Capitain-Gagnerot Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2019
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.
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
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.