Musings on Fine Burgundy. Famed Bottlings That Offer Notable Value. Part One- Corton

Edward Robert Brooks, Jr.

December 20, 2022

Burgundy is complicated… But that’s part of its allure! It frustrates the neophyte and challenges the connoisseur. The myriad unique parcels within many vineyards, with vignerons sometimes farming only a row or so of a prestigious climat, and the ever-changing cast of characters (historically, in part due to the legacy of Napoleonic law which mandated that all children inherit, with the result that over the years vineyards were divided, and sub-divided among family members many times, combined with the crippling and business destroying inheritance taxes in France, which also cause attrition) who shape the winemaking- with different philosophies, financial wherewithal, and ability- all contribute to this ever-changing complexity.

Adding to the challenge of endeavoring to educate and familiarize oneself about the region, producers, and wines- many great Burgundies from famed winemakers have risen so stratospherically in price over the last decade that most consumers can’t afford them and may never have the opportunity to taste them.

This then begs the questions- Is it still possible for the normal afficionado to taste and learn about the great wines of Burgundy first-hand? Are there still affordable examples of pedigreed great growths?

In November, I was fortunate to host a tasting for the Degustateurs fine wine club. This was the final dinner of the year celebrating the 55th anniversary of the founding of the group.

We gathered at Corked Wine Bar in Lawn Grove, Illinois which is located in a landmark historic building, reminiscent of a charming country inn. Wine Director and Manager Greg Poulos, and Sommelier Jonas Bittencourt ably handled the decanting and wine service. No small feat with 32 wines shared among 14 attendees in a cozy room!

Guest chef, Allen Sternweiler created and prepared a memorable feast to complement the wines I had selected to share that evening.

The history of Les Degustateurs has always been fine wine education via blind tastings, with the members taking turns with the hosting duties. That includes picking the theme(s), sharing special wines from their cellars, and choosing a worthy dining venue with excellent cuisine, capable of managing proper service protocols for an extensive array of wines of varying ages, all served blind.

I wanted to commemorate this special occasion with a curated selection of wines that would prove thought-provoking and provide a theme that would be memorable.

This seemed the perfect opportunity to make the case to my otherwise generally astute wine friends in the group who frequently lamented that great Burgundy was no longer within their budgets, that there remain affordable Burgundies with outstanding class and character.

To prove this point, I chose to focus on Grand Cru wines from Corton. Upon the reveal at the conclusion of the dinner, the verbal consensus was that the wines were indeed all excellent quality (despite the usual very conservative grading, the average scores out of twenty in the margins below attest to that positive impression), and the attendees were astounded that many of the selections cost less than $100 per bottle (before tax and shipping). And none of the wines broke the 4-digit cost threshold! Which unfortunately is the new norm for many vaunted high-end Burgundies these days.

Some hosts of blind tastings revel in playing the “stump the chump” game by including disparate ringers, and/or dissimilar, or only tenuously related groups of wines to try and fool the tasters. My preference is (usually) to create clear themes so that nuances can be differentiated, appreciated, and remembered.

We began the evening with an examination of two rare grower Champagnes-

Hors d’Oeuvres-

Smoked white fish with homemade creme fraiche and horseradish, chive, truffled lobster salad and sweet vinegar marinated mango

2008 Champagne Henri Goutorbe Brut, Grand Cru, Special Club (Club-de-Tresors) (Ay) 18.5

(Special Club is the highest designation that Grower Champagne can achieve)

Multi-Vintage (50%- 1996, 25%- 1995, 25%- 1997) Champagne Andre Clouet Brut, Blanc-de-Noirs (100% Pinot Noir), Grand Cru, 1911 Cuvee (Tete-de-Cuvee) (bottle #169 of 1911 bottles produced) (disgorged 08.09.21) (Bouzy) 18.5

Once seated, we segued to the only flite of white wines. This was a comparison of notable mature California Chardonnay from three different AVAs, with examples of two variants of Grand Cru white Burgundy from Corton. The most famous of which: Corton-Charlemagne, was named after the Roman Emperor Charlemagne when he owned the land-

First Flite-

Seared sea scallop with saffron-mussel sauce, leek jam and Benton's smoked bacon

2017 Corton Blanc, Grand Cru, Domaine Regis Pavelot 17.5

2017 Corton-Charlemagne, Grand Cru, Domaine Jean-Marc Roulot 17.6

(Along with Domaine Coche-Dury, Domaine Leroy, and recently Domaine-de-La Romanee-Conti (with fruit sourced from Domaine Bonneau-du-Martray), Domaine Roulot is considered one of the Holy Grail producers of Corton-Charlemagne))

2014 Corton Blanc, Grand Cru, Domaine Maillard Pere et Fils 17.8

2009 Corton-Charlemagne Reserve, Grand Cru, Domaine Marius Delarche (Non-filtre) 17.5

2004 Kongsgaard Chardonnay, The Judge (Napa Valley) 17.9

2001 Kistler Vineyards Chardonnay, McCrea Vineyard (Sonoma Mountain) 18.1

1993 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay, Estate (Santa Cruz Mountains) 17.9

From there, we delved into the first of three red wine flites. Which cumulatively, provided us an extensive deep dive examination of the characteristics of Corton rouge. The sole Grand Cru appellation for red wine in the Cote-de-Beaune region of Burgundy, it is situated on a hill that rises about 1200 feet above the village of Aloxe-Corton. The Bois-de-Corton forest, which covers the summit of the hill, protects the grapevines that are planted on the slopes below on three sides (south, west, and east) from excessive wind. The soil is predominately stony limestone. Ideally suited to both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Though worldwide awareness and appreciation for Corton rouge is (belatedly?) increasing, and pricing for some of these wines is following the overall upward trend for fine Burgundy (recent bottlings from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti (formerly Prince-de-Merode) immediately come to mind)), at least for the time being, the red wines of Corton remain a bit of a best kept secret compared to more illustrious Grand Cru counterparts made to their north in the Cote-de-Nuits.

Corton is the largest Grand Cru vineyard in the Cote d’Or, with just under 100 hectares (@247 acres) currently cultivated for grape vines. Of note, both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are planted, with the white versions often commanding much higher prices than the reds.

The only other Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy that produce both red and white wines are Musigny and Clos Vougeot.

The majority of the Corton harvest each year is Pinot Noir (@95%), and the resultant wines are usually the most affordable Grand Cru red Burgundies.

Justifiably famed for long age-ability, with careful cellaring and sufficient maturation in bottle, the best examples can arguably rival the most famed appellations of Burgundy. Although, for the palates of some discriminating tasters they can require great patience in their youth.

These wines are sometimes described as a theoretical confluence of the power of Pommard, with the refinement of Volnay.

The three-part vertical tasting compared, and contrasted- vintages, individual climats (unique recognized sites, of which there are many), and producer styles.

Second Flite-

Pheasant breast saltimbocca with garlic-Parmesan whipped potato and lingonberry accented pheasant sauce

2015 Corton, Grand Cru, Domaine Follin-Arbelet 18

(Different than the single climat- Le Corton. This can be a blend sourced from different vineyard sites)

2015 Corton-Greves, Grand Cru, Domaine Louis Jadot 18.3

2015 Corton-Rognet, Grand Cru, Domaine Taupenot-Merme 18.4

2015 Corton Le Rognet, Grand Cru, Domaine Bertrand Ambroise 17.7

2012 Corton Les Greves, Grand Cru, Domaine-des-Croix 18.4

2010 Corton-Perrieres, Grand Cru, Domaine Pierre Dubreuil-Fontaine 18.2

2010 Corton Clos-du-Roi, Grand Cru, Domaine Pierre Dubreuil-Fontaine 18.3

2006 Corton Les Renardes, Grand Cru, Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair 19.1

(Owner of the famed La Romanee vineyard)

Third Flite-

Roast duck breast with a "triple" duck Bordelaise sauce, escargot, shiitake mushroom and tarragon accented crepes

2005 Corton-Renardes, Grand Cru, Domaine D’Ardhuy 18

(One of the largest landowners in Corton)

2005 Corton Clos-du-Roi, Grand Cru, Domaine D’Ardhuy 19.6

2005 Corton-Marechaudes, Grand Cru, Domaine Prince Florent-de-Merode 17.9

(The wines from this estate are now vinified and bottled by Domaine de La Romanee-Conti)

2002 Corton Le Rognet, Grand Cru, Domaine Bertrand Ambroise 18.2

1999 Corton Le Rognet, Grand Cru, Domaine Bertrand Ambroise 18.4

1996 Corton-Greves, Grand Cru, Domaine Louis Jadot 18.3

1996 Corton-Bressandes, Grand Cru, Domaine de la Guyonniere (Domaine Antonin Guyon) 18.2

1996 Corton Clos-du-Roi, Grand Cru, Domaine Thomas-Moillard 18.2

(This section of Clos-du-Roi is now owned by Domaine-de-Montille)

1993 Corton Clos-du-Roi, Grand Cru, Domaine Thomas-Moillard 18.1

Fourth Flite-

Les fromages- Goat Blanc "Gouda", MT Tam (triple cream), "Queso Tres Leches" (cow, sheep, and goat milk blend)

(Served in the traditional European manner without sweet embellishments which can conflict with some wines)

1990 Corton-Pougets, Grand Cru, Domaine-des-Heritiers Louis Jadot 19.2

(Maison Jadot has farmed a portion of this climat for over 100 years)

1988 Corton-Pougets, Grand Cru, Domaine-des-Heritiers Louis Jadot 18.2

1985 Corton-Perrieres, Grand Cru, Domaine Rapet Pere et Fils 19.2

1985 Corton Clos-du-Roi, Grand Cru, Domaine Pierre Dubreuil-Fontaine et Fils 19.1

1971 Corton-Bressandes, Grand Cru, Domaine Prince Florent-de-Merode 19.6

(The wines from this estate are now vinified and bottled by Domaine de La Romanee-Conti)

1971 Le Corton, Grand Cru, Domaine-de-Chateau-de-Beaune (Bouchard Pere et Fils) 19.6

Coherently tasting through these many wines was a daunting task. But the attendees were up to the challenge!

The second part of my monograph on the subject of affordable fine Burgundy, which will be posted on in January, focuses on the wines of the Hospices-de-Beaune. It relates details about a tasting of Hospices wines I organized earlier this month.

I hope you will find these articles enlightening, and that my assessments of these buying opportunities will perhaps cause you to rethink your strategy about finding and purchasing notable Burgundies.

December 20, 2022