Capitain-Gagnerot Echezeaux Grand Cru 2016
Grand Cru Echezeaux is mythical and rare, and in the right hands can reach near perfection. Intense and alive with black cherry and cocao, it is fine and velvety and finishes on dark bitter chocolate. The vineyard is relatively new to the Maison Capitain, but their long experience with a classy holding in the Clos Vougeot puts them in the neighborhood. It's a jewel in the Capitain crown. Never a hesitation!
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 2016 VINTAGE
If that first taste of the 2016 Burgundy vintage really grabs your attention, count yourself lucky. Lucky in the same way that wine makers in Burgundy consider themselves lucky.
The excellent 2016 vintage was a nightmare for them, running a gamut of emotions from depression to despair, then out the other side towards hope and something resembling jubilation. It’s no exaggeration to say that 2016 took its toll on the collective psyche of the region.
After a very mild winter, April was frigid, with early hail in Macon and (yet again) Chablis. Then, on the night of the 26th, a freak frost descended on much of the Cotes de Nuits and almost all of the Cote de Beaune. I say ‘freak’ because it was a winter frost, not an April frost; meaning that it hit higher up the slopes than a spring frost would, touching vineyards that almost never freeze, notably Musigny and Montrachet.
It got worse. May was cool and depressingly wet, with storms when it wasn’t drizzling. It’s then that the first corridors of mildew appeared. It hailed again in Chablis. The mood was like the weather: chilly and grey. And it continued like this until the solstice, by which time the estimates were for an overall 50% crop loss across the region. It was hard to coax a smile from even the most seasoned winemakers.
Flowering took place in mid-June and was a bit protracted. It forecast a late September harvest, 100 days away. And given what had come before, the small crop looked incredibly vulnerable.
But with the solstice came summer. A magnificent July and August, with heat enough to curb the mildew, brought exceptional conditions for grapes. Talk in the cellars turned from tales of woe to the benefits of low-yield vintages.
As always in Burgundy, September makes the wine. In 2016, the perfect amount of rain fell on September 14th, at the perfect time to counter the heat stress that the vines were starting to show. And the fruit then ripened quickly in impeccable dry and sunny conditions.
What in mid-June seemed like a doomed crop was suddenly being touted as the equivalent of 2015, and maybe even better! Low yield years give intensity and concentration. Cool vintages give good acidity and balance. 2016 was both. Not a lot of fruit; but from serious ‘vignerons’, what there was was beautiful.
The wines, both red and white, are fresh, chiseled, with balanced acidity and concentration. The whites are definitely better than the 2015s, which lacked a touch of acidity. They are cool and energetic. Maybe not to the level of the fabulous 14s, but there are many similarities.
As to the comparisons between 2015 and 2016, many commentators cite 1990 and 1991. Both 1990 and 2015 are considered among the finest red vintages in living memory. And the vintages that followed them were both low-yield vintages that suffered early frost damage. Both 1990 and 2015 were hot years; both 1991 and 2016 were relatively cool. Both 1990 and 2015 were media darlings, and still are. 1991 got lost in the blare; maybe 2016 as well. But both 1991 and 2016 are arguably much more typically Burgundian than their world-stage predecessors. Classy and classic, ‘typical’ (in the best sense of the word), the greatest fault of the 2016 vintage could be its irregularity.
Remember, this was a tough one for Burgundy. For some producers, it was the fourth consecutive year that their vineyards were damaged and their yields were low. There had not been a ‘normal’ crop since 2009, so their cellars were empty. And when we talk of 50% crop loss, that’s an average across the region. Some areas had zero crop.
So when we get excited about the quality of the 2016s, we need a little restraint as well. Not everyone did the meticulous vineyard work that was necessary to get through the horrible start. As always, if you want to find the best wines, you need to know the best producers. Another important consideration in a low-yield vintage is the shortage of grapes, which means that the big negociant houses can have trouble sourcing fruit. Be careful with negociant wines in 2016. Buy from tried-and-true producers.
ECHEZEAUX and GRANDS ECHEZEAUX
COTE DE NUITS
The village of Flagey-Échezeaux lies in the plain between Vougeot and Vosne-Romanée in the Côte de Nuits. Facing east, the Grands-Échezeaux vines are a prolongation of Musigny following the axis of the Côte. At the bottom end, the Combe d'Orveau separates them from Musigny. The Échezeaux vineyards divide the Clos de Vougeot from the premiers crus vines of Vosne-Romanée. Like the Clos de Vougeot (from which they are separated only by a wall), these vineyards were founded by the monks of the abbey of Cîteaux and date from the 12th and 13th centuries.
Producing commune: Flagey-Echezeaux.
Echezeaux and Grands Echezeaux are red wines only. Generally ruby in color, with darker purpley tones in youth. Classic Cote de Nuits spice and undergrowth aromas, with concentrated plum notes, almost prune, that evolve as musky, leathery and mushroomy. When young it is floral with fresh fruit cherry. These wines can be dense and tight to start out, giving way as the tannins soften (usually 4-5 years) to full round flavors.
Geologically jurassic, the Grands Echezeaux vineyards are fairly homogeneous and lie close to the upper part of the Clos de Vougeot at 250 meters and on a slight gradient. The soil is clay-limestone overlying bajocien limestone. The Échezeaux climats have more diverse soils (largely bajocien marls with pebbly overlay). Altitudes vary from 230 to a little over 300 meters with a 13% gradient at mid-slope. The upper slope soil is deep (70-80 cm). Gravel, red alluvium and yellow marl make up a complex sub-soil.
Red wines only - Pinot Noir
Production surface area :
Area under production* :
1 hectare (ha) = 2.4 acres
Echezeaux : 34.79 ha
Grands Echezeaux : 7.53 ha
Wines so full and powerful should be served with full and powerful dishes. Autumnal and winter dishes of game and roast meats will match the meatiness of these wines. Soft-centered cows' milk cheeses will work well.
On the label, the words Grand Cru must appear directly below the name of either appellation in letters of exactly the same size.
The following specific vineyards, known as climats, are classified as Echezeaux Grand Cru:
Echézeaux du Dessus
Les Beaux Monts Bas (partly premier cru)
Les Champs Traversins
Les Cruots ou Vignes Blanches
Les Quartiers de Nuits
Les Rouges du Bas