Capitain-Gagnerot Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2017
The soil in the heart of Corton-Charlemagne give a unique minerality to one of the great white wines of the world. Smoky and honeyed at the same time with notes of honysuckle and lemongrass, Charlemagne has the structure and balance for aging. We assisted at a tasting some years ago, put on by the Grands Jours de Bourgogne, that featured every single producer of Corton-Charlemagne. That's right. How they organized that, we can't say. But it was, as you might imagine, memorable. And there amidst all the big names was the Capitain Corton-Charlemagne. They don't go in for hype and publicity much at Capitain-Gagnerot. But there in a hall with all of their peers, you could feel their pride and the confidence in their wine.
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.
BURGUNDY 2017 VINTAGE
If 2016 tested the faith and resolve of wine makers in Burgundy, 2017 has to be seen as recompense, and as a miracle of sorts. While the rest of wine-growing Europe suffered crippling late-spring frosts in 2017, Burgundy for the most part (for once!) survived.
A mild winter and an accelerated spring left the Burgundy vineyards in a vulnerable position when, in the second half of April, temperatures across France barely rose above freezing for two weeks.
Three hard-frost nights pretty much did in Right Bank Chablis once again. But as the rest of Burgundy survived the first week, the growers found the will to fight back. And on the night of April 27th, a year and a day after the 2016 frost that took 80% of the 2016 harvest, a severe frost was forecast for the length of the Cote d’Or.
It’s now a part of local legend how, on the following morning, we awoke in a thick cloud of smoke. In the early hours, from north to south, the vignerons had mobilized to set alight dampened bales of hay, sending up a cloud cover to filter the first burning rays of dawn. And it worked.
The air was thick, and driving was tricky. A customer at the butcher shop in Meursault jokingly asked for a smoked chicken. And, of course, the authorities were up in arms over the pollution risks. But the crop was saved, and there has been ever since a spirit of cooperation and solidarity not often seen in farming communities.
After the freeze, May brought in an extended period of warm dry weather. No mildew or oidium to speak of, no thunderstorms or hail. Sunny periods, but no lack of rain. And the vines went in to flower at a very-normal first week of June. Pretty much ideal.
July had a couple of heat spikes, and a hailstorm hit the fancy vineyards in Morey St Denis on the 10th. But nothing worse. August was warm; the lead up to the harvest at the end of the month, hot and dry.
The first grapes were picked in the Cote de Beaune in the last few days of August. And most everyone was out picking in the first week of September.
There was (as there often is in Burgundy) serious disagreement in 2017 about when to pick. Do you pick early to preserve the acid-sugar balance and freshness? Or do you hang in there and wait for a little rain to kick-start a stalled photosynthesis, and thereby achieve the holy grail of phenolic maturity?
It’s hard to say who was right. There are very good wines coming from both camps. But there are iffy wines too. And that’s the key to understanding 2017.
Picked early, the best wines, both red and white, are fresh, fruit-driven and floral with long minerality. The iffy wines seem not have adjusted for the solid levels of tartaric acid which left them tart rather than bright, dry and tannic rather than juicy.
Picking late did not seem to have an effect on the balance between alcohol and acidity. But then, there was no ‘over maturity’ in 2017. The extra phenolic maturity seems to mean more density and riper tannins, with no sign of flabbiness.
The whites shine, particularly in hard-done Chablis (where there is better balance even than the marvelous 2014s). In the rest of Burgundy, the whites have the tension of 2014 but the open flattery of 2015.
The reds are juicy and crisp and open, and the regional appellations will be ready to drink soon. More serious appellations will be considered ‘typical’, in the best sense of the word: classic wines from a vintage that Burgundians will love. They are likely to be lost in the hub-bub that the 2018s will bring. But the yields were good in 2017, so you will be able to find them for a while. And you’ll do well to seek them out.
COTE DE BEAUNE
Situated almost on the border between the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune, and at altitudes between 280 and 330 meters, much of the Corton-Charlemagne appellation, quite unusually, faces south-west. The round-top Corton mountain, has vineyards on three sides corresponding to the three villages of Aloxe-Corton (Le Charlemagne), Pernand-Vergelesses (En Charlemagne) and Ladoix-Serrigny (Pougets, Corton, Languettes). These vineyards were a gift of the Emperor Charlemagne to the religious community of Saint-Andoche at Saulieu in the year 775. They remained in their possession for a thousand years, and today still celebrate the name of their illustrious benefactor.
The production area of the appellation Corton-Charlemagne includes the appellation Charlemagne, which is not currently in use. Appellation Corton-Charlemagne is produced in the communes of Aloxe-Corton, Ladoix-Serrigny and Pernand-Vergelesses. Appellation Charlemagne would be produced in the communes of Aloxe-Corton and Pernand-Vergelesses. Certain parcels, depending on whether they are planted with Pinot Noir or Chardonnay grapes, may, at the grower's discretion, claim the appellation Corton for red wines or Corton-Charlemagne for whites.
Young Corton-Charlemagne is pale gold with green highlights. As it ages, the color shifts towards yellow or amber. The bouquet can be extremely delicate, apply and citric with a unique minerality in youth, with spiciness coming with a few years in the bottle. Honey notes are part of aging, with older vintages showing leather and truffle. Corton-Charlemagne should be a demonstration of what the Chardonnay grape is capable of: richness, power, concentration, finesse and balance.
Appellation Corton-Charlemagne occupies the highest plantable portion of the Corton mountain, and here the slopes are steep (20-23%). The hill itself is a superb geological cross section through the younger Jurassic strata which lie between Ladoix-Serrigny and Meursault. The color of the clay-rich marly soils varies from yellow through ochre to brown. Limestone alternates with marls beneath a thin cover of rendzinas. At mid-slope the mainly red wines of the appellation Corton grow on soils very much different in character.
White wines only - Chardonnay.
Production surface area
1 hectare (ha) = 2.4 acres
Whites: 52.44 ha
A great Corton-Charlemagne is the perfect balance between acidity and opulence. Such a noble wine demands refined and delicate dishes that still possess aromatic prowess. The natural matches would be foie gras, which would be supported by the wine's minerality, as well as quality crustaceans (lobster, crawfish or crab) whose firm but elegant textures work well here. Poultry or veal in sauce would also do the wine justice, as would blue cheeses.
On the label, the words ‘Grand Cru’ must appear immediately below the name of the appellation.