Saturday, November 3, 2007

Exploring Burgundy: Bourgogne Chitry Rouge

Located in the Auxerrois district of the Yonne Départment, sandwiched about midway between Auxerre and Chablis, Chitry is undeniably one of the more obscure appellations of Burgundy. The AOC guidelines, established in 1993, stipulate that the commune name must be appended immediately below the overall regional moniker, so you’ll see “Bourgogne Chitry” on any bottle of appellation controlled wine from Chitry. The entire commune consists of only 64 hectares of vineyard. The AOC also allows for wines in all three colors – red, white and rosé – with overall production weighted to roughly 60% white, 40% red and rosé. I’ve only come across red versions, and then only rarely, here in the States.

Situated approximately 100 miles NNW of Dijon, Chitry, along with Chablis and the other wine areas of the Yonne Départment, lies near the northern fringes of viticulture. In France, only Champagne and Alsace are further to the north. Chitry, in fact, is just as close to Sancerre as it is to Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits. And its soils – rich in chalk and limestone – share more in common with the Upper Loire than with the Golden Slope. Given its northerly location, relative lack of sunlight intensity and removal from the moderating climatic influences of a major river or sea, Chitry is an extreme example of a cool climate wine region.

As per Burgundian norms, Chitry reds are produced solely from Pinot Noir and whites from Chardonnay. While Chardonnay, along with Aligoté, can thrive in this northern clime, Pinot Noir has a harder path to follow. Pinot Noir is a naturally thin skinned grape prone to light pigmentation even when cultivated in sunny spots and rich soil bases. In Chitry, these tendencies are greatly magnified, resulting in Pinot Noir based wines of extremely pale hue, very delicate tannins and fairly high acidity. Chitry rosés, presumably saignées made during the production of Chitry reds, seem almost stylistically unwarranted in this context. Their existence does make sense, though, as production of a saignée method rosé would lend extra concentration of pigments and tannins to the reds. Suffice it to say that few red wines from anywhere in the world will pale in color comparison to the ethereal transparency of a glass of Chitry Rouge.

Bourgogne Chitry “Cépage Pinot Noir,” Domaine Marcel Giraudon 2004
Marcel Giraudon, a small grower located in the town of Chitry, annually produces around 7,000 cases, split between Chitry Rouge and a crisp, lively Bourgogne Aligoté. Of the whopping eight or nine estates (plus the ubiquitous cooperative) making Bourgogne Chitry, M. Giraudon is the only grower whose holdings and production are based solely in Chitry. Most others also produce wine in Chablis, Irancy, Sauvignon-St.-Bris or any number of the other local Auxerrois appellations.

When last I had tasted Giraudon’s Chitry, nearly a year ago, it was a bottle from his 2001 vintage that was just barely holding on to its stuffing at five years of age. Though still pleasurable, it had shed most of its fruit, exhibiting a tea like flavor, seemingly mirrored in the rose petal, slightly orange and supremely pale tinge of the wine in the glass.

In contrast, at three years of age, his 2004 is now in full stride. Though pristinely transparent, it shone a slightly darker shade, relative to the ’01 even its youth, of pale ruby. My immediate aromatic impressions were of early season raspberries, griotte cherry and a crack of white pepper. Sprightly raspberry fruit carried through on the palate, along with clean, refreshing yet gentle acidity, very delicate tannins and supple, slightly stony mouthfeel. Not only did the wine develop positively in the glass over the course of the evening, it also continued to show well into a second day. While the flavor delineation seemed to blur, a rounder, riper sensation of darker cherry fruit had developed in the mouth. This is not to say that the 2004 will be a candidate for much longer cellaring than the 2001. But at under $15 per bottle, I rather wish I had another bottle or three to explore over the course of the next couple of years.

$14 on release. 12.5% alcohol. Natural cork closure. Importer: Wine Traditions, Falls Church, VA.


Brooklynguy said...

Nice compact explanation of an obscure wine region. I guess the white is consumed locally and doesn't make it here? Great post-

David McDuff said...

A little googling turned up a Chitry Blanc from Olivier Morin that is sporadically available on the US market. I've yet to come across it in person, though. I think it's safe to say that not a lot of Chitry in any color makes it overseas.

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