The Hospices de Nuits, or as many refer to it, the hidden hospice, is known to only a few insiders and aficionados. At the time of the construction of the infamous Hospices de Beaune in 1443, another, just down the road, had already existed for two centuries – the Burgundy Hospices de Nuits-Saint-Georges. Though not much history has been recorded or (or more honestly, preserved) since its formation in 1270, we do know that for hundreds of years the charity of the Hospices included agricultural, animal and viticultural work, rather than being concentrated solely on the vines. However, the estate today comprises 12.5 hectares of vineyards, including choice parcels from within the wine communes of Nuits-Saint-Georges, Vosne-Romanée, and Gevrey-Chambertin, including the jewel in the crown the ‘Les Didiers’ 1er Cru Monopole. These are unique wines, with only a few hundred bottles produced, as masterpieces of Burgundian art. As Charles Curtis from Decanter states, “although it is much less well-known than the star-studded affair that takes place in Beaune, the Hospices de Nuits is every bit as worthy a cause.”
The hospital was created as a leper colony in 1270 and destroyed during the medieval Wars of Religion, but was rebuilt in the late 1600’s along with their wine estate. Long have the vines existed on this land. Traditionally, the wine was sold solely to the wine trade, with buyers purchasing the entire parcel and bidding done in cobble stoned alleyways and candle-lit rooms. It wasn’t until 1961 that the Hospices de Nuits, inspired by neighbouring Beaune, decided to start their own annual auction. The auction makes a lot of sense for an establishment like the Hospices de Nuits - no commercial sector required, no importers, bottling is done by someone else, and most importantly for a charity, they’re able to retail at the best prices without selling through the négoce. But what is even more special about this splendid occasion is that it is relatively new for the public to be able to reserve their personalised cuvée. Up until recently this auction was for the winemaking trade alone.
The vineyards are donated to the hospital, just like in Beaune – the difference is the size of the domaine (which is much smaller) and its focal point being the Nuits-St-Georges and neighbouring Prémeaux-Prissey. The Hospices de Nuits operates just as the Hospices de Beaune – combining a real medical activity with a state-of-the-art wine estate. This year, the Hospices de Nuits will take place on Sunday 20th March, where barrel by barrel of the 2021 vintage will be auctioned off to supporters of the cause and astute lovers of Burgundy. Wine is mostly sold per pièce, which is a 228-litre barrel, and proceeds of the auction go to supporting local medical charities and initiatives. While the Hospices de Nuits-St-Georges doesn’t own any Grand Cru vineyards, the majority of their vines are Premier Cru. In 2021 one pièce (of Premier Cru ‘Les-Saint-Georges’ by Domaine Georges Faiveley) sold for a record €32,000, while a 228-litre special cuvée, comprised of the domaine’s 70-year-old vines from their 1er Cru Les Saints-Georges vineyard went for £42,436. These are no average wines we're talking about.
Some Notes on the 2021 vintage by Wine Guru, Tom Harrow:
Our experience of the 2021 vintage to date has mostly been the Hospices wines (Beaune and Nuits) – but that covers a pretty good spread of appellations across the Cote d’Or, and right up to Grand Cru (Corton, Clos de la Roche and Mazi-Chambertin).
Whereas the 2020 vintage of the Hospices de Nuits was a heavyweight with alcohol levels at 14% or above and the richly concentrated house style of the domaine very much amplified, the wines from 2021 were some of the most elegant Burgundies we've tasted, with vibrancy, freshness and lift still balanced by sufficient weight on the palate and supple, juicy fruits. Whilst the vintage is characterised by energy more than mass, the domaine has finessed good intensity and depth from its wines. Our chosen éléveur Laurent Delaunay agrees saying the Hospices de Nuits ‘21s are amongst “the finest and most consistent set of wines from the vintage” he’s tried to date, and notes that Nuits Saint Georges “was one of the most blessed appellations in terms of both quantity and quality.”
Years with frost can be initially viewed with pessimism but this is more with regards to quantity than quality. 2016 made remarkable reds, some of Burgundy’s best ever in fact. However, 2021 is probably more similar in style to 2017 – which we love for its precision, aromatic freshness, and transparency to terroir (something you’d be harder pushed to say about 2018 or 2019 at least). 2021 could be in this mould ultimately with a trajectory like the 1985s being the goal. The 2021 is a mid-weight charmer that continues to evolve beautifully without ever shutting down, and surprises for its ability to keep giving pleasure.
Where the key to success and balance in 2020 was harvesting early to guarantee sufficient acidity, the trick in 2021 was leaving picking as late as possible to achieve maximum phenolic maturity, gritting it out through the September rains and waiting for the sunny weather that followed the equinox on 21st (Jean-Marc began harvesting the Hospices de Nuits parcels on 22nd). Given the cool summer, it’s fair to say 2021 will be a refreshingly Burgundian rather than Barossa vintage (Domaines Cathiard and Rouget harvested grapes at natural ABVs of over 15% in 2020!). As Jancis Robinson writes, “those connoisseurs who treasure the delicacy and perfume that used to distinguish red burgundy will find 2021 particularly to their liking.”