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A letter from Burgundy: Auxey-Duresses

Auxey-Duresses

The World of Fine Wine’s Burgundy critic sings the praises of Auxey-Duresses—an underrated village that has shone in the warm conditions of the 2018, 2019, and 2020 vintages.

In my previous blog I wrote about 2017 Burgundy, a warm vintage that produced forward and friendly wine. This heralded three seriously hot and dry summers causing some vineyards in premium villages on the Côte d’Or—where the vines baked on sunny East facing slopes—to suffer from sunburn, leaf drop, or simply to shut down and stop photosynthesizing.

In these conditions lesser villages have flourished. Villages with vineyards tucked into draughty valleys or on the cold face of a hill, where the wine is lean in a “classic” vintage and even rather mean in a cold one.

Flourishing in warmer vintages

Auxey-Duresses is among the second division villages on the Côte d’Or that have benefited from the run of hot summers. In the 2019 vintage I felt it stood out from its peers for the greatest uplift in quality, and yet its wines still pass somewhat under the radar. Together with Pernand-Vergelesses, it’s my favorite of these “smaller’ villages.” I particularly enjoy its white wine and the village itself is so attractive. Enfolded in soft hills, Auxey is a tangle of traditional houses, which cluster around the fiftieth century church with its distinctive white spire. It’s picture perfect below the lethal RN73 trunk road along which HGVs thunder and is renowned for its fruit. Luscious soft fruit, cherries, and figs are celebrated in an annual pie making festival held in a tent beside the church.

Auxey-Duresses used to produce predominantly red wine, but today it’s pretty evenly split between red and white with the north-to-northwest-facing slope replanted in Chardonnay. This small section is a continuation of Meursault, where the hill falls away to a colder aspect. The well-known lieux-dits of Vireuils, Luchets, and Meix-Chavaux in Meursault march beside Auxey’s less familiar Vireux, Hautés, Macabrée, and Boutonniers.

Savory, stony, sapid village wines

Of course Auxey’s village whites are less intense and slimmer than those of “classic” Meursault, but in these hot vintages, they are refreshingly lively and resemble “little Meursault” in style. I like their savory, stony, and sapid character. They are less fruity and rounded than the wines of St-Romain and have savory, rather than sweet, minerality.

Directly opposite—over the irksome road—is rather a steep slope. Here you will find the premier cru vineyards. There is not much Chardonnay. White premiers crus from Auxey are few and far between, but I am not too bothered. I favor Auxey’s light, crisp, and mineral village wine, which is perfect for early drinking, so I am not really looking for a richer, denser, and more expensive white. However if you want to try one, Domaine Alain and Vincent Cruesefond produce an exemplary premier cru from En Reugne, although they don’t declare the vineyard on the label.

This warm slope is the top spot for Pinot Noir. The best vineyard is the south-facing Le Val, where it is impossible to work after lunch on a hot summer’s day. This vineyard, which includes Clos du Val, a monopoly of Auxey’s Prunier family, produces rich wine from its marly soils. In Les Duresses, the hill turns towards the East and the soil becomes somewhat calcareous. The wines are stricter, but not quite as austere as the neighboring section in Monthelie. Les Grands Champs and Ecusseaux (on the flat) are forward and softer, more accessible and less complex.

Auxey-Duresses rouge 1er cru: surprisingly good

It you haven’t tried red Auxey-Duresses, premier cru, it may surprise you in a good way. In a warm year, made from old vines and using good tannin management, they will be more sophisticated than you might imagine. There have been big improvements over the past decade. At Domaine Henri Latour et Fils the texture of the wines is skillfully managed and refined. I particularly like their 2019, premier cru, La Chapelle.

A cautionary note: While I would steer you towards Auxey whites at village level, the reds are not quite so reliable. These days—thank goodness—there are fewer rustic wines. It’s rather that a trend for fruity, forward and easy wines has taken hold. Even in recent warmer vintages, these can seem a bit insipid—light, perfectly drinkable, but uninteresting. There are exceptions. Nice crunchy, red-fruit examples from Henri Latour, Alain et Vincent Creusefond, and Jean et Giles Lafourge. The latter domaine is the best representative of the “soft and fruity” modern-style reds. I liked them because their wine had more body and depth than other domaines producing this style. (They also have more fruit-focused whites from Les Hautes and Boutonnières.)

Négociants on the hunt

Auxey-Duresses is a well-frequented hunting ground for the négociants. Frank Grux at Olivier Leflaive hoovers up fruit. Quite right too, if you can. In years past négociants used Auxey fruit to raise the quality of their Bourgogne blends, but more latterly, now everyone is in pursuit of good fruit and prices are sky high and growers prefer to bottle their own wine, it’s most likely to be sold under the village name. The quality of fruit and wine varies of course with the best vineyards at the Monthelie/Meursault end of the village. Further along and the valley narrows. The advantage of the south-facing slope is blocked by the hill and the microclimate is colder.

The best place for village white is the “Meursault” extension. Ben Leroux has extolled its virtues for many a year. I walk through these vineyards every day when I visit Burgundy. I’ve rented in the village for over a decade and would say it’s a close knit, but friendly place. Many families are related, but they welcome incomers. The excellent Domaine des Terre de Velle is relatively new in Burgundy terms. Fabrice and Sophie Laronze, who built a modern winery at the entry of Auxey-Duresses, have scattered parcels of vines in Auxey as well as neighbouring villages. Together with the likes of Michel Prunier, they export their wines and are well worth following, but many domaines in the village prefer to focus on selling from their cellar door.

Unpretentious cellar doors

If you can make the trek to Burgundy, it’s fun to wonder through the village and buy a few bottles from different domaines. There is nothing pretentious here. You can try before you buy. The wines are displayed on upturned barrels outside the cellar door.

However, if you fancy a more comprehensive tasting, in October most of the village, about 20 domaines, fling open their doors for a very jolly weekend. If it goes ahead this year, you may find a few 2020s, but generally it is the vintage before, so 2019 for whites and 2018 and 2019 for reds. This is a great opportunity for comparative tasting. Keep your wits about you. There is a trend for producers to separate their old vines. Something to watch out for since the main cuvée can suffer.

Standout domaines

I feel there are two standout domaines with good quality and a reliable range of both red and white wine. Domaines Michel Prunier et Fille, where Estelle is taking over from her father and is a dab hand at white, and Alain and Vincent Creusefond. I would also include Henri Latour et Fils for his reds in particular. Also the sisters Christine and Brigitte at Domaine Caberet are spot on for quality and value.

And there are some talented youngsters nipping at their heels; a generation keen to make the most of the family domaine. At Domaine Piguet-Girardin, Damien is a good example of this ambition, as is Thomas Battault. Pierre Battault’s wine is more old-fashioned, but his son Thomas is clearly on a different trajectory.

With Burgundy becoming so expensive, there is still value to be found in this village. At the cellar door white village wines will set you back about €17, with red village around €14 and red premier cru from €18 to €25. This is less expensive than the increasingly fashionable St-Romain. And St-Aubin? Well, that horse bolted a long time ago. Of course you can go foraging in the Chalonnaise and Mâconnais for moderately priced wine, but even with importer margins Auxey demonstrates that it’s possible to buy affordable wine on the Côte d’Or. In the recent warm vintages of 2018, 2019, and 2020 you’d be hard pressed to go wrong. It’s worth a trip down, then, to buy some bottles. And let’s face it we could all do with a holiday.

Photography by Shutterstock

 

 

 

 

 

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