Jean-Jacques Girard Aloxe-Corton 2020
With this Aloxe Corton, Jean-Jacques comes roaring out of his home valley of Savigny les Beaune. Where his Savigny is floral, spicy and elegant up front, the first nose of this Aloxe Corton is powerful, animal. Then it's a mouthful of black fruit, with the elegance rolling in on the mid-palate and sticking around for the finish and the reflection. This is another register for Jean-Jacques Girard, who, you will find, has perfect pitch!
Jean-Jacque Girard's website says that his family was growing grapes in Savigny-les Beaune back in 1529. That, as the French say, is 'formidable', and would make the domain one of the oldest in Burgundy. But really what matters to us today is what happened to the domain in the past generation. In the late 90s, the original and venerable Domaine Girard-Vollot was split between Georges Girard's two sons Jean-Jacques and Phillipe. The original domain was about 38 acres. And since the split, Jean-Jacques has built his holdings back to over 40 acres, making it one of the most impressive domains in Savigny.
BURGUNDY 2020 VINTAGE
With so many winemakers finishing their 2020 harvest before the end of August, everyone here in Burgundy expected that this hot, sunny vintage would produce atypical wines, overripe, fat and flabby. Why it did not is a mystery to this day.
In fact, 2020 Burgundy, both red and white, is being lauded by the Press and professionals alike as an exceptional vintage, brilliantly fresh, pure, elegant and focused. Yes, the wines are ripe and concentrated, but there is good acidity that more than brings things into balance. This, in fact, defines the Burgundy 2020 style: high acidity and high concentration.
So let’s look, as we do every year, at how the growing season developed, to try to get some idea of what shaped these unexpectedly energetic wines.
In a word, from start to finish, 2020 was precocious. After a mild and humid winter, the vegetative cycle started a month early under sunny skies, with bud burst in mid-April and the first Chardonnay flowers in early May. Then the weather deteriorated. Pinot Noir flowered in cool, damp conditions, and was less successful than Chardonnay, explaining the smaller Pinot crop.
From that point on, there is not much to report weatherwise. It was hot and dry from June through to the end, the driest year since 1945. The grapes started to change color in mid-July, and harvest in August seemed likely.
Now you may think that an August harvest lets everyone get their jobs done and go home early. But remember that there is a big difference between the heat and luminosity of an August afternoon and the cooler, shorter days of September. When maturity comes galloping at you in August, you have to react quickly; a day or two can mean considerable differences in acid and sugar levels.
Indeed, there may have been more stress on the winemakers than there was on the vines. 2020 was in fact an easy growing season, dry, with little risk of fungal problems. The tough part was deciding when to harvest. Do you put off harvesting to try to get to phenolic maturity, or do you pick sooner to keep acid levels up and to avoid higher alcohol levels?
Many opted to pick early. And for the most part, it proved to be the right decision…though we still do not understand why!
Many 2020 wines have alcohol levels of 13%-14%, but many are higher. Delaying picking increased the potential alcohol levels by as much as a degree a week.
At the same time, good levels of phenolic maturity gave ripe, but not overripe tannins. Some call the 2020s ‘crunchy’, which is a tannin level riper than ‘green’ but less than ‘fine’.
Total acidity was generally high, but most of that was tartaric acid. Malic acid, which would normally make up a big percentage of the total acidity, was low. In fact, the wines changed very little during malolactic fermentation, as there was little malic acid to transform into lactic acid.
So, again, we have a vintage that is characterized by high acidity and concentrated fruit. Some are saying that there has never before been a vintage where ripeness and acidity combined to give such brilliant wines with great aging potential. And this is true for both red and white. Freshness, balance, moderate alcohol.
The whites are rich and ripe, but with a crystalline, almost razor-sharp edge. That little touch of lactic acid makes them complex without adding weight.
The reds might bear a resemblance to past vintages. 2005, maybe. But they made wine differently in 2005. Back then, extraction was the goal: get as much out of the ripeness as you could. Today, Pinot is not so much ‘extracted’ as ‘infused’, like tea. This gives wines that are fresher and more energetic, with no less intensity and maybe more spice.
Drink them now, both red and white. There is astounding vitality in the youthful 2020s. But stick to the regional appellations for now because this is above all a vintage for aging, again both red and white. Keep the premier and grand crus for 10-15 years; longer for the best wines. They have the balance to age, and will reveal little by little the complexity that we just get hints of today. These are wines that may shut down for a few years in a few years, that’s to be expected. But be patient; you will be overjoyed to pull 2020 Burgundy from your cellar down the line.
But even just that little touch of lactic acid made the complexity of the whites.
COTE DE BEAUNE
Linking the Côte de Nuits with the Côte de Beaune, the hill of Corton signals a change in the landscape. Towards Beaune the land becomes more rounded, its sharp contours yielding to gentle valleys. Like its neighbors Ladoix-Serrigny and Pernand-Vergelesses, Aloxe-Corton (pronounced "Alosse") shares much with the Corton mountain on the approach to the prestigious grands crus of Corton and Corton-Charlemagne.
The appellation Aloxe Corton covers the villages of Aloxe-Corton and Ladoix-Serrigny, and includes 14 premiers crus vineyards. The soil is deep in most parts of these vineyards, and gives a vigorous, full-bodied Pinot Noir, robust yet refined. Tender and fruity, the village wine reaches its peak after 3 to 5 years in the cellar.
Aloxe-Corton whites are very rare. The reds are quite dark in color, their shades varying from deep ruby through to garnet. While young, the wine's aroma suggests spring flowers with red (raspberry, strawberry) and black fruits (blackcurrant, blackberry). These intensify with age and evolve into more musky floral notes like jasmine, preserved and brandied fruits, nuts, plummy prune, leather, truffle, mushroom and cinnamon.
A cross section of the Corton hill reveals a classic geological picture. At altitudes of between 200 and 300 meters, the soil is reddish brown with flint and limestone debris (known as chaillots) mixed in, and is rich in potassium and phosphoric acid. The vines face due east. Wines from the northern end are more tender and fruity while those from the southern end are firmer and more complex. Pebbly soil favors supple, high-bred wines, while clay and marl breeds firmness and complexity.
Nearly all reds - Pinot Noir
Whites - Chardonnay
Production surface area
1 hectare (ha)= 2.4 acres
Reds : 116,08 ha (including 37.60 ha premier cru)
Whites : 1.70 ha
The power of the Aloxe-Corton reds calls for forceful, aromatic dishes. Their opulence softens firm and fibrous meats. Their solid but distinguished tannins are a match for marbled meats and brown sauces. These great red wines go best with rib steaks, braised lamb, and roasted poultry. Spiced dishes such as couscous with meat or meat tajines also combine well with this wine, as do soft-centered cheeses such Époisses.
On the label, the appellations 'Aloxe-Corton' and 'Aloxe-Corton 1er Cru' may be followed by the name of a specific vineyard, known as a climat.
The following climats are classified as premier cru:
Clos des Maréchaudes
Clos du Chapitre
La Toppe au Vert
Les Petites Folières
The following climats are village wines from a single-vineyard, known as a lieu-dit.
La Toppe Marteneau
Les Brunettes et Planchots
Les Genevrières et le Suchot
Les Petits Vercots