Buyers are preparing to raise their paddles in Burgundy’s Hospices de Nuits auction, where the wines of the previous harvest are sold by the barrel.
The format may sound familiar, but rather than the well-known Hospices de Beaune sale, this often-overlooked auction benefits the Hospices de Nuits.
This year’s auction, featuring 2020-vintage wines, begins Sunday 14 March at 14h00 local time.
Scroll down for Charles Curtis MW’s Hospices de Nuits 2020 wine tasting notes and scores
Hospices de Nuits: From candelight to online bidding
Until recently, this sale was very traditional. It was reserved for the trade, bidding was done by candlelight, and buyers were obliged to purchase the entire parcel.
This year, for only the second time, the sale is open to the public, and the barrels are sold one-by-one in an auction that will be streamed live by Dijon-based auctioneer Cortot et Associés.
Although the Hospices de Nuits does not own any grand cru vineyards, more than 60% of the vines are classified as premier cru.
Vineyard holdings include nearly a hectare of Les St-Georges and the monopole of premier cru Les Didiers, a southern continuation of Les St-Georges across the border in Prémeaux-Prissey.
Both share medium-deep soils rich in calcium and clay with veins of Comblanchien limestone. The parcels are located mid-slope between 240 and 280 metres elevation.
Other holdings are spread throughout the appellation from south to north, including a large chunk of Vignerondes and parcels in Aux Murgers and Aux Boudots on the northern side of the village near Vosne-Romanée.
Hospices de Nuits history
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 established as a leper colony in 1270. It was destroyed during the medieval Wars of Religion but rebuilt beginning in 1692 in its present location. Like the hospital itself, the winemaking domaine also dates to the 17th century.
Vineyards were donated to the hospital in the same way as they were in Beaune, but this domaine is smaller and firmly centered on Nuits-St-Georges and neighboring Prémeaux-Prissey.
The Hospices owns more than 12 hectares, which produced 114 casks from the low-yielding 2020 vintage.
Unlike the Hospices de Beaune, which has auctioned their wine since 1859, the Domaine des Hospices de Nuits sold their production in bulk to negociants until 1961, making 2021 the 60th anniversary of the auction.
2020 growing conditions
It was a hot, sunny year. Fortunately, plentiful water reserves at the beginning of the season helped mitigate the drought stress since there was 30% less rain than an average year.
In the end, the harvest was down 8% on the average in Nuits.
Despite dry conditions and several heat spikes, the harvest averaged 14% potential alcohol, with an average pH of 3.40 and final acidity averaging 3.80 g/l, meaning slightly lower alcohol and higher acidity than 2019, giving superb balance to the wine and making this a very successful vintage.
The grapes were wholly destemmed and slowly fermented for 18 days, with five days of punching down once daily at the beginning and gentle pumping for the remainder of the fermentation.
The wines of the Hospices have long enjoyed a solid reputation, and it is certain that these will find ready buyers.
Since opening to private clients last year, registrations have climbed by 50%. Total sales in last year’s auction reached around €1.6m, up 10% on the previous year despite the pandemic.
Overall, prices in this less well-known sale are lower than those of the Hospices de Beaune, but buyers looking for a bargain are well advised to hurry.
Factfile: Hospices de Nuits 2021
Date of auction: 14 March, 14h00 local time.
Venue: Château du Clos de Vougeot, and online.
Number of lots: 114 barrels (228 litres each), including 112 red and two white.
This year’s charity ‘pièce’: Les St-Georges premier cru made entirely from 70-year-old vines. Proceeds to Institut Pasteur.
‘Subscription’ offer: For the third consecutive year, buyers can purchase a portion of the charity pièce outright, at €150-a-bottle, say organisers.
How to buy: Auction organisers advise private collectors to contact a merchant in Burgundy if interested in buying. The wine must be aged and bottled by a merchant ‘in the designated Bourgogne Vinicole region of production’.
Maison Edouard Delaunay, which is helping to promote the sale, has said it will help buyers to bid on six cuvées, with a 24-bottle minimum purchase, for instance. ‘We will be available for our clients via telephone, SMS and WhatsApp throughout the auction to adapt our buying strategy and bid in their name,’ said owner Laurent Delaunay in a press release.