Burgundy’s Most Underrated & Misunderstood

Today I’d like to call attention to a village in France that really doesn’t receive the respect it deserves, at least from those who have yet to properly experience what its wines are capable of.  In fact, maybe I should stop right there, because I’m about to talk about Burgundy, a region where limited allocations and increased prices have made it difficult for collectors to add their favorite wines to their cellars.  Maybe the best thing to do is to allow one of my favorite corners of the Burgundy world to continue to fly under the radar, in hopes that the wines will remain as fairly priced and available as they are today.

However, I wouldn’t be doing my readers justice if I didn’t get these feelings out, because the fact is that the wines of Nuits-Saint-Georges are some of the most misunderstood, underrated and truly excellent examples of red and white Burgundy.

So why don’t people realize this yet?

In my opinion, it’s that they posses a stamp of terroir that is quite unique in Burgundy–they are truly wines for the cellar.  Few will impress you in their youth, with their big, meaty, almost chewy textures, which are made even less palatable by firm tannins.  The fact is that wines from Nuits-Saint-Georges require at least three to five years, if not much more, to reveal their charms.  However, once they do, you will be rewarded tenfold.

That’s the problem though; most people don’t even realize this, and so the category sits on retail shelves, slowly being absorbed by collectors in the know, while others are missing out.  I myself fell victim to this stereotype, with maybe a bit more of an open mind, since my palate is well associated with the big, structured wines from Barolo and Taurasi. However, it wasn’t until I tasted mature expressions of Nuits-Saint-Georges that I fully understood.

Imagine, as the appellation north of the village goes as far as Vosne-Romanée, with soils of pebbly alluvium and in the low-lying locations, silty deposits from the river Meuzin.  The vineyards Les Murgers, Les Damodes and Les Boudots can create wines that resemble their neighbors’ haunting elegance. As for the southern reaches, straddling Nuits-Saint-Georges and Premeaux, with soils of marly-limestone, and as you work your way to higher elevations, pure rock protruding from the surface, the wines turn more savory and mineral, with a remarkable purity that requires time to shine through.  This is where the vineyards of Les Vaucrains, Les Cailles and Les St Georges (the vineyard which gave the town its name) can lay claim to creating many of the region’s finest examples.

Another reason why Nuits-Saint-Georges doesn’t receive the respect it deserves is that it doesn’t have a single Grand Cru.  Fickle as many of us collectors are, it’s easy to think that this means the village can’t create wines to compete at this level, but the fact is that many of their Premier Crus can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Grand Cru Burgundy.

Domaine Henri Gouges

This brings me to my inspiration for today’s blog, a lunch and tasting with Gregory Gouges, the current generation of the renowned Domaine Henri Gouges.  It was this event that made me realize that I had to get the word out.  Granted, I’ve enjoyed many mature Nuits in my time which moved me to words, but the ability to taste so many vintages, horizontals and verticals from flight to flight–all while listening to Gregory speak about the terroir and vintage conditions–was priceless  To top it all off, the tasting ended with a 1985 Clos des Porrets Saint Georges from magnum–a wine made by the previous generation, and in a very different way than they are made today.

That’s also where this Domaine stands out from many others, since Gregory and his cousin, Antoine, have been hard at work to refine the wines within their portfolio, steering away from old school, often rustic, yet widely loved style of the previous generation.  It’s a brave move in a region bent on tradition, yet the proof was in every bottle we tasted; Domaine Henri Gouges is onto something.  That said, the ‘85 at the end of the tasting certainly showed that neither style was better, simply different.

So what has changed?

More than anything, it’s a focus on terroir and purity of fruit through organic practices in the vineyards, and a lighter touch in the winery.

The Domaine has always been a quality leader, having broken ties with négociants in 1933 to start producing and bottling a superior wine.  Henri went on to emphasize the importance of terroir and quality over quantity, as he aided in delineating the crus in Burgundy for the Institut National d’Appellation d’Origine.  With each new generation came further improvements, as they expanded their holdings and slowly modernized their winery.

Today, Henri Gouges is considered by most to be one of the top Domaines within Nuits, and I can see why.

Starting with their white wines, a rarity in Nuits, yet some of the best from Burgundy, I found a dazzling display from an entry level Pinot Blanc, and up to the stunning (and I mean STUNNING) 2014 Nuits-Saint-Georges Blanc.  These were followed by a flight of 2014 Premier Crus, a vintage that I love for its crunchy fruit and acidity. Here, Les Pruliers was the highlight, which also showed beautifully in the flight of 2010s–it looks like I’m a fan.  If any flight lagged, it was the Les Vaucrains Vertical, and honestly, the only reason was the vintages that were shown. 2007, 2008, and 2009 each showed their vintage character, yet less than their usual stamp of terroir. I can’t help but think that these were transition wines for the current generation of the estate.  Finally, the 1985 Clos des Porrets Saint Georges left me speechless.

On to the tasting notes:

Bourgogne Blanc

Domaine Henri Gouges Bourgogne Pinot Blanc 2017 – The nose showed steely white orchard fruits with lifting minerals and citrus to1nes, as spicy florals developed in the glass.   On the palate, I found soft textures complemented by ripe peach, white inner florals and spice, as mouthwatering acidity enlivened the experience.  The finish was long, showing spiced citrus and white flowers in a remarkably pretty expression. (90 points)

Domaine Henri Gouges Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Blanc La Perrière 2017 – Here I found a smoky bouquet, displaying white peach, sweet herbs, dusty florals, hints of moist earth and minerals.  On the palate, soft textures combined with zesty spice and saline-mineral tones to create a tactile experience, as white strawberry and pretty inner floral tones developed.  The finish was long and spicy with a saturating twang of citrus-infused minerals. (91 points)

Domaine Henri Gouges Nuits-Saint-Georges Blanc 2014 – What a gorgeous intoxicating bouquet on the ‘14 Nuits-Saint-Georges Blanc.  It literally kept me coming back to the glass over and over again. On the nose I found a savory, salty expression of sea air mixed with smoked meats, green olive, and savory spice, yet behind it all the prettiest white floral tones.  On the palate, soft textures flooded the senses, as a wave of acid-infused, salty minerals cut through them like a razor, revealing white peaches and inner floral tones. The finish was long and spicy, with wild herbs and resonating minerality.  What a gorgeous wine. (94 points)


The Fabulous 2014s

Domaine Henri Gouges, Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Clos des Porrets Saint Georges 2014 – The nose was dark and savory, displaying smoky wild berries, exotic spices, clove and hints of dried orange peel.  On the palate, I found soft textures in a slightly compact expression, which gave way to pure red fruits, as savory spices and mineral tones mounted.  The finish was medium in length and zesty, with lingering spice and red florals. (93 points)

Domaine Henri Gouges, Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Les Chaignots 2014 – The nose was spicy and still a bit reductive, showing wild herbs, crushed stone and strawberries on the vine.  On the palate, I found a lean, yet focused expression, as tart red berries, savory herbs and minerals raced across the senses on a core of brisk acidity.  The finish was medium in length, with a mix of tart red berries and savory herbs. (90 points)

Domaine Henri Gouges, Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Les Pruliers 2014 – The 2014 Pruliers was firing on all cylinders, displaying a gorgeous bouquet of dark red fruits, giving way to woodland undergrowth, moist soil, and dusty florals, with lifting minerality and a hint of mint leaf.  On the palate, I found silky textures with pure cherry, sweet dark spices, and inner florals, in an energetic, yet also classically structured display. The finish was long, lingering on tart red berries and savory spice, and ending on a note of hard red candies. (94 points)


The Classic 2010s

Domaine Henri Gouges, Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Clos des Porrets Saint Georges 2010 – The nose was intense, displaying a mix of crushed stone, savory red berries, dark moist soil tones, hints of animal musk and tart cherry.  On the palate, I found silky textures offset by brick acidity, with a mix of red and black berries, as savory spices and sweet herbal tones developed over a frame of fine tannin.  The finish was long, spicy, savory, yet showing amazing purity of fruit, which sweetened over time, as herbal notes lingered long. There was so much purity and precision here, mixed with a classic structure. It’s worth mentioning that this was poured from Jeroboam. (93 points)

Domaine Henri Gouges Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Les Pruliers 2010 – Having tasted both the 2014 and 2010, I think it’s safe to say that I am a big fan of Les Pruliers.  At first the bouquet was quite withdrawn, yet once it opened up in the glass, things changed quite a bit.  Suddenly I was treated to an array of woodland berries, exotic spices, lifting dried florals, earth tones, and with time, sweet spiced cherries.  On the palate, I found a soft yet savory expression, with brisk acids and spice giving way to zesty cherry mixed with wild herbs and juicy acids that added a mouthwatering quality.  The finish was long, showing staining red fruits, lingering spices and swee inner florals. Wow! (95 points)

Domaine Henri Gouges, Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Les Saint Georges 2010 – The nose was dark and woodsy, with a savory expression of animal musk, smoky minerals, savory herbs and crushed wild berries.  On the palate, I found a wonderfully textured expression with a silky weight that seemed to slow pull across the senses, showing dark red berries and spice with inner earth tones and pretty florals.  The finish was long with a note of hard red candies and lingering acids. This was so easy to like already, but it didn’t pack the punch of the Pruliers. (92 points)


Les Vaucrains Vertical

Domaine Henri Gouges, Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Les Vaucrains 2009 – Here I found a mix of sweet, fresh strawberries on the vine, with subtle spices, crushed stone and dusty earth, in an expression that was much fresher than I would expect from an ‘09.  On the palate, I found soft textures contrasted by zesty red berries and spice, in a slightly exotic and almost tropical performance with a twang of vibrant acidity toward the finale. The finish was long and spicy, resonating on tart wild berries with hints of gruff tannin.  Frankly, if there was just a bit more balance here, my score would have been much higher. (90 points)

Domaine Henri Gouges, Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Les Vaucrains 2008 – The ‘08 Vaucrains was woodsy and fresh, showing red berries with hints of orange and lifting minerality.  On the palate, I found sweet red berries on a zesty light-bodied frame, with hints of fresh herbs and inner florals, yet it came across as slightly one-dimensional.  The finish was medium in length, both tart but also mouthwatering, as red berries and spiced florals lingered on the side palate. (91 points)

Domaine Henri Gouges, Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Les Vaucrains 2007 – The nose was dark and rich, showing a mix of cherry and strawberry, with hints of savory herbs and lifting, pretty red florals and minerals.  On the palate, I found silky-soft textures, with ripe red berry fruit, zesty acids, saline-minerals and pretty inner florals. The finish was long and zesty yet also surprisingly structured, as ripe red fruits balanced its spicy herbal, acid, tannin mix and left me with a truly satisfying impression.  The combination of ripe fruit, savory elements and structure make the 2007 Les Vaucrains a real treat to taste right now. (93 points)


A Special Treat, Direct From The Domaine

Domaine Henri Gouges, Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Clos des Porrets Saint Georges 1985 – What a great experience to taste the ‘85 Clos des Porrets directly from the estate’s cellar, showing that these older styles of Burgundy can truly mature into something great.  The nose showed depths of crushed strawberries, dried florals, earthy minerals, rises, hints of clove, and dusty earth, in an expression you could almost call “sexy.” On the palate, I found soft textures in a pretty expression with wonderful energy, as notes of wood smoke, zesty tart red fruits, minerals, savory herbs and sweet-and-sour spice washed across the senses.  The finish was long and smoky with lingering minerality, dried strawberries and lasting inner floral tones. (94 points)


Credits and Resources

Article, Tasting Notes and Most Photos By Eric Guido

Producer, winery and vineyard photos used with permission from Vineyard Brands

The official website of Domaine Henry Gouges

Explore Morrell’s collection from Nuits-St-Georges