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May Burgundy’s Hovering Costs Lastly Be Easing?

May Burgundy’s Hovering Costs Lastly Be Easing?

Believe it or not, despite its prominence in the twin worlds of wine and philanthropy, the Hospices de Beaune, established in 1443, is not the oldest hospital and wine estate in Burgundy. Just over 10 miles north, the Hospices de Nuits-Saint-Georges was founded almost two centuries earlier than its neighbor, in 1270. The two establishments have much in common, in that their annual wine auctions offer members of the wine trade and wine lovers an early opportunity to evaluate a vintage while raising money to support their namesake hospitals and related foundations.

While Burgundy lovers from around the globe converge on Beaune in late November for the Trois Glorieuses, or three glorious days that culminate in an auction organized by Sotheby’s, the annual events in Nuits-Saint-George are much more down to earth. Attended mostly by local winemakers and a handful of foreign buyers and with far fewer pieces than its neighbor to the south, this year’s Hospices de Nuits-Saint-Georges barrel auction, held on Sunday March 10 at Château du Clos de Vougeot, was organized by Cortot & Associés of Dijon, France. Auctioneer Hugues Cortot presided over the sale of 150 barrels containing 19 cuvées from the estate’s vineyard holdings, the majority of which are in Nuits-Saints-George.

This year’s sale raised a total of €2,281,500 ($2,480,271), down 36 percent from last year, although in all fairness 2023’s auction included 10 more pieces. Despite the drop, this was the third-highest haul in the auction’s 63-year history, and two records were set this time around. The Cuvée des Bienfaiteurs, or Charity Pièce, attained a new record of €68,330 ($74,053) versus €67,430 ($73,078) in 2023 on behalf of the Clément-Drevon Foundation, which supports medical research in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region. Also the second edition of the Cuvée Hugues Perdrizet Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Les Saint-Georges Vieilles Vignes, made from a rigorous selection of the oldest vines on the estate, also fetched the record sum of €60,000 ($65,026), a vast increase over 2023’s winning bid of €40,000 ($43,350). This cuvée is named for the first person to donate a plot of vines to the Hospices de Nuits-Saint-Georges.

Jean-Marc Moron, manager of the Hospices de Nuits-Saint-Georges estate, explains that there were fewer barrels in 2023 versus 2022 because of an August heat wave; grapes were sorted very carefully to remove “burned” fruit, resulting in a smaller amount of wine. At Saturday’s tasting he expected a price reduction as a matter of course correction because prices had gotten so high. “I think that it will come down; the public [and] the buyers want a moderate price reduction, a small drop,” he said. “And for me, a small drop is desirable. It is a good image to convey that Burgundy will stop going up—or many people will no longer come to Burgundy.”

Auction prices softened this year, but some records were still set.

Studio Morfaux

Aymeric de Clouet, an independent wine expert who acts as a consultant for the auction, explains that small harvests in 2019 and 2020 and a “half harvest” in 2021—all due to unfortunate weather patterns—led to an increase in demand and a shortage in supply which inflated prices of the 2022 vintage at auction last year and raised prices in Burgundy in general. The past two vintages have brought “great and full harvests,” but because negociants’ cellars are already full with wines from 2022 and 2023, they were less interested in purchasing additional wine for the second year in a row regardless of its quality.

It’s not just this Burgundy auction to see falling numbers, though—the 2023 Hospices de Beaune auction experienced a 22 percent dip over the previous year as well. So the lower prices at Nuits-Saint-Georges this year didn’t come as a shock to the auctioneer Cortot, who believes the market is being adversely affected by conflicts around the globe.

With that in mind, he found the lower total at Sunday’s auction “predictable.” We have noticed that whenever prices fall, as happened at the recent Premiere Napa Valley auction, prophets of doom rush to interpret it as the end of the world for the wine industry, when in many cases it has more to do with the quality of the vintage or simple supply and demand than an overall problem within the global market.

In addition to a small number of private buyers looking to purchase barrels for personal use, several well-known négociants-éleveurs or merchant-growers were in attendance, including representatives from Albert Bichot, Jean-Claude Boisset, Joseph Faively, Thibault Liger-Belair, Francois Martenot, and Patriarche Pere et Fils. All these houses bid on and bought barrels, which they will age further in their own cellars and release with a special label. Private barrel buyers can choose a négociant-éleveur to age and bottle their wine for an additional fee.

Thibault Liger-Belair—who attended in person—focused on premier cru rather than appellation village wines, because he found that there was a gap in quality between the two. “The level of the wine from Hospices de Nuits is better and better every year,” he told Robb Report. “If I have to describe the 2023, it shows the freshness of the wine and the identity of the terroir.” He expects that there will be strong consumer demand for the wines when they are released, adding that while he believes that the 2023 wines will be ready to drink within three years of bottling, they will be best if consumed within 20 years.

hospices de nuits saint georges auction lot

A premier cru on offer at Nuits-Saint-Georges.

Mike DeSimone

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Natalie Boisset, general director of Boisset Family Wines, likes to buy wines from Nuits-Saint-Georges because her family, which has been established in the appellation for 50 years, already has three parcels there under its Jean-Claude Boisset brand. She considers the lot they purchased this year, Nuits-Saint Georges Les Maladières Les Brûlées Cuvée Grangier to be one of the “most important Hospices cuvées,” describing it as, “a wine that is always delicate and delicious, and above all more affordable when young and fruity. So, it appeals to impatient customers who want to taste wines in their youth and prefer this expression of fruit to that of age.” It will be matured in the family’s Ursulines cellars for another 12 to 15 months before bottling and then be released after an additional four years.

On Saturday, March 9, visitors were able to taste all of the wines available directly from barrel. Barrel tastings are always tricky, especially this early in the wines’ evolution, as there is extremely limited integration between fruit and wood notes. Still, it is possible for experienced tasters to evaluate the overall quality of the vintage and to anticipate how individual wines may develop over time. Across the board, we found a beautiful balance of bold fruit and strong spice flavors, and it was nice to see that our favorites were among the barrels that were most in demand.

Aymeric de Clouet calls the 2023 wines from the Hospices de Nuits-Saint-Georges estate “very well balanced and very powerful.” Jean-Marc Moron was pleased with the overall quality of the vintage and with the response to the barrel tasting. “It was a very good vintage for us.” Fortunately, the majority of the barrels went to established wineries and not into private hands so the wines will be available in a few years. That said, if you and a small group of friends are looking to stock up on some one-of-a-kind Burgundy from the Côte de Nuits, it’s never too soon to start planning for next year’s auction.

Source: Robb Report

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