Maison Louis Latour Corton Charlemagne: A Vertical Flight ~ 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002
Ask any of my friends – or even regular readers of Vino Verve – and they will tell you “given a choice, Marguerite always prefers reds.” Generally that is true, although now one could say “given a choice, Marguerite always prefers reds, unless she’s being offered Corton Charlemagne white burgundy.”
When Bernard Retornaz kicked off the seminar with the reds, he explained the decision to do so by noting that we had a special “extra” white that was being included in the Corton Charlemagne tasting, courtesy of Michael Apstein, which they were saving for the finish. While no doubt the reason for the “flip”, it was a brilliant move because that day the whites outshone the reds and the tasting built like a crescendo culminating in several eyes-rolling-back-in-the-head, “oh my God” moments – with which I tormented Kevin by texting him every time I experienced one, knowing perfectly well he was sitting at home 800 miles away.
Maison Louis Latour’s Chateau Corton Charlemagne is a white burgundy made from chardonnay grapes. Latour is the largest producer of Corton Charlemagne white burgundy, having approximately 25 acres under cultivation across the Corton Charlemagne region (roughly 400 acres spread out across several vineyards, the largest being Le Charlemagne vineyard). The vineyards range across the hillside with some of the newer plantings on hillsides facing west/southwest rather than east like much of the rest of the Burgundy region, resulting in a greater diversity of styles across the region’s wines than one finds in other areas.
The tasting that morning consisted of four recent vintages, the 2005, 2004, 2003 and 2002 – and a fifth “mystery glass,” which turned out to be the 1998 courtesy of Michael Apstein’s personal cellar.
Corton Charlemagne 2005 This was my first “OMG” eye-rolling moment of the day, and immediately upon tasting I thought, “wow, Gretchen needs to taste this.” Like the other vintages, the color is a lovely, rich medium yellow that catches the light and sparkles in the glass. The nose is soft and slightly nutty. In the mouth, the wine is soft, nutty, and lightly buttery. The mouth feel is lush with an almost creamy texture that provides depth and richness. It’s a beautiful wine. One of my comments that came back to me as I reviewed my notes was that “it has a lick your lips finish.” As I read that, I found myself remembering the creamy butter finish that did have me licking my lips at the end. My absolute favorite from Louis Latour.
Corton Charlemagne 2004 Another eye-rolling, OMG moment here, and while it ran a very close second to the 2005 for being my pick of the day, in the end, for me, the 2005 took the top spot. Very similar in color, the nose on the 2004 was noticeably different than the 2005, being soft, earthy with very discernible notes of green pepper, as opposed to the nuttiness of the 2005. In the mouth, the wine wasn’t as soft, although in hindsight, I think what I was missing was the silky creaminess of the 2005. I found the 2004 to be brighter, with stronger notes of citrus and a crisper, sharper finish than the 2005. A gorgeous wine, and as mentioned above, I was hard-pressed to pick between the 2005 and 2004. It was fascinating to taste them back-to-back and really experience the differences not only between vintages but also that the aging process can make on a wine.
The Corton Charlemagne wines are made the same way every year, with one primary difference being the amount of new oak they use in their barrels. In 2004, the barrels were 60% new oak, which definitely contributed to the differences between the 2004 and either the 2005 and 2003.
Corton Charlemagne 2003 As I look back over my notes the first thing I see is a scribbled “not a fan.” The 2003 shared the characteristics of the 2004 but, in my opinion, didn’t have the polish of the later vintage. Perhaps it’s going through a closed period, perhaps it’s my palate, perhaps it’s a combination of both as well as other factors, but compared to the others, I wasn’t impressed. The nose was soft and slightly grassy, and in the mouth, while creamier than the 2004, the notes of citrus are stronger, and there was a sharp bite and slightly bitter finish which I didn’t care for. The mouth feel is soft but lacks the lushness I found in both the 2005 and 2004. It’s still a lovely wine, and if I had tasted it on it’s own, I would undoubtedly be raving. But against the 2004 and 2005? No contest.
At the end of the seminar Retornaz took a quick informal survey of the room, asking us to vote for our favorite vintage from each flights. Interestingly the 2003 received the most votes among the Corton Charlemagne fllight – which only goes to show how intensely personal wine tasting and wine choices are.
Corton Charlemagne 2002 Another beautiful wine. Also a medium yellow, but slightly deeper and richer in color than the previous three. The nose is very subtle, almost not present, with light earthy notes of grass and green pepper. In the mouth the wine is soft and creamy with notes of vanilla and citrus which play off each other beautifully. The finish is gorgeous – softly lingering with notes of toast and vanilla which develop in the mouth.
Corton Charlemagne 1998 The flight – and the seminar – ended with a fifth white, the 1998 Corton Charlemagne provided by Michael Apstein from his personal cellar. It’s one of his favorite vintages, and he felt it would be an interesting contrast to taste an older vintage against the four more recent vintages provided as part of the seminar. The color was a deep medium yellow, both darker and brighter than the previous four. The nose was soft, light and buttery, and evoked that wonderful smell of hot buttered popcorn – one of my personal favorite scents. The wine itself is buttery with a nice blend of earthiness and citrus and a lovely bite on the finish that gives it some character. The mouth feel is fuller and richer than in the previous wines, and the 1998 really blossoms in the mouth. A gorgeous wine, although it didn’t knock the 2005 off the top spot of the day.
As with the reds, I found myself wistfully thinking how lovely it would be to buy several bottles and cellar them to revisit over time, but alas it’s not in the budget this year. I’d love to see how the 2005 develops – will it still have that same creaminess and “lick your lips” finish that I experienced that morning, or will it sharpen and become stronger and more earthy like the 2002?
While considered more affordable than many other Corton Charlemagne wines, these are not inexpensive, averaging around $100 a bottle, which makes seminars like these not only a bargain but a great opportunity.
For more information about Corton Charlemagne and the Louis Latour wines, there’s an excellent article by Michael Apstein in Wine Review Online.