Santenay - the artisan wines of Côte de Beaune
Updated: May 22, 2020
I´m often asked what is my favourite wine region and I always refuse to answer. Every trip is a new love story with wine being the main guy. Santenay is not a celebrity wine region, have you heard of it at all? Do you often find it at a local wine store? Well, I'd highly recommend you to find this little village on the map of Burgundy, go there and understand why was I so much enchanted.
Santenay - a great value just a step away from the Route des Grand Crus
Santenay is a Village & Premier Cru appellation within the terroir-diverse Burgundy. It's the southernmost part of Côte de Beaune. Harvest here is the earliest and this is one of the rare places where you find dominance of red wines in the Côte.*
*A basic way to look at Côte d'Or is that Côte de Beaune is for whites, Côte de Nuits is for reds.
Being after all a typical Burgundian village, you'll find here a castle, a windmill, lots of vineyards on the hills and ... thermal waters. Yes, Santenay is home to two favourite liquids of mine - wine and water. And while I was there, the construction of the new thermal spa was in process, so see you in the pools of Santenay next year!
There are 12 Premier Cru climats in Santenay. The label will therefore show Santenay Premier Cru + name of the climat (if it's a single vineyard wine):
Clos de Tavannes
Clos des Mouches
Grand Clos Rousseau
Les Gravières-Clos de Tavannes
I tasted some of these climats (I wish I could stay longer and taste all of them). See my Santenay tasting notes below, after we talk a bit about soil and winemaking in this village.
the origin of the soils dates back 60 million years to the Jurassic period
The origin of soils in Santenay. Geoology & Terroir Talks
As I mentioned, Santenay is not the most famous appellation from Burgundy. That makes it an exceptional value for money, but also makes it more difficult to find information about the wine region. One of the reasons I chose to visit Domaine Louis Lequin is that they describe very precisely the geology behind their terroirs.
So the origin of the soils dates back 60 million years to the Jurassic period when 500 m of sediment settled on the seabed. So clay, limestone and their mixture - marl was formed. Some 20 million years later tectonic movements created the slopes and faults, the terrain which today is covered by vineyards.
When you walk in the vineyards you start paying attention to what's under your feet. I had a couple of hours before my visit to the winery to have a look at the soils. In Santenay it's marl with lots of clay and as you move closer to Chassagne-Montrachet, marl and limestone become more dominant. This is what makes Santenay wines more rustic and powerful, and Chassagne - more finesse. I found my favourite somewhere in the middle at the boarder of two appellations. What's even more interesting is to taste a red wine grown in white soils of Chassagne. And we did it with Antoine Lequin :)
How do they ensure their precious terroir is expressed in wine? Winegrowing and winemaking techniques below
Below some basic techniques that from Domaine Louis Lequin.
Pruning - helps to control the yield and achieve perfect maturity, Only exceptional berries can show the typicity of the region. Pinot Noir is pruned in Cordon de Royat, while Chardonnay - in Guyot Somple.
Ploughing - to force the vine roots down to the rocks in order to seek their nutrition, which will eventually let us taste the local character in wine.
Microbes - in the soil, not in the wine! Grass sowing is practiced to bring microbial biodiversity to the soil, to basically 'feed' the vines with nutrients.
Obviously, hand harvested grapes and very gentle oak ageing. For Chardonnay they use a 1/3 of new oak, 1/3 of 1 y.o. oak and 1/3 of 2 y.o. oak barrels. Santenay Blanc is fermented in oak and goes through malolactic fermentation with frequent lees stirring. Only slight filtration is used here before bottling - not more than necessary, as it's important not to 'filter' the terroir.
Pinot Noir goes through a gentle cold-maceration before fermentation - this gives roundness and fruitiness to the wine. During fermentation they punch down and pump over to break the cap. This is important to extract aromas, flavours, tannins and colour. Santenay Noir is aged in 25% new oak barrels for 16 to 18 months.
There is no rush with selling the wine - both red and white will age in the underground cellar as long as needed for it to be a fully open and ready to drink wine. Consumers are impatient with keeping bottles all around the world :)
Domaine Louis Lequin - in Santenay since 1604
Isn't it very inspiring to meet a descendant of a family that has been farmers in Santenay since at least 1604? And that every next generation was true to this calling?
Antoine Lequin is the current 'trustee' of the Louis Lequin winery and the history of more than 400 years. He will pass it on to his children and I hope their sequence will never cut short.
Specifically, Philibert Lequin in 1669 bought a vineyard that indebted him, his son and grandson for 120 years. The family home that is also the winery, and is still up and running today was built in 1852 by Louis I. Lequin. In winter when the volume of works in the winery is low, he worked at siliceous sand mines to afford buying more vineyards.
In Burgundy the one who plants the vines is never the one who roots them up.
They first started selling bottled wine in 1920. Next two generations developed the export market and bought vineyards in other appellations, including Pommard and Nuits Saint Georges.
Antoine told me the following words:
I'm lucky to have a lot of experience from my ancestors, it's good to be innovative but it's also good to understand the past, to change is not always the best thing.
...and now going through their family history I understand what he meant. Every generation was doing huge sacrifices to develop this estate, knowing that most probably they will never reap the fruits of those sacrifices. In Burgundy the one who plants the vines is never the one who roots them up.
Burgundy is like magic ...
So 40 000 bottles (in a good year) and 7 ha of vineyards spread around 5 appellations. Focus here is on 'Équilibre' - balance of tannins, acidity, body and oak. And, of course, ageing potential. Antoine might decide to sell his Santenay Vieilles Vignes of 2015 and 2016 now, but keeping 2014 a year or two more, because it still needs to 'open' for the consumers to appreciate the bouquet.
And then we talked a bit about magic:
"People like Bordeaux wine and it takes time to learn appreciating Burgundy. But when they learn Burgundy, they don't drink much Bordeaux anymore.
The goal in Bordeaux is to make the same wine every year by blending different varieties. But in Burgundy every year, every parcel is very different. Burgundy is like magic, when you know that two parcels with just 5 m in between them make completely different wines, you believe in magic."
Côte de Beaune wine tasting at Domaine Louis Lequin
As usually, my principle is to taste wine from the area where we are. So the focus was on Santenay and the neighbouring Chassagne-Montrachet.
We start with a glass of Santenay Blanc 2013 - the idea here is to make an easy to drink, fresh, aromatic wine. It comes from a single vineyard, just like all the other wines made at Louis Lequin, besides the Vieilles Vignes that is a blend of old parcels.
Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeot Blanc 2016 - a very popular year, as wines of 2016 are ready to drink now. Normally, Chassagne is a very opulent wine, highly aromatic. But 2016 wasn't hot enough in Burgundy, a lot of spring frosts that were somewhat balanced by summer. It's a complex mango, apple, citrus and sweet spices blend with a beautiful mineral finish.
Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeot Blanc 2014 - this year was lately the best representative year of the appellation. It's still a bit closed, this wine has a superior ageing potential. Leave it open for 10-15 min before drinking - wines that are destined to age need some time to 'breathe'.
This wine is more creamy and round, has more of that 'opulence' Antoine was speaking about. The stone fruits' presence is more obvious, the wine is riper and elegantly coated with oaky-vanilla notes.
Santenay Vieilles Vignes 2011 - this is a blend of a 60 y.o. and 40 y.o. vineyard. Still very fresh, fruity and satin wine. Has a brick red color with a hint of pepper and salt. The acidity is high, might be too high for some consumers, but that's the freshness that I love in wine.
Santenay 1er Cru Le Passe-Temps 2011 - we can already see a beautiful evolution going on here. Strawberries and raspberries right from the wild, as you feel like walking and picking them up in a forest after the rain. A wine that is more herbaceous and spicy, that a 'fruit bomb'. Perfect tannic structure and high acidity with a delicate finish.
For me this wine is like a refined French farmer, in his beret, but in rubber boots on top of his tractor.
Santenay 1er Cru Le Passe-Temps 2014 - if you want to taste the typicity of Le Passe-Temps climat, then 2014 is your wine. It's stronger, more rustic and spicy. It's a typical wine from the middle of Santenay appellation.
When you go closer to Chassagne, you get more elegance, when you go to the middle - you get stronger and more rustic wines. Me personally I love this irony, rustic taste.
Oh, come on, only a spoiled 'Burgundian' can call these rustic! For me this wine is like a refined French farmer, in his beret, but in rubber boots on top of his tractor.
Once you see the diverse soils and taste several climats - you don't have a favourite, you just get impressed by how versatile can be the good old Pinot Noir
Santenay 1er Cru 'La Comme' 2015 - this is the closest vineyard to Chassagne-Montrachet, just 5 m between the two vineyards. Thus La Comme is on the elegant side of Santenay, refined, mineral and salty, a red wine that comes from limestone-marl soils. I believe most of the consumers would prefer this wine, 'officially' this tastes the most elegant. But once you see the diverse soils and taste several climats - you don't have a favourite, you just get impressed by how versatile can be the good old Pinot Noir.
Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru 'Morgeot' Rouge 2015 - remember we started with this wine, but in white? Chassagne-Montrachet is worldwide known for white wines, another kingdom of Chardonnay in Burgundy. So most of the winegrowers take out their Pinot Noir and plant Chardonnay.
Anotoine being a very cheerful winegrower makes a joke to all Chassagne and makes this goddess of Pinot right in between all the 'whites'. As a result we have a red wine that comes from white soils. I don't like the word 'mineral', but it really has the stoniness of a fine mineral water, and you can almost feel the bubbles in it. It's pure, salty, while having robust tannins, raspberries and a long finish. Unforgettable, like a real goddess.
I can't find enough words to thank Domaine Louis Lequin - Anotoine & his mother for making me feel the legacy of all the generations of Lequin's, building this little sanctuary for terroir lovers!
Read about all the wine-adventures I had in Burgundy here!