2010 New World Wine Experience: Grand Cru Burgundy from Louis Latour

A vertical tasting of reds and whites from the famed hill of Corton
Nov 2, 2010

In the single Old World seminar of the Wine Experience, one of Burgundy’s most respected houses, Maison Louis Latour, treated the audience to verticals of a grand cru white and a grand cru red from the renowned hill of Corton.

Louis-Fabrice Latour, the seventh Louis and 11th generation to run the family-owned company, presented four vintages each of Corton-Charlemagne and Corton Château Corton Grancey. Though the house has a long history, senior editor Bruce Sanderson said, “If you go back 115 years, this was a very progressive domaine in a well-established region.”

Though it is also a large négociant, Maison Louis Latour owns 123 acres of vines, half of which are grand cru sites, making it the biggest holder of grands crus in Burgundy—a feat that took generations to accomplish. After the phylloxera root louse began devastating French vineyards, the family purchased holdings from others and regenerated the vineyards using American rootstock and the best Pinot Noir material, while replacing Aligoté and Gamay grapes with Chardonnay. “We should not forget that Corton red has existed for many centuries,” Latour said, “while Chardonnay on the hill of Corton is not more than 120 years old.”

Corton is a large area for Burgundy, with about 400 acres of vines that wrap around the freestanding hill 180 degrees, spanning three communes in the Côte de Beaune. About 175 acres are devoted to whites and 220 acres to reds. Corton-Charlemagne covers south- and southwest-facing vineyards on marl and limestone soils; Pinot Noir is planted primarily in southeastern- and south-facing sites, on the lower slopes where the red soils are high in iron.

While different vignerons make Chardonnays in a range of styles, Sanderson said, “what the terroir of Corton-Charlemagne brings is wonderful acidity, even in the warmer years, and this vibrant structure.”

The still-tight Corton-Charlemagne 2005 (93 points, $165), a great vintage for both whites and reds, showed power, concentration of fruit and a mineral character common to the appellation. The 2002 was likewise powerful, but the new oak from barrel fermentation is now better integrated. However, Latour was careful to note they aim for moderate alcohol levels of around 13.5 percent during harvest: “I think Burgundy is not about making over-powerful wine.” Both the 1999 and 1996 vintages are ready to drink now.

Château Corton Grancey, named after the former owner, is Latour’s flagship red. “At its best, red Corton can be austere, a little vegetal and even have some wild elements when young, but you get a lot of red fruit and mineral,” said Sanderson. “In a good vintage, these wines need seven to 10 years to come into their own.”

The Corton Grancey bottling blends grapes from four top vineyard parcels—Clos du Roi, Les Perrières, Les Grèves and Bressandes—so Latour can make a few thousand cases, large by Burgundy standards.

The 2005 (92, $105) was open for a young red, showing lots of fruit and a silky texture. In contrast, while it had the same mineral quality, the 2002 (91, $90) was more austere, with a tight finish, needing two or three more years in the cellar. The 1999 is starting to show secondary aromas and flavors of dried fruits and flowers, and should be long-lived.

The 1989 (89, $48)—the wine Sanderson said he would most want to drink that night—is one that Latour has always been a fan of, though it often gets overlooked in favor of the powerful 1990. He said, “It is a vintage which reflects what we try to achieve at Maison Latour—the school of finesse and delicacy when it comes to Pinot Noir.”

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