We went to the Suffolk coast for a few days over half term, a lovely part of the Country I haven’t previously explored. On the way back we stopped at Aldeburgh, where there are a bunch of fishing huts on the stony beach selling their catches of the day. Imagine my pleasure when I discovered they had some choice Dover Sole, which I naturally picked up for our supper.
Upon arriving home I decided that to do justice to such a freshly caught and regal fish I should really crack open a fairly heavy-weight white Burgundy. So that’s what I did, saluting the Sole with a bottle of 2003 Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Les Pucelles from the producer Morey-Coffinet. But hang on, I think that calls for a quick aside on the labelling of Burgundy…
The Côte d’Or, which is the heartland of Burgundy, is divided into a whole pile of named vineyards, each one associated with one (or sometimes two) villages. These vineyards are not all deemed equal. Most of them make ‘village’ wine, named after the associated village but without an appended vineyard name, which gives us for example ‘Puligny Montrachet‘, a wine named directly after the village of the same name. Then there are a bunch of vineyards which through time immemorial have been deemed to make superior wine. These are split into Premièr Cru vineyards (very good indeed) and Grand Cru vineyards (the best of the best). Wines from a Premièr Cru vineyard take the name of the village plus the name of the vineyard, giving us for example ‘Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Les Pucelles‘, coming from the Premièr Cru vineyard Les Pucelles, which is associated with the village of Puligny Montrachet. Finally there are Grand Cru wines, deemed so important that they drop all reference to their local village and are named purely after the vineyard, giving us for example Le Montrachet, which is perhaps the greatest of all white Burgundy vineyards, straddling the two villages of Puligny Montrachet and Chassagne Montrachet.
Unfortunately you can’t assume that because you have a 1er cru wine (say) that it will be of a certain expected 1er cru quality. It’s a very good guide to quality, but it’s the domaine (the grower and winemaker) that is of most importance. Just becuase you have a great site it doesn’t mean you’re going to grow great grapes or make great wine. There are thousands of growers across Burgundy and with a few exceptions every vineyard will have a handful of growers that own a plot of vines within the vineyard (maybe even just one row), each growing their own grapes that they will either sell on to a merchant or co-op, or make into their own domaine wine.
So, back to where we were, Les Pucelles is a 1er Cru Puligny Montrachet vineyard that is right next to the Grand Cru vineyard Le Montrachet. Consequently if you have a fine producer and a decent vintage then you normally get stellar wine from Les Pucelles. The one we had with our Dover Sole was a 2003 Les Pucelles from the domaine Morey-Coffinet. 2003 was a hot and forward year, not a fantastic vintage but drinking very well now. It was a great wine and the perfect accompanyment to the fish; powerful, well structured with elegantly integrated oak, complex and very long. A real cracker and a fine honour to a noble fish.