Just as in the Chablis region, the growers in the rather discrete appellation of Auxey-Duresses suffer from the cold in springtime and must guard against frost damage like their more northerly cousins. Indeed, being situated in a side-valley of the Côte de Beaune means that the climate of Auxey-Duresses is quite cool, producing a different style of Burgundy than other warmer zones.
The wines are lesser-known than those of nearby Volnay and Meursault, meaning there are often bargains to be had with them. The village also faces a secondary challenge – from the difficulty most foreigners find in pronouncing it (for the avoidance of embarrassment it is ‘Aussey’). Before 1924, the village was known simply as Auxey, but then added the name of one of its best vineyards, Les Duresses. As with most wine producing towns and cities in Burgundy, its name and history can be traced back centuries.
This is mainly red wine country (about a 75/25 split between red and white), the reds being generally a bright ruby color of medium intensity. The bouquet is well-balanced between rich aromas of small black fruits (blackcurrant, blackberry) and floral scents. In the mouth, the attack is refined and supple, measured and sometimes meaty. When young, there may be a touch of green tannins, but these soon soften and the texture becomes velvety with earthy notes, as well as leather and spice.
But we mustn’t overlook the whites here, which are mineral, light and often tantalizing, especially those grown on the back side of the Meursault slopes. They are grown in soil with limestone as its base and a generally silica topsoil. They are usually a pale straw color with crystal clarity, with aromas of fresh almond and green apple, and often biscuity with a smoky, flinty minerality. Sprightly when young, they are fuller and meatier with age, with a good shot at persistence.
A little about the geography here; these Premier Crus wines are found largely on the south-facing slopes of the Montagne de Bourdon hillside behind the village of Auxey-Duresses. On the hill of Bourdon, geologically an extension of Volnay and Monthélie, the soil is a pebbly marl-limestone mix which gives vigor to the east/south-east facing vineyard of Les Duresses. The Climat du Val, on the other hand, faces south and has very limey soil, while in La Chapelle marl predominates over limestone. And on the hill of Mélin, the fine-textured soil resembles that of nearby Meursault and Puligny, producing excellent Chardonnay.
Taking the whole of Auxey-Duresses into account, there are around 93 hectares given over to Pinot Noir, and 40 ha to Chardonnay. Half a kilometer away can be found Petit-Auxey (just a tiny hamlet, but nevertheless the original beginnings of the eponymous larger village) which dates back to the first Celtic settlements here.
What of the vital question of which foods to pair an Auxey-Duresses wine with? Well, rich and well-moderated tannins make reds from this region ideal for delicate or white meats. Its supple attack and notes of red and black fruits give it a wide range, and it shines when paired with cold cuts, roast pork or veal, kebabs, rabbit, or pasta dishes with herbs. Grilled fish also works for the more adventurous.
As for the whites, juicy and lively, their fruit retains fullness through a long finish and for this reason they go well with shrimp, fish in spicy sauces, as well as cooked shellfish. Lesser appellation wines such as these work particularly nicely with a dish such as Salmon with Green Apples and Horseradish. They can likewise be paired with cheeses of the Gruyère family, or a young but dry-textured goat’s cheese.
Agnes Paquet’s Domaine extends over 13 hectares (over 31 acres), and is considered locally as one of the locomotives and innovators of the current generation. She has vines in Cotes de Beaune and Hautes Cotes de Beaune in appellations Bourgogne Aligoté, Bourgogne Chardonnay, Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Hautes Cotes de Beaune white and red, Auxey-Duresses (today 5 ha or 40% of the total domain), Pommard, Chassagne-Montrachet, and Saint Aubin.