For many, the Burgundy wine region is synonymous with the Côte d’Or – that narrow band of vineyards that are separated into the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune and home to some of the most fabled and expensive Pinot Noirs in the world. But in Burgundy, with its fragmented vineyards and hundreds of appellations, price is no guarantee of quality. Avoiding high-priced disappointments very much turns on choosing the right producer. And if, like me, your wine budget is not unlimited, it also requires you to look outside of the box (or in this case, the Côte d’Or).
Just south of the Côte d’Or is the Côte Chalonnaise, an often overlooked region that produces some of the most high quality, but still affordable Burgundy. The region is comprised of five village appellations, with Mercurey having the best reputation for quality and price. It was here that I found Domaine Jean-Pierre Charton; an excellent Pinot Noir that doesn't break the bank.
The Charton family has owned the 21-acre domaine since 1940. In his seminal book “An Encyclopedia of the Wines and Domaines of France,” Clive Coates MW named Domaine Charton Jean-Pierre as one of the Mercurey producers of note. The Domaine’s Premier Cru vineyard, “Le Clos du Roi” was originally classified in an 1899 study and remains one of the best 32 Premier Crus in Mercurey.
At an elevation of 700 feet, the Domaine’s 30 year-old vines grow on a south-facing hillside. To improve the quality and character of the fruit, they are pruned to allow only 5 to 6 buds per cane. In July, any excess grapes are removed (through a process known as green harvest or vendage verte) in order to further allow the flavor to concentrate in the remaining fruit. The soil is also tilled 8 to 10 times per year, which encourages the vines’ root systems to develop and deepen, adding more complexity and flavor to the grapes.
The grapes are picked by hand and they are de-stemmed and crushed. Vinification takes place in cement tanks and starts with a long maceration of skins for 10 to 15 days depending on the vintage – before aging continues in oak barrels (no more than 25 percent new; the rest between 2 and 4 years old). Domaine Charton Jean-Pierre’s wines possess great length, structure and minerality with intense strawberry, cherry and earthy flavors married with hints of blueberry and blackberry. They pair beautifully with beef, pork, veal and dishes with mushrooms. Less conventional pairings include tuna, salmon and Mexican food (yes, it really works, particularly with a sweet and smoky mole sauce).
In a blind tasting of 91 Mercureys, La Revue du Vin de France (the most important French wine magazine) named Domaine Jean-Pierre Charton Mercurey “Vieilles Vignes” 2006 as one of the five best wines in its price range. The accompanying review describes the wine as refined with a long finish, great mouthfeel and good acidity, displaying red fruit and oak notes.