Price rises in the Côte d’Or have meant that neighbouring regions such as the Côte Chalonnaise can provide quality wines with much keener price tags. We taste a range of red and white wines from Château de Santenay and hear from importer Liberty Wines how investment in the domaine has increased quality.
Liberty Wines believes that in a post-Brexit world, with prices in Burgundy at an all-time high, the wines of Château de Santenay are offering the wine buyer serious quality and keen value.
Not so long ago, the best thing about Château de Santenay may have been the château itself.
Steeped in history going back 11 centuries, the building has a flamboyant multi-coloured tiled roof en tuile vernissée de Bourgone once traditional to the region and which alone merits a visit.
But there was no disguising that the wines were a disappointment.
Despite its long history, Château de Santenay had fallen on hard times and illustrious neighbouring Burgundians easily outshone it. A shame since the Chinese had just started acquiring the taste for Burgundy.
Then a new investor appeared.
On this occasion, at least, it was the bankers who were riding to rescue. Not just any old bank, admittedly, but France’s farmers’ bank Crédit Agricole whose board has people on it who understand terroir.
Suddenly, Château de Santenay found itself answerable to owners who knew the business backwards and were discerning imbibers.
Their mandate was that Château de Santenay not only had to be run as a commercial proposition it also had to burnish the bank’s prestige. Most importantly, their CA Grand Crus subsidiary were willing to spend and take a ten-year time horizon to realise this vision.
Hence there has been heavy investment in the vineyard of 98 hectares, of which 72 are in Mercurey. There is a new emphasis on quality and the winery has been extensively updated.
And how were the Château de Santenay wines tasting?
From the menu, I have chosen the vegetarian option of risotto: vegetarianism works for our individual health and the future of the planet, so it is unarguably the right thing to do.
Still, when I see quite how sumptuous and mouth-watering the main course of pork and cabbage looks I do begin to second-guess my decision; I have to fight the temptation to ask my fellow diner to share his meal.
In none of these years were the growing conditions straightforward.
In 2012 mildew threatened the vines and yields and berries were small, still the quality was described as excellent.
The following year hail and other climatic evils sent to try viniculturalists reduced yields by a third. But the growers were satisfied with the aromatic purity, deep colour and well balanced nature of the wines.
Devastating hailstorms revisited in 2014 and the threat of rot increased – only when hope was fading in September did sustained sunshine rescue the vintage.
First we taste the whites. These start with a retail price of £17.99 a bottle and rise to £45.99 for the Chassagne-Montrachet 2014, a wine which the tasting notes describe as “white gold in the glass” and which certainly displays many of the fine characteristics of the region.
It is the reds, however, that for me bring the real excitement.
What might be described as the ‘entry level red’ is Mercurey 1er Cru ‘Les Puillets’ 2012 at £24.99.
But the stars are Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru 2012 and 2014 which retail for just under £150.00.
The latter in particular is laden with gold awards and trophies. Powerful and elegant, but not pungent, the wine boasts a bouquet of violets, liquorice and truffles.
Price increases in the Côte D’Or due to the small vintages in 2011, 2012 and 2013 are making Burgundy ever more expensive – and the post-Brexit fall in the pound will hasten this.
Liberty Wines understandably believes wines from the Côte Chalonnaise can fill the gap perfectly.
In line with its self-proclaimed wine principles, Liberty insists the three Mercureys come with a screwcap. Cork displays a taint, lack of consistency and a failure rate that “wouldn’t be accepted by other products”, declares the Clapham-based company.
For its part, the senior management at Château de Santenay politely explains that it does not put screw caps on wines destined for any other part of the world and that air admitted by a cork is part of the ageing process. Still it has complied, presumably seeing this as a foible of the ever more fickle British.