrey and which Chambolle would you combine? – there are so many styles. Let me suggest to you the following:
- The wines of Morey St.Denis are not mere ‘averages’ of the villages on either side, they have their own distinct personality
- The average quality of wine produced in Morey St.Denis is perhaps the highest in the Côte d’Or
I will expand on both of those points, but first, a little history.
History of Morey St.Denis
It is believed that village of Morey has been involved in grape production since at least the 10th century, though the first mention of the Roman-named village of Mirriacum Villa dates from 1120. Until the Revolution, there was a pervasive but largely stable ownership of land and wine production by religious organisations. Post sale as ‘bien nationale’, one or two families became owners of large portions of the vineyards, but it was the names of the current grand crus like Clos de Tart and Clos de la Roche that people recognised and not Morey, hence, the last 200 years did not bring the same level of prosperity that could be found as a whole in Gevrey, Chambolle, Vougeot and Vosne for instance.
The problem for Morey was that most of their production – excepting those ‘named wines’ – was sold either with a Gevrey or a Chambolle label, so it was to those villages that the money flowed. Clearly there was precedent for attaching the name of the local grand cru to the village name, and much has been made about their choice of the Clos St.Denis rather than Clos de la Roche or Clos de Tart etc., but the name has a nice sound. It was 1927 when the name Saint Denis was appended to Morey, this was the first step for Morey, the second was to come with the AOC in 1935-36 when wine should no-longer be labeled as Gevrey or Chambolle, rather as Morey St.Denis.
It is somehow ironic that the, still today, undervalued appellation of Morey St.Denis shared with their near neighbours the presence in each village of an ‘iconic’ premier cru, crus that people often suggested should be promoted to grand crus. I say ‘shared’ because while the Clos St.Jacques and Amoureuses remain as 1er crus, Morey’s ‘equivalent’ – the Clos des Lambrays – actually was granted grand cru status in 1981.
Morey St.Denis today
Heading south on the route des Grand Crus from Gevrey-Chambertin, the border with AOC Morey St.Denis is easy to see. As soon as the tree-edged 1er cru of Gevrey-Chambertin Les Combottes ends on your right, the vineyards suddenly shoot higher up the steep hill – this is the Monts Luisants, Morey St.Denis Monts Luisants. The bottom of the hill, still on your right, is part of the clos de la Roche with its red-shaded soil, soil that becomes less red and thinner as go higher up. Keep heading south, and to your left is a block of 1er cru rated land that apart from the stone arch heralding the ‘Clos’ des Ormes (Elms), has few distinctive features – this is good practice for your eyes, because as you head closer to the village, you are met by faceless, windowless buildings – maybe a tree here or there might make it more welcoming. The village centre itself is a little more interesting; a roundabout (Place du Monument) that can be traversed any which way you like (by local custom) and a typical Côte de Nuits mix of grand and lowly properties.
Perhaps it is because Morey is still a much smaller appellation than its neighbours, that still today it offers tremendous value in terms of both bottles and even the land itself. We live in a time of (perhaps) hyper-inflated land prices, and a would-be vigneron may be able to find some value in AOC Villages Gevrey, simply because there is so much of it, though the plain of Gevrey is hardly a quality hot spot. Morey is just a little cheaper as it has less renown, but the quality versus the Gevrey plain is significantly higher. Next-door in Chambolle, the land prices are four times higher! If I wanted to start a domaine, Morey is currently the most cost-effective high-quality area in the Côte de Nuits.
Approximately 300,000 bottles of red wine and 20,000 bottles of white wine are produced each year of communal or ‘villages’ Morey, and despite more than 50% of the AOC land in Morey is classified as premier or grand cru – the highest percentage in the Côtes – there are a little less bottles from this, higher classified land, as the yields are lower (see approximate production in the table). The majority of those white grapes are mainly to be found in the area of Monts Luisants and En la Rue de Vergy, both Chardonnay and Aligote (Ponsot).
Communal AOC wines i.e. ‘Village’ wines bearing the label Morey St.Denis come from 64 hectares, 3 of which are planted to white. Premiers Crus, bearing the label Morey St.Denis 1er Cru come from 44 hectares of vines, 1.6 hectares of which are planted to white. What little renown that Morey enjoys, is clearly a reflection of those grand crus; it has four of its own, and shares part of another with Chambolle – Bonnes-Mares – which is the only one which doesn’t touch on the village. The others are the Clos de Tart, Clos des Lambrays, Clos St.Denis and the Clos de la Roche. There are many vineyards / climats in Morey that are called ‘Clos’ but relatively few are actually enclosed by walls.
Walking the hillside vineyards you are all-too aware that much work has been done to avoid the disaster that heavy storms can wreak. Not only are the roads between the Clos St.Denis and the Clos de la Roche mainly heavy-duty concrete, but they incorporate storm drains, even a massive concrete pit lies in the mid-slope, waiting to arrest the progress of rain-water.
It’s clear that – enthusiasts apart – Morey is far from a house-hold name. Perhaps it is because of this, that the bottles have to be just that little bit better than their rough equivalents from Gevrey or Chambolle. Morey is perhaps the only label in burgundy, where you have a high chance of success when buying ‘blind’. When young there is often a ‘coiled’ fruity core to the wines. They are serious and offer their own perfume – like a bouquet garni over dark red shaded fruits – it is neither Gevrey or Chambolle but characteristic of the Morey 1ers and even some of the villages. Drink them in their first year or leave them for six to eight years. Great vintages like 2005 will provide quality drinking for the next thirty years – even at villages levels. The whites are rarer, but the AOC’s for Morey St.Denis Blanc and 1er Cru Blanc are in place – unlike in Gevrey and Chambolle. There is the unique premier cru Aligoté from Domaine Ponsot and the rest is ‘chardonnay’, i.e. the traditional field-blend with a little pinot blanc. The best of these chardonnays show a muscular and slightly tropical profile, but like a decathlete they offer a balanced if powerful shape – I have never tried to save them – I like them young.
– Dr. Ramain
“The wines of Morey have a more tender firmness than those of Gevrey”
– Pierre Bréjoux
The Grand Crus
The Grands Crus cover 41.35 hectares, and wear the following labels:
Clos St.Denis : 6.62 hectares
I’ll nail my colours to the mast; I have, for years, been a bigger fan of Clos St.Denis than the Clos de la Roche, but Laurent Ponsot has certainly given me recent food for thought. The best wines of the genre are sensual, beguilingly fruited wines. The Clos St.Denis starts in the village and radiates to the north, mainly sited just a little lower on the slope than the Clos de la Roche. A relatively wide road separates it to the south from the Clos des Lambrays. Seemingly named after the Chapter of Saint Denis which was created in 1203, this was apparently an original ‘Clos’, though the walls are mainly long-since gone. It has significantly grown over the years, originally being only one third of its current 6.6 hectares. For the AOC in 1936 it absorbed parts of the named areas of Maison Brulée, La Calouère and a part Les Chaffots. The soil is very typical of Morey, a mix of red-brown clay soil mixed with small rocks over a base of limestone. The first known owner of the vineyard was the church of St.Denis de Vergey, founded in 1203, hence the name. After the revolution it was the Marey / Marey-Monge family who were the principle owners, and perhaps their plant material was not so good as others, as the Clos St.Denis was not regarded as one of the best of the village at that time, but today’s 100 year-old vines, owned by the Mercier family and transmuted to wine by Laurent Ponsot is one of the great cuvées of the Côte de Nuits. Just a little behind Ponsot is the cuvée from Dujac – the biggest owner of vines in the cru – another perennial favourite of mine is Louis Jadot.
Clos de Tart : 7.53 hectares
There is more about this true Clos and Monopole vineyard here, but when discussing in the context of Morey, like the Clos des Lambrays, the vines are planted north-south and the ground is similarly quite stony high up. The soil is darker and less red as there is little of the iron in the clay found in the other vineyards of Morey. If we ignore for a second the shared grand cru of Bonnes-Mares, this is the most southern of the Morey grand crus. Despite a similar post-revolution ownership as the Clos St.Denis by the Marey / Marey-Monge family, this has always been ranked as one of the top vineyards in Morey, despite only getting it’s AOC as a grand cru 1939. There was a bit of 1980-1990’s lull, but from 2002 onwards the Mommessin owned vines have been producing stunning wine after stunning wine, though pricing has tripled to ‘compensate’. An average of 25,000 bottles per year wear the Clos de Tart label.
Clos des Lambrays : 8.80 hectares
Again, a fuller text can be found here. Of all the grand cru vineyards, it is probably the Clos des Lambrays that represents the ‘purest slice’ of Morey. From low lying, denser red clay soil to the sparser, rocky soil high on the hill, this is a blend of all Morey in one bottle – particularly as the vines stretch up the hillside just a little further than all the other grand crus. At its best a wine of wonderful aromatics, understated power and complexity. Less concentrated than the best Clos St.Denis, a good Clos de Tart or Bonnes-Mares, and certainly not the extra minerality of the best Clos de la Roche.
Clos de la Roche : 16.90 hectares
Laurent Ponsot probably has the best-sited parcels of old vines in the original boundaries of both the Clos de la Roche and the Clos St.Denis and is thus uniquely qualified to register an opinion, and he is convinced that the Clos de la Roche is a more gifted terroir than the Clos St.Denis. In the 1850’s Dr. Lavalle and similarly in the late 1800’s Danguy and Aubertin gave the Clos de la Roche and the Clos St.Denis the same classification in their respective books – though both vineyards were ranked behind the Clos de Tart in those times. The original boundaries of the Clos de la Roche were much smaller at about 4.57 hectares though there seems little evidence that it was ever really a ‘Clos’ – again the Marey family were the main owners, this time with the Bizot family. If you walk all the boundaries of the Clos it’s no surprise, given its size, that it’s far from a homogenous entity. This quadrupling of size came by the absorption of neighbouring areas in the lieu-dits of Chabiots, Fremières, Froichots, Mauchamps and the bottom half of Monts-Luisants – this was at the time of the AOC ‘grand cru’ being achieved in 1936. In 1971 parts of the lieu-dits of Les Chaffots and Les Genavrières were also accepted as ‘Clos de la Roche’ by the INAO. You can still see these lieu-dits on maps, and given the topographic diversity, they better define the vineyard than the single Clos de la Roche name. That the average quality of wine from the vineyard is so high is a testament to the quality of the land – I can contrast that with the much more hap-hazard quality that you’d find from the even more topographically diverse Echézeaux vineyard for instance. That the key producers are Ponsot, Leroy, Dujac, branches of the Lignier clan, plus the recently improving cuvée from Rousseau goes a long way to explaining the renown of the wine, but there are many ‘smaller’ producers with tasty bottles. The northern edge of the vineyard is a stone-throw away from Charmes(Mazoyères)-Chambertin and smaller producers here do not have the same lofty success as achieved in Clos de la Roche.
Bonnes Mares : 1.50 hectares
It’s a small section of Bonnes Mares that rests within Morey St.Denis, the majority of the vineyard (another 13.5 hectares) lies in Chambolle-Musigny. The Morey portion belongs to Clair family of Marsannay, but since 1986 was on a long-term lease to the domaine Fougeray de Beauclair, also based in Marsannay, who, because of the original Clair-Daü sale agreement to Jadot, Fougeray inherited the obligation to continue to sell one third of their Bonnes Mares grapes to Louis Jadot. For 2005, Fougeray took 100% of the parcel, but it changed again in 2006 with just over 0.4 hectares moving to Bernard Clair following the death of his father (the owner). This Morey section is (mainly – 95%) from the ‘terres rouges’ section of the vineyard – unsurprising given the iron-rich red soil that predominates in Morey.
The Premier Crus
There are twenty premier cru vineyards, but it is fair to say that most are relative unknowns. The historical practice of vignerons producing a Morey 1er cuvée, rather than for instance a Morey 1er Chaffots, is one of the main reasons. This is largely driven by the relatively small size of most premiers, half of which are below 2 hectares in size. Examples of this practice can be seen from Dujac (mixing Millandes, Ruchots and Clos Sorbè), though they bottle a 1er cru Monts Luisants Blanc, Ponsot (Cuvée des Alouettes from Monts Luisants) and L et A Lignier with the Cuvée Romain Lignier (a blend of Les Faconnières and Les Chenevery). There are many more examples, but I have to say this is slowly changing, driven by young vignerons such as Virgile Lignier at Lignier-Michelot who place the climat names centre-stage on their labels – there is much work to do though.
The twenty premiers crus are typically split into 3 groups:
- The first are the four sets of vines that sit above the Clos de la Roche and Clos St.Denis; Les Chaffots, Côte-Rôtie, Les Genavrières and Les Monts-Luisants. Stony soil that can devour ploughing equipment, but the vines are always well-tended, here you can find some very interesting approaches to vine training (see below), the edges of the vineyards abound with wild vines. Les Chaffots, part of which was sucked-up by the growing Clos de la Roche, produces high-quality bottles and was a well-known cuvée of Domaine Hubert Lignier and more recently Lucie et Auguste Lignier. Look out also for bottles from Michel Magnien. A Morey St.Denis Côte-Rôtie I’ve never seen, likewise I’ve never seen an actual Genavrières – though the villages Morey St.Denis of L&A Lignier contains some – I did once seen one on a list from ‘Domaine Pierazeau’. Lastly, Monts Luisants seems a little easier to find, but it is usually the whites of Dujac and Ponsot that are listed. For reds, the 2006 Monts Luisants from Gregory Patriat is super and very good bottles from Jean-Paul & Stéphane Magnien can also be found.
- The largest area is a group of fourteen lieu-dits that sit below the Route des Grands Crus. They run in a continuous, almost featureless, band into Morey from the Gevrey border. Here the soils are deeper following centuries of drainage from the (mainly grand cru) hills above – hear there is plenty of meat on the bone of the wine. Heading south from the Gevrey border we first find Aux Charmes where I can recommend bottles from Lignier-Michelot and Michel Magnien, and Aux Cheseaux which I’ve never seen. Next is the Clos des Ormes, announced by its large entrance archway. It’s larger size means that bottles are easier to find from the likes of Jeanniard, Lecheneaut, Georges Lignier and Lucien Le Moine – I’ve no real experience with any of these though. Les Charrières which I’ve little experience of (though bottles can be found from Sigaut and Alain Michelot) sits between the Clos des Ormes (now without elms) and the better know Les Faconnières. Les Faconnières often is a big wine but it manages to retain some fineness – try Lignier-Michelot’s bottling or more interesting (historically) the cuvée from Jean-Paul & Stéphane Magnien, the first domaine to actually label the wine as ‘Faconnières’ rather than Morey 1er cru… Further south still is Les Chenevery; again Lignier-Michelot makes a good bottle, the only other label I’ve seen is from Alain Jeanniard. Now, by Morey standards, we reach the rather large 1er cru of Les Millandes – probably the best reputed bottling comes from Christian Serafin – though many labels can be found. We are now just below the village and apart from the reasonably sized La Riotte (2.46 hectares – try L&A Lignier and Taupenot-Merme bottlings) the vineyards become tiny parcels, dotted around gardens and out-buildings. Les Gruenchers I have never seen though the 1er cru cuvée ‘Aux Petites Noix’ from Jean-Paul & Stéphane Magnien contains some, Le Village is likewise unseen by me – though the Clos des Lambrays Morey 1er ‘Les Loups’ is a mix of this, ‘Riotte’ and young-vine Clos des Lambrays. The last four premiers of our group extend to the main road into the village from the RN74, behind the hotel Tres Girard. Les Blanchards is rarely seen, though there is a bottling by Jeanniard. Clos Baulet is a rare bird too, I’ve only ever seen one listed from Frederic Magnien but I’ve never tasted it. The last two are Clos Sorbès and Les Sorbès – both rather larger vineyards – yet I’ve never seen the Les Sorbès. Clos Sorbes is easy to find, and it’s worth checking out the bottles from Joseph Drouhin, David Duband and, of course, Domaine Fourrier.
- Our last two premier crus are the other side of the road into the village from the RN74, and extend to the (near) border with Chambolle. Clos de la Bussière which is slightly lower on the hill and Les Ruchots which is separated from the Clos de Tart and Bonnes-Mares by the Route des Grands Crus that runs through the village. The Clos de la Bussière is an easy one to deal with, being a monopole of Domaine Georges Roumier, Les Ruchots is also not so difficult to find with bottles from Amiot, Arlaud and Magnien amongst others.
For the future, another satellite premier cru is not out of the question: En la Rue de Vergy sits mainly above the Clos de Tart and it seems is being considered for an ‘upgrade’.
Morey St.Denis – villages cuvées
A significant portion of the communal vines are to the east of the village, but often touching on the premier crus. Some vines do extend to the other side of the RN 74, but unlike the poor example that is set by Gevrey-Chambertin, those vines of Morey are relatively small in percentage terms, and do not extend into the plains to an extent that the quality may embarrass!
Vines high on the hillside above the grand and premier crus are more mineral and less chewy, and as noted elsewhere, En la Rue de Vergey above the Clos de Tart has some chance for promotion to premier cru status. Vines below the village, because of the deeper soil and less rock tend to be meatier and have a reputation for chewier tannins – something you won’t notice if you keep them the requisite 5+ years…
There are twenty-six different lieu-dits that could be used on a label of communal Morey. Not surprisingly, if people don’t really know the premier crus they are even less likely to know the village names, hence, you don’t see them on too many labels – there are always exceptions of-course: Lucie & August Lignier use the Bussières and Sionnières names on their labels and quite a number of producer’s En la Rue de Vergy’s and Monts Luisants can be seen.
A number of the lieu-dits are ‘villages classified’ sections of premier cru vineyards, for example Les Chenevery, Aux Cheseaux and Clos des Ormes can be both premier and villages – well this is burgundy after all – oh and did I mention that the lieu-dit of ‘Le Village’ is part premier cru and part ‘villages’?! Perhaps confusion is another reason that the names are not used so often.
Despite, or maybe in spite of, this potential for confusion, a villages Morey can be one of the best bargains of the Côte de Nuits – for 12 Euros locally, you can buy wines that will trounce ‘luxury’ bourgognes that cost 50% more – better fruit, more structure, more concentration and good complexity – enjoy!