Beaune is the obvious place to stay when visiting Burgundy, home to plenty of guesthouses and restaurants and easily navigable by foot. From there you drive north and south on the D974 and pass through all the major communes of the Côte d’Or. Chances are you’ll taste many young wines at the cellars of various vignerons, preciously parceled out from half bottles because Burgundy’s prices make letting a full-bottle sit open for tasting too wasteful. After these young wines beat up your palate all day, your thoughts turn to what you’ll drink with dinner that night. If you’re not lucky or deep-pocketed enough for an older wine, one village comes to mind, one you didn’t even pass through: Savigny-les-Beaune.
Savigny lies northwest of Beaune, and it’s easy to drive right past the turnoff. The village itself is nestled back in between two hills, but the appellation’s vineyards actually do stretch from there all the way down to the D974. That stretch makes it relatively large in a Burgundian context; the village is home to less than 1,500 people , but there are almost 900 acres of vines that produce about 1.8 million bottles of wine each year.
Unusually for Burgundy, the village’s vineyards lie on opposite sides of the valley that in other parts of the Côte d’Or would be the divide between two appellations. Most of Savigny’s 22 Premier Cru vineyards are on the northern slopes, facing southeast, but the Dominode Premier Cru climat and a few others on the opposite hill is also well regarded. Coming off the hills the village-level vineyards are more variable; the best locations lie in gravelly soils left behind by glacial, permafrost “deltas” of a sort at the end of the last ice age. These lower vineyards may be flat, but in the best of them that gravel provides good drainage. As you move away from the Rhoin river one finds some lesser vineyards; Aux Boutières, for example, lies within the commune’s boundaries but its vines make a generic, Bourgogne wine.
Savigny was once more well-known, in particular for its elegance; glowing reviews can be found the 18th and 19th centuries. There are about 20 hectares (50 acres) of white grapes in Savigny, largely Chardonnay but also some Pinot Blanc; historically many were co-planted. Some locals say that in the past these white grapes were harvested together with the Pinot Noir and co-fermented, thinning the wines and diminishing their reputation; others say this was only done in lesser vintages that needed that sort of softening up. In any case today there are a few Savigny Blancs to be had, mostly from sections of the vineyards with limestone soils, and while they may be blends of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc, the reds are 100% Pinot Noir in the usual Burgundian fashion.
As befits the contrast of a small village with lots of vineyards, many producers throughout the Côte d’Or own vineyards or source grapes here, but there are only a handful of cellars in the village. Notable resident cellars include Simon Bize, Pavelot, Pierre et Jean-Baptiste Lebreuil, and the rather grand Chandon des Briailles. Burgundy is getting pricier and pricier, thanks to popularity and a series of low-production vintages (a trend that continues, hail and frosts in 2016 as well), but Savigny-les-Beaune prices remain relatively reasonable, and one of the few places in the Côte d’Or to offer weekday wines, whether you’re visiting Burgundy or at home. Don’t pass it by.
Some recommended Savigny-les-Beaune wines:
Alex Gambal “Les Picotins” 2013. From a lieu-dit at the far end of the appellation from the village, flat but showing the value of the delta gravels. Spice, meaty, and raspberry notes show on the nose, with more dried leaves and black cherry on the palate. Moderately tannic, with good length.
Alex Gambal 1er Cru 2013. A blend from two Premier Cru vineyards, Lavières and the neighboring Aux Gravains -- not Gambal’s usual practice, but necessitated due to low yields stemming from hail damage. A paler, lighter-bodied wine, with prominently acidity, but still balanced; shows pleasant strawberry and forest floor aromas and decent length.
Domaine des Croix “Les Peuillets” 1er Cru 2014. Moderately aromatic, with spice and berry notes on the nose and more cherry on palate. Plenty of concentration, in keeping with the vineyard’s reputation. Fermentation was done with 30% whole cluster bunches, so the wine is fairly grippy and structured thanks to tannins from the stems.
Bruno Clair “La Dominode” 1er Cru 2014. An unusually dense, deep, and powerful Savigny owing to vine age; the vineyard was planted in 1902. Shows black raspberry and even plummy notes with touches of baking spice. Tannins are moderate and ripe.
Pierre et Jean-Baptiste Lebreuil Savigny Blanc “Dessus les Gollardes” 2014. A blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Blanc, the latter from 55-year-old vines. Shows peach and pear notes with hints of macadamia. Medium-bodied, with a rounded mouthfeel.
Pierre et Jean-Baptiste Lebreuil Savigny-les-Beaune (Rouge) 2014. Aromatic, with a mix of red fruit, floral, and forest floor notes. Medium-bodied, with a round, supple mouthfeel and good length.
Pierre et Jean-Baptiste Lebreuil “Aux Peuillets” 1er Cru 2014. Cherry and raspberry notes dominate, supported by touches of earth and spice. Soft-textured, with gentle tannins.
Pierre et Jean-Baptiste Lebreuil “Aux Gravains” 2014. Light, elegant, and silky, with floral and red plum aromas.
Tollot-Beaut “Les Lavières” 1er Cru 2011. An earlier vintage of this wine was the first to get me excited about Savigny, and I have a few bottles of the 2004 left in my cellar which prove that just because Savigny drinks well young doesn’t mean you can’t put it down for a while. Structured and firmer than some, with a mix of red and dark fruit and some floral notes.
Also look for Savignys from Simon Bize (Les Serpentieres, Les Vergelesses [blanc and rouge]), Pavelot (La Dominode, Les Lavières),and Chandon des Briailles (Lavières).