Although it has no Grands Crus, Meursault has become one of the most famous white wine villages in the Côte de Beaune. There are a little under 1000 acres of vineyards in the village of 6.26 square miles where the wine is produced. About 1,500 people live in the small commune, and since Meursault's rise to popularity it has been almost entirely dedicated to the production of white wine. It lies well north of Montrachet, near Auxey-Duresses and Monthelie.
Meursault has been fortunate enough to become something of a status symbol for its wine, which is famous for a richness of flavor and a creamy texture that sometimes leads the wines to be called "buttery". While not exactly the pinnacle place for white Burgundy (most people would estimate that Montrachet and its surrounding communes would have that honor), the vineyards of Meursault have attained a reputation as a status symbol that invites boutique pricing.
In a market in which interest is shifting away from Chardonnays, especially very expensive ones, Meursault's wines are often thought to be overrated and overpriced. But Meursault is still one of the best villages for white Burgundy, and the wine from here is often less expensive than the objectively better Grands Crus.
Meursault was made an AOC in 1970, but even before then it was quite a famous village for white wine. Over its long history, Meursault has been largely overlooked by regulators; none of its vineyards were ever granted Grand Cru, and it missed the first wave of AOC creations. As a result, it established its reputation for great white Burgundy almost entirely on its own.
The 1976 Judgement of Paris ruled that Chateau Montelena of California had superior Chardonnay to a number of white Burgundies, including one of the best Meursaults. The market for California peaked, but then fell. Even after the fall, Meursault producers were threatened. Nowadays, people are no longer as interested in highly oaked, creamy-rich Chardonnay, whether from France or California. Even despite this rebalancing, Meursault's top cuvées remain excellent sellers.
Climate and Viticulture
The village of Meursault has excellent weather conditions, a high elevation, and very well-concentrated soils. It is right at the base of the sloped Côte d'Or, and as a result is blocked from the winds that make the inferior whites lean and poorly rounded. Perhaps Meursault's sheltered location is what makes the wines so richly well-developed.
There is no doubt, however, that Meursault's vineyards are inferior to the stellar climats of the Montrachet areas. The soil just isn't as good. But Meursault makes up for the difference with innovative oaking procedures that turn out a buttery, nutty, textured Chardonnay much more luscious than anything Montrachet produces. While not necessarily more complex, the wine nonetheless is smoother and easier to drink.
- Chardonnay: The ultimate goal in Meursault Chardonnay is to make a wine of amazing balance and roundness; any hard edge in these wines signifies a bad producer or some kind of cutting-edge, modern style. The main selling point for Meursaults is that they offer amazingly rich, buttery layered flavors, more nutty than fruity. The creamy characteristic is brought on by the long oak aging that is a hallmark of Meursault. But in addition to being very round and soft, the wines of Meursault are very intense and serious, without even the slight touch of sweetness that characterizes some Montrachets. While not necessarily sophisticated, the wines are unusual, and are even more intriguing to drink right after bottling! A generally good time to drink them is 4-6 years after the vintage, but the best can age for 10-15.
- Pinot Noir: Although the soil and climate conditions in Meursault probably would lead to fairly good Pinot Noir, most vintners can't be bothered due to the high margin on Chardonnay. Often the best red is made by Domaine Jacques Prieur at his monopole vineyard of Clos de Mazeray.
Meursault is by no means one of those regions where every producer is forced to have high standards. Indeed, there are some producers that have high yields and overoak the wine, making for characterless, overly fat and round wine. But the number of these producers has dropped enough so that average quality is rather high; on the downside, this consistency leads to high, often Grand Cru-level prices.
Here is a list of a dozen good Meursault producers; their individual wines are discussed below under subregions.
- Bouchard Pere et Fils
- Domaine Jean Boillot
- Domaine Jean-Francois Coche-Dury
- Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey
- Comte Lafon
- Domaine Arnaud Ente
- Domaine Jean-Philippe Fichet
- Domaine Remi Jobard
- Domaine Latour Giraud
- Domaine Pierre Morey
- Domaine Guy Roulot
Since there are--perhaps incorrectly--no Grands Crus in Meursault, the Premiers Crus occupy the highest status there. But a number of them are just plain overrated and lieu-dit or even village wines from good producers will surpass them in style and refinement by far. The list is below, with the interesting Premiers Crus noted.
- Les Bouchères: Although inexpensive, the wines from this Premier Cru are usually not particularly high-quality. Bouchard and Roulot make good wines here, but not their best.
- Les Caillerets: Coche-Dury produces by far the best white wine from this Premier Cru vineyard. While austere, it is outstandingly made and with good cellaring can offer wonderfully rich, classically styled Meursault in 5-6 years.
- Charmes: One of the three big boys of Meursault wine, Charmes has become very reliable for its style. The wine, while not lacking in power, is usually fairly feminine in style, with a soft texture, buttery flavors with some nutty, spicy notes, and good young drinking potential. Rich, round and sweet, the cuvées from Bouchard, Boillot, Colin-Morey, Lafon, the stunningly creamy Jobard, Giraud, and Roulot are all examples of this. The expensive Comte Lafon Charmes is probably the best, though, with classically powerful and layered flavors.
- Clos des Perrières
- Les Cras
- Genevrières: The other of the big three Meursault Premiers Crus, Genevrières is very common but nonetheless quite reliable. Meursault-Genevrières is a common label. The rich, full wines are probably what people think of when they think of Meursault: oaked to the point of creamy, buttery flavors without even the slightest hard edges. As opposed to the Charmes and Perrières, which emphasize sweet roundness and concentrated power respectively, this one occupies a more traditional nutty style of Meursault. Round, minerally and rich, the Bouchard is their best Meursault; Bouillot's is also #1. With Coche-Dury its superiority over the others is arguable, but it is nonetheless an incredibly soft yet concentrated, diversely flavored wine. Colin-Morey's rich, full example, the classically made Lafon, the rich Jadot, the elegant Jobard, and the outrageously rich Latour Giraud are among the good examples.
- Les Gouttes d'Or: A fairly reliable Premier Cru designation, this one is used by almost all of the leading producers. Though Ente's is a good wine, Bouchard's minerally rich one is the best.
- Perrières: There are almost too many great wines to list that are located in this Premier Cru and are worthy of having their Chardonnay designated with Grand Cru. While overall personality varies too much to be generalized, the wines are usually amazingly powerful with characteristic peach and apricot notes. While sometimes a mineral edge can get in the way at a young age, they are just as rich as any Meursault and often much more concentrated, after the due 5-6 years of aging. Wines are often labeled Meursault-Perrières. With earthy, balanced richness, the Bouchard is a leader, as are the silky-soft but amazingly dense Coche-Dury, the explosive, concentrated Colin-Morey, the brisk, concentrated wine from Comte Lafon, the good-value Jadot, the austere Latour Giraud, the complex, fruity, unusual Morey, and the focused, knockout Roulot example.
- Le Porusot: Here the best wine certainly comes from Domaine Latour Giraud. This rich and silky wine is more subtle than many Meursaults are made out to be, and can become even more intriguing with age.
- Les Ravelles
These 10 Premiers Crus are, in practice, 99% of Premier Cru-labeled Meursault wine. However, certain Meursault vineyards claimed by Volnay-Santenots and Blagny are allowed to label their wine under Meursault anyway. Most of this wine is red, so labeling it Meursault would be extraordinarily illogical and is therefore very rare. In Volnay-Santenots there are four: Les Santenots Blancs, Les Santenots du Dessous, Les Santenots du Milieu, and Les Vignes Blanches. Blagny also has four: La Jeunelotte, La Pièce sous le Bois, Sous Blagny, and Sous le Dos d'Ane. This makes for an official 19 Meursault Premier Cru designations.