Santenay is a spa town, and there are not just spas for the casual tourist, there is a Casino too – oh, and I don’t mean the French chain of supermarkets – though there’s one of those too!
Despite, for a long time, being referred to as the southern-most outpost of the Côte d’Or, Santenay is actually just over the departmental border into the Saône-et-Loire, but these days not just Santenay, but also Maranges seem to be more accepted as part of the Côte d’Or than before – and indeed, why not…
One weekend a few years ago, I chose to take a walk with my dog from Santenay to the top of the hillside – an imposing stone cliff like the one of Saint Romain, and to the three crosses that sit on the crest of the hill – assuming that I could find the way!
Climbing from Santenay Le Haut you encounter the tiny hamlet of Saint-Jean with the pretty 13th century church of Saint-Jean-de-Narosse plus no more than six or seven other houses – here is also a gateway that proudly bears a stone plaque: “Santenay Clos de Malte – Domaine Louis Jadot – Jean Joly.” Behind this gateway – all in the lee of the hillside and the track up to the three crosses* – a large vineyard opens out. I’d always wondered where the Clöos de Malte was sited, and that day I decided that (eventually) it would be worth further investigation.
*Another time I chose to drive up to the three crosses in my Subaru – the Scooby made it, no problem – but I wouldn’t recommend it in a Renault!
Santenay Clos de Malte
In July I managed to take a tour of the vines with Louis Jadot’s wine-maker Frédéric Barnier, followed by a tasting of the retained red and white vintages from the Jadot’s library, together with Frédéric and Pierre-Henry Gagey. The label is all Jadot of-course, so you might be forgiven for overlooking that this is a Domaine Gagey wine.
Louis Jadot are well represented in this corner of Santenay, not only do they have the Clos de la Malte, they also have, a little higher on the opposite hill, facing the Clos de Malte, the 1er Cru Clos Gatsulard*. I had always assumed that the Clos de Malte was a monopole – it isn’t, but the Clos Gatsulard is. Whilst the Clos de Malte isn’t a monopole, you won’t find any other labels as this is something of an old brand for the Beaune-based merchant.
*Clos Gatsulard is really a monopole. Higher on the hill and direct south-facing, so always harvested earlier than the grapes of the Clos de Malte. Bought in 2008 the first vintage was 2009, yet still only 20 hl/ha was produced in this ‘high-yielding’ vintage – “Always low yields here, but more concentration too – it’s always more sunny flavoured.”
A little history
The Clos de Malte is situated on 7 hectares at the head of a small valley, generally well exposed and protected from the wind. The Clos occupies almost all of the 7.8 hectare climat of Sous La Fée, and sits at the foot of a track that runs upwards to the Montagne des Trois Croix. As a ‘Clos’ there is indeed a stone wall around much of this vineyard’s boundary, and also one in the middle too, forming not just a small tier between two elevations, but also marking where a rail-line once existed. The name Clos de Malte has been use since the 1800s, referring to the Chevaliers de Malte*, who had built the church in Saint-Jean. The vineyard was planted by the great-grandfather of Pierre-Henry Gagey, who eventually sold all to the Joly family in 1940. In 1993, Jadot re-purchased the vineyard with the exception of a small area near the house of the Jolys – a ‘cordon sanitaire’ for the Jolys perhaps, yet Jadot still have the contract for those ‘garden’ vines.
*In the 11th century the Knights of Malta – then known as the ‘Knights Hospitaller’ – established a hospital in Jerusalem to care for pilgrims of all religious faiths.
Pierre-Henry explains: ”My mother loves this place. In 1870 the family bought the whole hameau of Saint-Jean, with the exception of the church. That was my great, great-grandfather, and he constructed a cuverie for the vines he planted – because most was not planted at that time – he even made a small railway to take the grapes from one end of the Clos to the other. At the time, vines here were not expensive – indeed Beaune 1ers cost the same as Echézeaux. This place became the weekend home for the family.
“From 1932-1939, this was a vineyard area that only lost money, so my grandfather decided to sell everything to the Joly family – this family made wine from 1945-1990, selling the wine in bulk. Jadot started to buy grapes from the Jolys in 1985, until 1992 when the Jolys offered to sell. The Jolys kept the house and winery plus the first rows of vines, though these are rented back to Jadot. At the time there were 2 other owners, one of whom we have bought-out, but one more owner exists, who labels their wine Sous La Fée.”
Pierre-Henry clearly also has a strong bond with this place, noting that one day, he and his wife will be buried in this cemetery.
As noted, the vineyard sits, protected from the wind, at the head of a valley – that protection coming from the hillside above – and has a beautiful view of the valley towards the town of Santenay. 7.11 hectares are planted, of which 5 hectares is pinot noir.
The oldest pinot vines here were planted in the 1940s, and there are sections here with dead vines that are very hard to replant due to the solid rock base. Then there’s another plot of about 1.5 ha of pinot from the 1950s, plus some chardonnay planted in 2001. It is generally quite a sandy soil in most of the Clos, Frédéric Barnier noting that it’s no problem to drive through these vines the day after rain, though moving higher in the vineyard shows a much rockier soil, indeed with very little soil. ”There’s lots of energy here” says Frédéric, ”Our work often revolves around trying to control the yields. We harvest a little later here, not just because of the altitude, but also because various parts of the vineyard become shaded in the day. The vines are at the end of the valley, but the wine’s freshness comes from a combination of altitude and that shade.”
All these vines are ploughed.
Higher parts of the vineyard overlap a nature reserve, which, for a time, was complicated to manage as theoretically they weren’t allowed to farm the vines, despite those vines predating the ‘nature reserve’ classification. Only in France!
I found the classic Jadot style amongst these wines; reds that are approachable young, with a certain middle-age linearity. The whites were open and always interesting. Exceptional wines – at least for drinking today – seem hard to come by but there are certain years where wines of either colour can be simply exceptional – and it’s not always the vintages that you expect.
But first, the reds.
2014 Santenay Clos de Malte
Not racked, still part in tank and barrel – here the blend.
Half-formed nose, a hint dirty, but with super fruit behind. Very faint tannin grabs your gums, fresh flavour, growing intensity, and a lovely with of pretty fruit – but with a fine intensity too – lots of potential here.
2013 Santenay Clos de Malte
Only bottled 2 months ago.
A little sulfur on the nose. More attack, more direct, again with a very similar intensity and faint tannic drag. Lovely growth of mid-palate to finishing flavour. Super length!
2012 Santenay Clos de Malte
A tighter nose with delicate, focused dark red fruit notes – very pretty. Much more direct, more concentrated and textured – a wine of more concentration and a faint astringency. Very good length here. Super!
2011 Santenay Clos de Malte
An aromatic freshness, with a little pyrazine plus a vibrant red fruit note. Silkier, still a little texture from the tannin, faint pyrazine flavours too. But a lovely fresh red fruit finish despite the structure. A much more open wine.
Tight but fine aromas that suggest almost a silkiness. Width and dimension in the mouth – lovely energy and complexity here. Still a little texture from the tannin, but this is opening up very well. Super length. This is really fine.
2009 Santenay Clos de Malte
The nose is a little tight, but suggesting a weight of fruit below, with a hint more ripeness. Mouth-filling, rounder and fuller. Very ripe, with a modest weight of tannin. Good finishing too – this really holds well. Yum!
2005 Santenay Clos de Malte
Deeper colour. Weight of aroma, deep almost roast red fruit. Serious, excellent weight of concentration and complexity – really a baby. Extra drive through the finish too. Ouf!
2004 Santenay Clos de Malte
A mushroomy pyrazine – some might say peanut. Very nice in the mouth there’s fatness to the texture and very nice flavour. It’s not particularly long, but it tasted very good!
1998 Santenay Clos de Malte
This is very different; fresh, dark, tight fruit. Also mouth-filling, and with very faint astringency but here is a cool fruit and lots of interest, complexity too.
1997 Santenay Clos de Malte
Deeper colour. Complex, the first wine with hints of forest floor development, and very faint tobacco too. Bright, mouth-filling, plenty of energy – late arriving intensity and a width of flavour – indeed lovely finishing flavour…
Mainly a clonal selection of vines used here..
2014 Santenay Clos de Malte Blanc
Pale lemon yellow. Bright, forward, faint coconut aromas, good weight below too. Wide and fresh, faint gas, good flavour and length. Quite yum!
2013 Santenay Clos de Malte Blanc
This bottled march 15.
Round, fresh, faintly oaked again. Lush but bright, with very fine acidity and weight of flavour. Lovely energy and concentration too. Super!
2012 Santenay Clos de Malte Blanc
More tense and mineral and faintly reduced too. Lovely width, good intensity too, with growing flavour complexity. Today this is more contemplative than the 2013, but it’s something a beauty.
2011 Santenay Clos de Malte Blanc
Tighter nose, slowly delivering some pretty flashes of interest. The first attack seems mineral then there’s a weight of texture and really excellent length – almost with a hint of aniseed. Really good weight of finishing flavour.
2009 Santenay Clos de Malte Blanc
Lovely freshness in the mouth, a little lush flavour and texture but this is a wine of pleasure with a good overall balance – only as you head into the finish do you have the impression of a little more minerality. Really lovely finishing flavour. – yum! The nose slowly evolves fresh, candied notes.
First wine with a little more colour. The nose is actually a little reductive, with a very faint creme anglaise. Silky, with weight of flavour, needs to be kept cool I think but this is really excellent!!!
2002 Santenay Clos de Malte Blanc
Big, round, with growing intensity of aroma. Plenty of concentrated flavour here, that holds really well too. Good wine – Great Santenay!
1999 Santenay Clos de Malte Blanc
A hint reductive, but fresh and silky aromas. Silky in the mouth too. This has lovely complexity, and weight of flavour too. Delicious wine. Long finishing too.