Capitain-Gagnerot Corton 'Les Grandes Lolieres' Grand Cru 2019
Corton is the only Grand Cru red in the Cote de Beaune. But it covers a lot of the Corton hillside, and hence there are many different faces to Corton. With mid-slope position and due east exposure, this Corton Grandes Lolieres Grand Cru is the last Corton vineyard before Ladoix, and sits just outside the Capitain's back door. The vines date from 1950, and give wines that are solidly framed with a potential for long aging. Rich, balanced, powerful and elegant, these are all traits you expect in a well-made grand cru.. Curiously, the Corton Grandes Lolieres is contiguous to both the Capitain Ladoix 1er Cru ‘Bois Roussot’ and their Aloxe-Corton 1er Cru ‘Les Moutottes. So here is a chance to taste 3 appellations from the same producer from vineyards that share a common border! Burgundy can be beautiful that way.
Anybody who has followed us since our start in early 1996 knows the Maison Capitain-Gagnerot in Ladoix-Serrigny. We have seen three generation now. Roger Capitain was our first mentor in Burgundy, and we learned our craft leaning against a wine barrel, soaking up his wisdom and discussing his inimitable wines. His sons Patrice and Michel, and now Patrice's son Pierre Francois (the whole family, really), carry on a tradition that is most easily described as a style. There is no mistaking a Capitain wine. Once you know it, you can pick one out just in the bouquet. It's a purity. And it's our benchmark in Burgundy.
There’s a popular saying here in Burgundy which points out that, since the start of the 20th century, vintages ending in ‘9’ have been exceptional. So when 2019 came around, we were secretly anticipating something special. Little did we know!
Every vintage comes with its own hyperbole: best of the decade; greatest of the century; another 1990. And it’s true, as the climate continues to warm, there has been some remarkable wine produced in recent years. But in Burgundy in 2019, it got hot.
Both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay like to come to maturity slowly. Too much heat cooks the elegance out of them. So climate change is an existential issue for Burgundy wine as we know it.
But in 2019 something remarkable happened. I hesitate to call it a paradigm shift; it may well be a one-off. But in a year where, in some places, grapes turned to raisins on the vine, Burgundy has given us a vintage worthy of the hyperbole.
You won’t find many lacey, delicate wines this year. The vintage will be unapologetically bold and unbelievably concentrated. The whites are indulgent, often explosive, and pinned to a mind-bogglingly good acidic framework, given the summer heat. The reds are sophisticated and elegant, alive.
Perhaps most tellingly, despite the hot summer, this was not one of those late-August harvests that we’re getting accustomed to. The harvest got underway in the Cote de Beaune on 12 September. And some in the Cote de Nuits did not begin picking until the 23rd. The fruit was ripe earlier, but the fine conditions allowed the growers to wait for the holy grail: phenolic maturity.
You rarely get fruit maturity (the sugar part of the equation) plus phenolic maturity (the tannins in the pips and stems) coming together at the same time. Usually you sacrifice one for the other. You can’t force it to happen. Nature bestows it upon you. But when it does happen, that, almost by definition, is a great vintage.
2019 will be a great vintage. Think 2018 with more energy. The only downside is that, as opposed to the bumper crop we saw in 2018, 2019 was a small crop. Down by as much as 60% in the southern zones where it was hottest.
Let’s look quickly at how the season developed. The winter 2018/19 was mild, with higher than average temperatures in December and February. There was a lot of rain in December which many claim could ultimately have saved the vintage from the summer’s drought.
Spring was warm and the growth cycle started earlier than usual. There were precocious zones with bud burst in early April. But cold weather set in on 5 April with frost in many areas. Frost damage would have an effect on yields, particularly in the Maconnais. The cold weather held on through mid-April with several consequential frost risks.
Warm weather returned in May and remained until early June when temperatures dropped again, slowing growth again and hindering flowering. There was a good bit of flower abortion (millerandage), which, again, took its part of the yield at harvest.
Then mid-summer was hot-hot And dry-dry. The vines, for the most part, were in good shape going into the heat wave, but the stress was excessive. Vines handled the conditions differently from one plot to the next. Consensus is that old vines, with their deep roots, were able to find water in the subsoil. And that younger, well-tended vines, had a similar advantage. Vines with roots that went looking for water near the surface, however, suffered towards the end of the season, as they scorched and shriveled.
There was just a bit of rain in August, and from then on through September was hot but fine. In certain areas Pinot Noir ripened before Chardonnay, so harvest planning was complicated. The first Cremant vineyards were picked at the very end of August, and the harvest continued through to mid-October.
Harvest was a joy for the most part. Good weather. No disease. And the fruit that survived frost and fire was beautiful. Fermentation in both white and red went off easily. Whites finished slowly, gently, giving
COTE DE BEAUNE
The Corton mountain lies in the midst of a cluster of wine-growing villages (Ladoix-Serrigny, Aloxe-Corton, Pernand-Vergelesses and Savigny-lès-Beaune) with, to the north, the southern end of the Côte de Nuits where vineyards mingle with stone quarries (comblanchien limestone). The vineyards lie at heights of 250-330 meters and form a kind of amphitheater not found elsewhere in the Côte. The Corton mountain produces white Corton-Charlemagne and (mainly) red Corton.
The appellation Grand Cru Corton covers the villages of Aloxe-Corton, Ladoix-Serrigny, Pernand-Vergelesses, and includes 25 Grand Cru climats. The extensive area covered by this Grand Cru and the large number of different climats it contains explain the observable differences in character among the wines grown here.
The rare whites (grown mainly in the climats of Vergennes and Languettes) have a keeping potential of 4-10 years. They tend to be pale gold in color with green highlights. The nose is often flinty mineral and baked apple spices. Elegant and highly-bred, supple and round, this unusual Chardonnay has much in common with Corton-Charlemagne, if slightly fatter, perhaps due to a soil more suited to red.
The Corton reds are often intense crimson, darkening towards magenta. Their aromatic expression in youth should be fruit forward and floral, with notes of blueberry and kirsch cherry, evolving towards underbrush, leather, fur, pepper and liquorice with age. On the palate Cortons are notably powerful and muscular. Firm, frank and fat, they require time (4-12 years) to reach maturity.
Exposure is south-east and south-west (unusual in the Côte). The hillside offers a text-book cut-away illustration of the local geology. The oxfordian Jurassic limestone lying between Ladoix and Meursault is younger here than elsewhere along the Côte. At mid-slope the gradient is gentle and the soil reddish and pebbly, derived from brown limestone and rich deposits of marl with a high potassium content. Pinot Noir is king on most parts of the slope. Chardonnay (which gives us the Corton-Charlemagne) almost invariably occupies the top reaches.
Mainly red wines - Pinot Noir
White wines - Chardonnay
Production surface area
1 hectare (ha) = 2.4 acres
Reds : 90.25 ha
Whites : 4.53 ha
Red Corton, solid and opulent, is complex and mouth-filling in a way that is both sensual and structured. Strong soft-centred cheeses are often served. But, without question, its closest companions are meats that match its power and intensity. Roast or grilled beef, or any and all game (furred or feathered) roasted, braised or in sauce. The rare white Corton should be saved for a special occasion but in general is a natural match for shellfish, fish, poultry and goat's cheese.
On the label, the words 'Grand Cru' must appear immediately below the name of the appellation in characters of identical size, and red wines only may be followed by the name of a specific vineyard classified as a Grand Cru climat.
The Grand Cru climats are:
Le Clos du Roi
Le Meix Lallemand
Le Rognet et Corton
Les Chaumes et la Voierosse
Les Grandes Lolières