Our April 5th tasting with Bernard Retornaz, the Louis Latour executive who oversees the family’s stateside operations, was planned months ago. While our tasting was to be focused on the superb whites of 2014, Retornaz promised to dig deeply into the catacombs of Château Corton Grancey, allowing us to revisit Premier and Grand Crus we hadn’t tasted for years.
When Bernard arrived at HQ, the usually affable Burgundian was subdued. Earlier in the day, Louis Latour, “le grand monsieur de Bourgogne,” passed away at the age of 83. For those of us who were fortunate enough to meet Monsieur Latour, we knew him for charm, brilliance, and entrepreneurial zeal, a man who built an empire on the Côte de Beaune. After speaking to Louis Latour’s son, Louis-Fabrice, Retornaz told us that we’d save the 2014s for another day. Instead, rather than mourning the death of the family’s patriarch, we would “rejoice in his life.”
Bernard proceeded to pull corks on eight bottles — seven Premier Crus and one Grand Cru — from one of Louis Latour’s favorite vintages of the last 20 years, 2008.
Since 1979, when we made our first trip to Burgundy, knocking on cellar doors from Puligny-Montrachet to Gevrey-Chambertin, we’ve taken part in hundreds of memorable tastings. Few were as memorable as this one.
Retornaz’s knowledge of the Burgundy’s vineyards, cellars, and vintages borders on the encyclopedic. He began by providing a detailed description of one the Côte de Beaune’s more extraordinary growing seasons, one that gave birth to highly concentrated, thick-skin Chardonnay infused with terrific phenolic complexity and age-worthy acid backbone.
“The spring was cool and very wet. I remember speaking to Boris Champy during budbreak. He just shook his head. The fruit set was erratic. We were off to a bad start.”
Bernard poured three ounces of four Premier Cru 2008 Meursaults into our Zalto Universal stems. Each was brilliant golden in hue. The “Charmes” was the most opulent, while the “Genevrières” and “Poruzots” still seemed tight. All featured bright, piercing, youthful aromas of citronelle, beeswax, and honeysuckle.
“Finally, in July, the sun came out. The vines responded quickly, but then — and I’ll never forget the day — on July 26th, black storm clouds covered the Côte de Beaune. The first drops of rain hit the sidewalk like water balloons. Then the sky opened up and the hail came down, as big as golf balls! Many growers were devastated, but I’ll never forget the reaction of the Latours. ‘This is Burgundy, Bernard. We just need to work harder now,’ they told me.”
As Bernard pulled corks on the second lineup of four 2008s — the superb Puligny-Montrachet “Les Referts” and “Les Truffières,” the Chassagne-Montrachet “Cailleret” and the wine of the afternoon, the staggering 2008 Corton-Charlemagne — he went on to describe the miracle that took shape on September 14th, when northerly winds blew through Beaune, drying and concentrating berries. In just a couple of weeks, sugars spiked rapidly. While the days were warm, the nights remained chilly. Acids remained firm. When Louis finally made the call to harvest, yields would be tiny. Small, thick-skinned berries were loaded with sugar even as pH remained in “the low threes.” Qualitatively, 2008 was a vintage for the ages.
On an afternoon we will never forget, Bernard finally pulled the cork on the 2008 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru — which many (including Louis-Fabrice) believe to be the finest Corton-Charlemagne of the last 20 years.
Tasting notes from April 5th: “Brilliant green-gold to the rim with piercing aromas of Granny Smith apple, pear liqueur, anise, and beeswax. Bright, perfectly youthful, tightly wound and weighty on the attack, this is a finely layered but massive Corton-Charlemagne just beginning to expose its richly mineral underpinnings. If you lack patience, decant for two hours before pouring into oversized Riedel. Far better: Lay this phenomenal Grand Cru down for a decade … or two.”
240 bottles of the 2008 Corton-Charlemagne have been set aside for WineAccess, courtesy of the Latour family as we rejoice in the life of Louis Latour. Shipping included on 3.
1/19/18: At ten years old, this is a powerful but fresh and balanced wine. The Burghound review seems right on, and I believe the wine to still be a baby! I only bought three of these, and this is the first I've opened. I'll need to be patient to realize the best rewards from the other two. Beautiful Chardonnay!
Still drinking nicely, but it's peaked. Fruit is falling out, still classic White Burgundy
$90. 3 bottles. Opened my first bottle in 2017 with a som. Neither of us liked it... yet. He thought it needed more time (perhaps 3 years) in the cellar.
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