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 2018 VINTAGE
There has been talk over the past year of the 2018 vintage in Burgundy being one of the greatest of all time. Comparisons with the mythical 1947, and all that. But let’s be careful and take a closer look.
We’ve tasted some marvelous wines, both white and red, and from all of the appellation levels. Purity and concentration would be the key words across the board.
But lest we forget, 2018 was the hottest vintage in Burgundy since 2003. And frankly, we were expecting wines like we got in 2003: flabby whites and Cote du Rhone-like reds. But that did not happen. And the secret to understanding 2018 Burgundy lies in understanding the difference between these two very hot years.
If you look at 2018 from start to finish, not only was it hot, it was dry: 50% less precipitation than the annual average over the past 30 years. However, if you were here in the early part of the year, you’ll certainly remember the rain.
After a very dry summer in 2017, winter 2017-18 was wet. It rained nearly every day through March and into April. And the vine was slow to bud.
That all changed in the middle of April. Wet soil and higher temperatures brought on explosive growth in the vineyards that the vignerons had a tough time keeping up with. In a week we went from bud burst to unfurled leaves.
The first flowers burst in mid-May. The crop set regularly with very little disruption, and summer settled in. The early wet conditions followed by April’s warmth saw the onset of mildew, but the fungus never stood a chance.
It was a hot and sunny summer. Some would say it was a heat wave and a drought. And we started to see signs of stress in vineyards in certain sectors. Things were better where there was a little rain. But August was bone dry. In fact, there was no rain from June 15th to the end of October.
It was about this time that comparisons to 2015 cropped up. You could see ripeness rapidly approaching, and there was talk of harvest starting at the end of August.
The vines were incredibly healthy; no moisture means no threat from mildew or odium. No rot. Good ripeness.
And, for the first time since 2009….a normal yield! So, let the harvest begin!
And it did, in the last days of August. What was most astonishing right from the start was that the perceived acidity levels seem OK. Granted, there’s no malic acid, but the levels of tartaric acid seem to be compensating, and there is an over-all impression of balance.
Also amazing was the amount of juice the crop produced. Not only was the yield bigger than the past 10 years’ average, but the amount of juice set a record for Burgundy. So there will be a lot of 2018 around.
And all this in a year that felt more like the south of Spain than Burgundy as we know it. The only thing we can attribute the quality of 2018 to is the abundant winter rains, and the vine’s ability to go searching for water when it needs it.
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.